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KEY TAKE-AWAYS

1 There are great expectations                   

The growth in online shopping is raising consumers’ expectations for speed of delivery and other aspects of customer service across a wide range of sectors. Online shopping has given everyone a taste of next-day (or even same-day delivery) and people are starting to wonder why any retailer ever needed a week to send something from A to B. Likewise, returns are expected to be easy, and service is expected to be seamless. This is not just about a shift from physical to online shopping, although that is what’s happening, with more than 4.5 million French householders now buying groceries online, mainly on a “click and drive” collection basis. This trend is about brands and retailers focusing on the quality of the customer experience, and working relentlessly to eliminate points of pain.

 

2 Less is more

 

French consumers are buying less and buying smarter. Sales of fast moving consumer goods are growing at their slowest rate for four years, and spending on health and beauty has become a lower priority, as people seek more natural personal care solutions. While some unseasonal weather patterns have been a factor in the sluggish pace of sales – and in some areas, concerns about terrorism and strikes have discouraged people from going shopping – there’s an underlying trend towards consuming less, buying more responsibly, and choosing smarter. Show not just that your product or service is cheap; make it the smart choice.

 

 

3 If the price is justified, they’ll pay

While householders are fairly cautious with their budgets, they are prepared to pay a premium for goods when that premium is clearly justified and provides a benefit they consider to be worth it. That benefit could be a taste they can’t get from a cheaper product, a promise of quality, or simply the way it makes a person feel when they buy or use the brand. In the tea category, for instance, the century-old brand Kusmi Tea has used celebrity association, fashion-inspired advertising and a focus on urban women seeking flavor and a sense of wellbeing to justify its premium pricing. And in a market where wine is usually the tipple of choice, high-end beer brands have been growing sales, with a focus on the sensory benefits they provide, and a flavor range tempered to match French palates.

 

4 Show, don’t explain

French consumers are both sophisticated and impatient. Long lists of product features are not considered interesting; consumers respond not to what a product or brand does, but rather the effect it can have on their lives. If they want to know about the product spec, they can Google it or ask their peers. In the balance between appealing to the rational mind of the shopper and the emotional desires of the consumer, lean towards the latter. Show how you can make them feel. Brands in categories from soft drinks to cars and electronics should bear this in mind. Demonstrating the effects of a brand makes a more powerful connection than explaining what causes the effect.

 

5 Think beyond Paris

Paris is where much of the country’s wealth is generated, where business headquarters tend to be, and where the wealthiest early adopters of new trends tend to work. But less than 4 percent of the French population actually lives here, and campaigns that are too Paris-centric risk overlooking the majority of the country. If a campaign has a national audience, think more widely and be more inclusive, or consider adapting content for different regions. National TV and press campaigns still have their place, but digital technology now allows greater precision of targeting, and this precision should be applied not just to different age groups but also geographically.

 

6 Meal times are changing

 

Cooking and eating are at the heart of French culture and that’s not going to change in a hurry, but what is evolving is what and where people eat their meals. Eating out at breakfast is rare but is growing at about 10 percent a year, and breakfast at home is becoming a more gourmet affair, perhaps due to the popularity of TV cooking programs such as MasterChef and Le Meilleur Pâtissier. At other meal times, starters and desserts are dropping off the home menu, people are cooking using more pre-prepared ingredients, and snacking is on the rise, not just when people are on the go but also at home. This means brands have to think quickly about how to maintain their relevance to people’s daily lives, perhaps through different occasions. Changing eating habits represent an opportunity for those who can diversify now to benefit from emerging consumer trends.

7 Fight scepticism with authenticity

There’s growing disillusionment among European consumers about the brands they encounter, and in France, only 7 percent of people describe brands generally as “honest and transparent”. But not all brands are equal, and brands that feel authentic to consumers can overcome scepticism, according to research by Cohn & Wolfe for its annual Authentic Brands ranking. French brands Chanel and Michelin are among the Top 100 most authentic brands globally (ranking 39th and 46th respectively), as they are seen as bridging the “authenticity gap”. Among French consumers, the brands seen as most authentic are Chanel, Audi, Yves Rocher, Michelin and Mercedes-Benz. The most authentic brands get bought more and recommended more, and authenticity is unrelated to category or price; brands as diverse as Pampers and BMW are seen as highly authentic. Authentic brands aren’t immune from making mistakes, but their authentic pedigree makes them more easily forgiven if they make a correction. What authentic brands have in common is: They keep their promises on quality, they treat customers and their data well, and they communicate honesty and act with integrity.

 

8 Health is hot

Outside observers often association France with slim waistlines and fine dining, but World Health Organization data shows that two-thirds of adults in France are overweight, and 22 percent are obese. Childhood obesity is also a problem, and consumers are looking for products and services they see as helpful in adopting a healthy lifestyle. This means not just “free from” foods but also products they see as being more natural. Organic products – not only food but also textiles and personal care items like body lotions – are perceived as being a healthy alternative. The organic produce organization Agence Bio says the value of organic food sold in France in 2016 reached €5.75 billion, up almost 15 percent in 12 months, and that roughly 20 percent of eggs and 12 percent of milk sold in France is organic. Organic baby food is a particularly fast-growing sector. While French consumers are watching what they eat, their use of fitness-tracking devices is so far low compared to their European neighbors; just 4 percent of people use them, compared to 8 percent of Brits and Italians, and 9 percent of Spaniards.

 

 

9 Good taste changes over time

 

Attitudes to entire categories of food are heavily influenced by trends such as cooking contests on TV, and by fashionable diets. Foods considered to be either on the “good list” or the “bad list” can change places with great speed. At the moment, there’s a determination among many people to consume less alcohol, which is hitting beer and wine sales. There’s also a drift away from frequent consumption of red meat and cold cuts, and other animal products. Milk and dairy products have been similarly affected. The global rise in consumption of gluten-free produce has been seen in France as well, though has not taken hold to the same extent as in other European countries. The home of the baguette does not surrender its love of bread easily, but there is strong demand for gluten-free pasta, biscuits and ready meals.

 

 

10 Data and creativity are a powerful combination

 

Many brands now have access to a vast amount of information about the consumers they have relationships – and those that they’d like to engage with. But putting that data to good use is often where they get stuck. When brands are able to mine their data and combine that with true creativity, the results can be extremely powerful. Ikea in France, for instance, has a long-running loyalty card scheme, but few people – even members – understood  all the benefits it brings. The retailer used a deep dive into its data to better understand its different audience segments and their motivations, and then used ultra-personalized communications throughout the year to supplement funny digital out-of-home messages that joked about the benefits of membership. The number of members and their understanding of the scheme shot up as a result.

 

11 Green is good

Consumers are looking beyond price and quality and are examining the environmental and social responsibility credentials of the products and brands they engage with. To some extent, responsible behavior regarding the environment is simply an expectation, with those brands that fail to perform to a basic standard regarded as sub-standard. Environmental messages are starting to play a more prominent role in brand communications as a result of growing demand for responsible consumption. Carrefour’s TV ads have featured children asking questions about the supply chain, addressing responsible fishing and the use of antibiotics and GM feed for chickens. Other supermarkets have made announcements of bans on the sale of eggs from caged hens, and Intermarche now sells “ugly veg” both fresh and tinned, offering a discount on misshapen items in the interests of reducing food waste.

 

12 Keep it real

Retail is no longer just a place in which to make a transaction, it’s increasingly a place where consumers go to interact with a brand. Much of the browsing and buying experience of shopping can be done more conveniently online, so people are looking for something else from the physical store experience – or more real-world experiences from brands outside the retail context. That something else could be an opportunity to get hands-on with a range of products, a chance to draw on the expertise of staff, or just a fun diversion from their day. The Orange boutique in Opéra offers shoppers the chance to be helped by expert coaches, try out products and, in keeping with the brand’s focus on innovation, pay without passing through a physical checkout. Google France meanwhile launched Curio-cité, a content platform that invites people to experiment with the world around them using Google tools, featuring a series of live events at which people could experiment and “unlock unseen parts of Paris”. The point was not to sell but to engage.

 

13 Old is gold

The average age of people in France is 41, and those aged over 55 now make up nearly a third of the population. Nearly 20 percent are over the age of 65. These older consumers are rewriting the rules about what it means to be middle-aged or elderly, using their leisure time to pursue active and often expensive interests. They’re living longer and leading more active, healthier lives than those of their own parents. That’s important news for brands, who often focus on young consumers in the hope of winning their loyalty for the long term. Older consumers are more likely to be the ones with money to spend right now, however, and brands that push beyond stereotypes about older people and provide relevant products, services and communications stand to win the “gray euro”.

14 Families are breaking with tradition

The nuclear family comprizing a married couple and their kids is no longer typical of French life; one-third of households are single people and there are multi-generational families, step-families and more, which mean goods sold in family-size packs or with traditional family imagery in their advertising are declining in relevance. Brands have generally been slow to reflect the change in French family life, but some are moving away from well-worn family imagery and creating a point of difference between themselves and their competitors. Ikea in France has featured divorcees, insurer Matmut has focused on stepfamilies in its advertising, and the fashion store Eram shows a range of non-nuclear families in its ads, including one in which a child says: “As my two moms say, the family is sacred.”

15 Convenience rules

Busy working households have brought about a change in the way people shop, in some ways returning to the daily shopping habits that people’s grandparents may have had. Rather than fill up the car with a big weekly shop, urban French consumers are increasingly buying just for the day ahead – or even the next meal. This has both led, and been led by, a boom in the number of small-format supermarkets that make it quick and easy to pick up just a few items at a time. Carrefour alone has now opened more than 4,000 convenience stores, and other supermarket chains are doing the same. These stores carry a much smaller range that is highly tailored to the shoppers in the local area, with a focus on fresh goods. The select range and the profile of buyers at these stores means stock tends to sell at a premium; people want great produce that’s either ready to cook or ready to eat, and they’re prepared to pay for that.

 

16 Multiple screens have a multiplier effect

 

TV viewing is going strong in France, but even when people are tuning in, they’re likely to be tuning into something else on another screen at the same time. Almost 60 percent of French consumers say they regularly use a mobile phone or computer while they’re watching TV, and a much higher proportion of people than in other European countries say find appealing the idea of complementary advertising in which they interact via an app with content related to what they’re seeing on television. Multi-screen behavior can have a cumulative effect on the impact of a brand, providing layers of information and experience that are unlocked by the consumer at their convenience. But so few French TV ads have a complementary online element – under 10 percent, making it the lowest rate in Europe – that the second screen is largely a competitor for people’s attention in France, rather than a supplement to it. Brands have an opportunity to hold people’s attention and engage with them more deeply by rethinking the links between TV and digital advertising.

 

 

17 Online and offline are intertwined

 

Digital life is no longer separate from the rest of people’s lives, and brands are adapting to reflect these blurring lines. Monoprix is trialing a no-cash store in Clichy, where people shop by holding their phone close to a shelf to buy a product. When shoppers in Gap can’t find their size in store, items can be ordered and home delivered. The home improvement chain Leroy Merlin uses digitally connected product labels to help people navigate their stores and more easily locate the items they’re looking for. And Actimel created vending machines for the workplaces of digital startups that required positive tweets rather than coins to make them work, as part of its Stay Strong campaign. New ways of living require new ways of thinking.

 

18 The bots are coming

 

Facebook messenger is France’s most popular chat app, unlike neighboring countries where WhatsApp is the more regular place to chat. The popularity of chat apps provides brands with an opportunity to strengthen their relationship with consumers, by providing a forum to provide quick answers to simple questions, such as opening hours and stock availability, and to deal with more involved customer service inquiries. The growing sophistication of chatbots fueled by artificial intelligence means that brands can respond to customers more quickly – essential in the digital age, where instant answers are simply expected. Disney and Direct Energy are among brands using digital chatbots in France, in formats that mirror the way people talk to each other on chat apps. Chatbots can also be “trained” to promote the brand’s distinct personality and develop a deeper bond with consumers at the same time as fielding their questions. SNCF has even tried to give its chatbot a sense of humor.

 

 

19 Use ‘old’ media to generate new sales

 

People still spend significantly more time watching TV than they spend online, so while there’s substantial and justifiable excitement about the possibilities of the mobile screen, the power of the box in the living room remains considerable. In 2017 , online advertising investment in France was expected to overtake spending on TV for the first time, but it remains a close race. The average adult still spends nearly four hours a day watching TV, and less than three hours online, with radio consumption not far behind online. News, sport, soap operas and game shows are highly popular, so for national reach, television remains an extremely powerful tool.

 

20. Export sophistication and culture

The world has positive associations with France, French people and, by association, French brands, and this can be turned into a competitive advantage. France is seen as culturally rich and a leader on the world stage across a range of fields, from fashion to global politics. It is a byword for quality and style, as well as modernity. All of this can be reflected in brand communications, and will strongly resonate with the values international consumers already link to France and French brands.