Value doesn’t mean what it used to
French shoppers are buying less, but buying better, and they’re willing to pay a premium for goods they perceive as being better for them and for the environment, particularly when it comes to food. A decade ago, 29 percent of people said they wanted better fresh produce; now it’s 33 percent. They’re scrutinizing labels, and more than half of French consumers say they will willingly pay more for higher quality.
Shopping habits are shifting
France may be credited with having invented the hypermarket, but these large-format, out-of-town stores are in decline, as people shop more frequently in smaller, more convenient stores and go online to stock up on bulky essentials. Brands like Carrefour are seeking to make their biggest stores more of a leisure destination, with wine bars, in-store dining and specialist electronics zones with expert staff, to give consumers new reasons to visit, if a little less often than they used to.
The winning feeling has passed
It’s not long since Le Bleu lifted the trophy that the rest of the world coveted, but World Cup fever has now well and truly passed. The success of the national team gave a temporary boost to beer and potato chip sales, which rose to record levels, but the effect was short-lived. World Cup fever is over, so any messaging around sporting greatness or national happiness linked to the event is likely to fall flat – until 2022 at least.
Plastic pollution an opportunity for change
A consumer groundswell of concern about the problems caused by plastic pollution is yet to gather the same level of momentum that it has in several other European markets, but forward-thinking French brands are already looking at ways to tackle it. This is an opportunity for early movers to show their genuine commitment to a cause – before it becomes jumping on a bandwagon. Volvic and Evian, for instance, have made commitments to using recyclable plastic.
Cash still carries clout
The digitization of money has been slower to catch on in France than in many other markets, and there is still plenty of cash around. There is strong consumer trust in banks, and while there’s lots of interest in digital banking, and contactless card payment is increasingly popular, there are few who are so far using their mobile phone to make payments directly.
Loyalty is rarely genuine
Your loyalty club might have a growing number of cardholders, but chances are your members aren’t actually loyal to your brand at all. Many people hold a loyalty card (physical or virtual, on their mobile) for every shop they go into. This lack of genuine loyalty has led Decathlon to stop its loyalty scheme altogether, though others – such as Galeries Lafayette – are refreshing their loyalty programs.
Organic is now mainstream
It used to be only the relatively affluent who could afford to opt for organic (or bio) produce, and it was widely seen as an indulgence. Now, over a third of French consumers say bio products represent better quality than non-bio, and they are increasingly willing to spend that bit extra in order to buy them. Organic produce has become democratized; now, 37 percent of bio buyers are families.
Small is beautiful
Shoppers are seeking ways to support local food producers, and 58 percent say they want to buy as local as possible. Supermarkets and national brands are now promoting the regional heritage of selected produce, and a new brand, C’est qui le Patron? (Who’s the boss?), co-created with consumers is successfully selling a growing range of fresh food, from milk and butter to burger patties. Small packages of indulgent products such as chocolate, cheese and butter are also proving popular as people scale back on treats.
Zero is the magic number
French shoppers are scrutinizing labels like never before, but they’re looking for what’s not in the ingredients list rather than what is. Products with no added sugar, processed meat made without nitrates, and lactose-free alternatives to dairy products are all experiencing a boom as consumers seek what they see as more natural food and drink that’s likely to better for their health. Zero colors, zero preservatives and zero sugar are especially hot, with soft drink producers responding to this surge in demand for less sucrose; zero-alcohol beers are doing well, with major brewers such as Carlsberg and Heineken all promoting their non-alcoholic alternatives.
Wine is off the menu
A huge rise in the popularity of aperitifs has fueled rising sales for craft beer and spirits, at the expense of wine, which is now widely seen as something to be consumed only with a meal. Post-work gatherings of friends increasingly involve aperitifs and snacks – crisps, dips, cheese and other bite-sized items are also on the up – rather than a sit-down meal. And as many as 7 percent of all meals begin with an aperitif.
Social media isn’t all about reach
Social content, suitably designed and directed, can provide real cut-through to meet consumer needs. The correct approach will differ by brand, category, customer and social network, but what’s important is that it’s not all about reaching big numbers of people. Over half of French consumers believe the things brands post on social media aren’t relevant to them. Use social media for inspiration, information and transactions, but pick the right channel for each of the three.
This is still a PC market
Mobile phones and smartphones in particular are on the up, but most people’s primary connection to the internet is still made via a desktop computer or laptop. For brands, especially those seeking to tap the still-large e-commerce opportunity, this means ensuring that web sites respond according to the device being used to access them, with images, videos and buttons that are clearly visible and user-friendly.
Buy one, get only one
The days of “buy one, get one free” offers being everywhere you look are now over. Producers and supermarkets have agreed that the prevalence of these kinds of offers lead only to a race to the bottom – and the result is that consumers form a habit of buying only when goods are discounted, and therefore lose their sense of what goods are really worth. There’s now a cap on the level of business that can be done on promotion. Stand by for more creative ways of winning consumer attention as shoppers are weaned off promotions. Those most sensitive to discounts have always tended to be families, but 57 percent of those most keenly looking for promos now are households without kids.
Meat is being sidelined
There’s huge growth in demand for proteins from sources other than meat, as French people look to increase their number of meat-free meals and go not vegetarian or vegan but more often “flexitarian”. Only 2 percent of people in France are vegetarian, but 36 percent say they’re reducing their meat intake. New, vegetable-based products are expanding what was once a niche section of supermarkets targeting only vegetarians; even the iconic French sausage “Knacki ” now has a vegetarian version.
Logos signal meaning
Badges on products, storefronts and websites are being used as a shortcut for customers looking to achieve something good – for themselves or for a broader slice of society – but without the time to do lots of independent research online. Labels like Fairtrade, Ecolabel (for environmental sensitivity), Bleu Blanc Coeur for health, and Label Rouge for superior quality, help considerate shoppers who also need convenience.
Smart speakers are the newest new thing
Amazon’s smart speakers – market leaders in the English-speaking world – have launched this year in France, allowing consumers (speaking French) to do anything from check the weather, search for information or add goods to their e-commerce basket using voice alone. This is new territory for French brands, with only a few having invested in being linked to voice-activated services, among them the retailer Monoprix. The user base is so far small, but there are opportunities to stand out by being an early mover on voice technology.
Tailor content to the channel
Many brands are switched on to the power of social media, particularly when complemented by television. But there are few French brands that have so far cracked it when it comes to creating outstanding content for social media; too often, they’re simply trimming their TV ads, running the same thing on YouTube and considering it “job done” - a huge wasted opportunity. Think about creating communities online, using YouTube for “how to” videos and Instagram for inspiring fresh ideas.
If you bore them, they’ll block you
Ad blockers are more widely used in France than both the regional and global averages, with 35 percent of online consumers here using ad blockers – a figure that rises to half of those aged 16 to 24 – compared to a global average of 21 percent. In a sense, then, the battle has already been lost, thanks to dull or poorly targeted online advertising. Make sure your digital communications don’t contribute to those people currently still receiving online ads starting to search for ways to shut out advertisers.
Follow the leaders
Forward-thinking brands in selected categories are drawing on the following that online opinion leaders have, particularly on visual media such as Instagram. Beauty brands such as L'Oréal and luxury labels including Gucci are using Instagram, while automotive brands are linking up with bloggers. This is still quite new for this market, however, and there are opportunities to be seen as a sector leader and innovator through the right partnerships.
Go digital, but retain your humanity
While consumers are embracing many aspects of digital connectivity, it’s important to understand how different groups of people feel about different aspects of their lives being digitized. Only 14 percent of French people, for instance, say that they’d prefer to pay for everything on mobile. And while 24 percent have no problem using an automated bot via social media for customer service, that means the vast majority are reluctant. Only 21 percent of French people (compared to 33 percent globally) are open to online-only customer service. Understand who needs the human touch, and when.