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  • Marie-juliette Levin

Jérôme Hiquet (CEO of StratNXT): "Retail is in a tumultuous cycle"

The retail sector is teeming with innovative experiences and must reinvent itself in line with new consumer expectations and behavior. The new role of the shop, live commerce and the beginnings of the metaverse are all challenges for the players. What are the opportunities in the battle of the last mile and that of "1st party" data? Jérôme Hiquet, founder and CEO of StratNXT, gives his vision of the sector.

You created StratNXT, a company backed by the Labelium group, a year ago. What is its activity and what are its missions?

StratNXT is the strategic consulting firm of the Labelium group, which is a global digital performance agency present in 20 countries. In 2022, we are trying to reconcile three key dimensions of consulting, namely the ability to provide a strategic and operational vision, business expertise (digital across the entire value chain), and field experience - thanks to my 20 years spent in various marketing departments. StratNXT has about thirty clients in France, the UK, and the US. The company acts as a kind of digital auditor, a judge of peace in the face of the complexity of digital (orchestration or acceleration of projects) for major accounts, investment funds, but also SMEs.

You mention the "StratNext touch" as a corporate identity, what exactly is it?

The best way to define it is to explain my desire to create the firm that I would have liked to have by my side as marketing director. So, it brings together the three things I was missing: having convictions with impact, an agnostic, business-centric vision, and being supported in day-to-day management. Thanks to our in-house tools, we can scan the digital maturity of a company in six weeks.

In your opinion, what are the next developments, or even innovations, in terms of the use of data to serve the consumer?

The first challenge for brands is to succeed in refining and unifying consumer signals and intentions. Then, the end of the cookie will mechanically accelerate the value of retailers as media players. Because they will have a large quantity of unified and qualified data. All the players in the United States are positioning themselves on this subject. Finally, managing the customer journey without friction, which implies having a single customer repository and the ability to orchestrate orders in an omnichannel manner. The necessary fluidity of the customer journey will lead to data-related issues.

"Covid has enabled the clarification of the role of the shop as a place of immersive discovery and omnichannel fullfilment."

How would you define the post-Covid "New Normal"?

The difficulty of the current context is to manage opposing tensions with frictionless customer journeys on the one hand and the boom in hyper-practicality for consumers on the other, as well as the pressure on margins. How can brands develop more services while controlling their margins? They must become "price balancers". The same goes for CSR issues. The expectations of the citizen are not always those of the consumer faced with a price logic. Finally, the meta-verse must be integrated into digital strategies while remaining connected. Hence the interest for brands to be attentive to insights in order to prioritize what is important in terms of innovation.

In your opinion, what are the strong "megatrends" in retail that seem to be really structuring?

First of all, the advent of ultra-practicality is forcing the normalization of new purchasing trends (cryptocurrency, BNPL, etc.). We can see that the battle for the last mile is fierce with the omnipresence of Amazon and control over the entire delivery chain: road, air, sea, etc. This is followed by quick commerce with numerous tests on deliveries via autonomous robots (Uber Eats), even if the business models are not yet perfected. There is also the advent of local, consumption close to home. Hence the explosion of the "dark kitchen". Finally, the retail sector must integrate the increasing complexity of the customer journey with the multiplication of contact points and the hybridisation of purchasing paths.

The second trend is "alt-commerce", or alternative commerce. Live streaming has become a major tool for brands to connect with their audience. By extension, personalization will increase via the "live personal shopper", as in the world of luxury. Re-commerce is also exploding and inflation may be an opportunity for this second-hand market.

Thirdly, the augmented shop and the clarification of the role of the shop as a place of immersive discovery and omnichannel fulfillment (example with Zara). The point of sale is being transformed from a simple place of passage into an attractive destination. Finally, the last trend is customer engagement 3.0 with the role of augmented reality in the virtual retail experience. Many luxury brands are testing the monetization of their assets in this digital world and I think that the reality of NFT will take on its full meaning in a loyalty program logic (example of Roland-Garros and its fan club). Commitment 3.0 is as much a marketing commitment as it is a societal commitment with the emergence of a digital identity as a lever for individual expression.

Are the demands of the younger generations in terms of CSR compatible with the marketing strategies of brands? Isn't there a limit to transparency?

Yes, because we are witnessing the advent of the second-hand market and I think that it is a lever for brands to acquire new customers before buying new products. So there is consistency. But it should also be noted that there is a large gap between purchase intentions and reality due to price issues. Nevertheless, I don't see any limit to transparency as long as the brand has an authentic approach.

What are the next challenges for retailers?

We are entering a new retail paradigm with an ecosystem - outside blockchain - where the shop becomes a place of experience and e-commerce is increasingly "live", and collaborative; and on the other hand - in the blockchain - with the advent of cryptocurrency and the metaverse. This triangular composition between the shop, digital commerce, and meta-commerce is the next challenge for retailers. At the same time, data management is essential for a better fluidity of the customer journey and the understanding of consumer expectations. Finally, the role of in-store staff needs to be reinvented. The human factor is a differentiator, but in shops that are increasingly autonomous, we need to think about the role of sales staff as facilitators of local communities through social networks or as accelerators of live shopping with live streaming...

What is your "American experience" of retail?

Retail in the US is the leading industry in terms of employment, so it has a massive effect. What stands out is the deployment and excellence of Amazon through its points of sale. The company is signing partnerships, including with Starbucks, to create the most autonomous shop possible in New York with Amazon Go and Amazon One (a payment system based on customer palm recognition). Amazon is a very inspiring retailer (over 500 shops worldwide) in terms of innovation with the launch of a shop in Los Angeles, called Amazon Style, which is a stand-alone version of personalized shopping. Other major American players are joining forces to facilitate the customer experience. In their CSR approach, Americans are more aware of the social aspect than in France.

"The retail sector must integrate the increasing complexity of the customer journey with the multiplication of contact points and a hybridization of the purchasing process."

What are the commitments or brands that inspire you?

Amazon obviously impresses me for its expertise in retail, but also Nike and Walmart, which have applied the same fundamentals to accelerate digital. In France, Club Med is a good example of reconciling a raison d'être based on happiness that dates back more than 70 years with a customer-centric strategy based on a reinvented business model.

What trends do you see emerging in terms of consumption and the relationship with brands in general?

I can see consumers becoming more and more responsible, brands becoming less and less in control, the role of celebrities becoming more and more important as sources of trust, increased vigilance with regard to privacy and personal data in general, and a new relationship with space, more local but also more digital.

You have been a marketing director in many different companies - Club Med, Formula E, and Tough Mudder... -How do these experiences help you build the future?

Tourism, sport, and the experiential sector are ultimately based on the same marketing pillars, i.e. very strong brand foundations, expertise in the issue of customer paths and data, and finally an innovative dimension in the corporate culture. My experiences at Formula E and Tough Mudder (entertainment) have taught me the importance of content in an attention economy. These passion-based industries need a continuous connection.

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