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  • Marie-juliette Levin

New Business Models Need to be Created Around Services

While digital transformation remains the priority for organisations, agility is essential if they are to keep pace with the economic context and changing consumer behaviour. Retailers, the figureheads of connected commerce, also need to step up the pace of innovation if they are to remain attractive. Valérie Piotte , CEO of Altavia Cosmic, and Sarah Gaïsset, Investment Director at Altavia Adventures, take a look at the latest developments in the sector.

What is Altavia Cosmic's business?

Valérie Piotte: Altavia Cosmic is a subsidiary of the Altavia Group, an independent, family-run communications group celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, with a presence in 45 countries based on two pillars: creative commerce and marketing execution. Altavia Cosmic, a 360° communications agency dedicated to commerce with a staff of 30, is one of 70 entities within the group, which is organised as a federation of business units.

As a result, project teams are set up according to clients' needs, combining the skills of each BU. The agency achieved a fine performance in 2022, the year of post-Covid reconsolidation. Our approach is both ROI-oriented for our customers, who come from industry and retail, and innovative. For example, we have successfully tested BtoB Live Shopping for Atlantic...

How do you analyse the current context?

VP: In this context of transformation, we need to be proactive, to come up with new ideas without waiting for briefs, and to support customers who are disrupted by the unstable situation. We're going through a period of rethinking certain business approaches. We're seeing advertisers turning directly to freelancers operating on platforms or calling in creative people directly, so agencies need to reassert their added value if they are to remain sustainable.

More generally, like all companies, we need to reinvent our business models and transform our operating methods in response to changes in consumer behaviour and advertisers' expectations. This means always being one step ahead. Even the traditional agencies have changed... Publicis has developed a technological approach, Havas has focused on creative advertising...

What are advertisers' expectations?

VP: Everything moves very fast, especially technological developments. But digitalising a company takes time, because it reshuffles the deck for existing organisations. This is particularly true for retailers, who have to invest massively in their back offices.

During the Covid period, companies became acutely aware of the need to digitalise their organisations, but it takes time to roll out the strategies that have been validated.

They need support to get a global view of the market and make the right choice of technology providers.

What are your impressions on your return from the Retail's Big Show in New York?

Sarah Gaïsset: I'm a member of the French Tech jury for the NRF, represented this year by over 40 French start-ups. My mission at Altavia Adventures is to develop a start-up community, an ecosystem of technological solutions made available to our clients.

As the Group's 'scout', I'm very open to retail innovations. I've noticed that French retail tech is doing very well in the global ecosystem and is asserting its difference in terms of eco-responsibility and sustainability compared with the United States, which talks a lot about it but does little about it. Our solutions are clearly ahead of the game. On the other hand, when it comes to the social aspects (diversity, inclusion) of CSR strategies, the Americans are very committed.

What innovations have you spotted?

SG: There has been a lot of talk about a "retail apocalypse", with e-commerce taking the lead. But at NRF we saw a rebalancing of forces, with 6% growth in retail sales (vs 2021) and stagnation in e-commerce.

There is no longer this opposition between physical and digital points of sale, since shops have become very powerful relays for e-commerce.

Another phenomenon is that technology is becoming invisible, and everything is happening in the back office to improve the performance and fluidity of the customer experience. On the front line, sales staff are equipped and trained, and monitoring tools linked to their well-being help to limit staff turnover in shops. The autonomy of retailing is developing, with the aim of making life easier, for example with Nuro, a car that delivers products to customers at home, or Zabka, a Polish retailer that is developing an autonomous shop open 24/7 that can be mobilised in places where people live (campuses, hospitals, sports halls, etc.).

What has been the effect of Covid?

SG: Physical retail is facing the 3 Cs: Covid, Crisis and Conflict. New York lived under a bell for three years. Despite everything, we're seeing a comeback and a certain effervescence, even though around 800 shops should have closed in the last two years, according to the show's organisers.

The heart of the city's activity has shifted from Manhattan to Brooklyn, the birthplace of new concept stores. These include Glossier, a cosmetics brand, and Nike, with its newly installed experiential spaces.

Another phenomenon is the explosion in the number of yoga and pet shops on the streets. The challenge is to offer a memorable customer experience and create new business models based on services. Autonomous commerce is developing enormously.

Is French Tech changing its position in this global ecosystem?

SG: When it comes to retail, France clearly has a head start. What's more, French Tech is strongly supported and backed by the French government and the regions. This provides the right conditions for the emergence of unicorns.

In terms of innovation, the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas is also a great showcase...

VP: We are indeed moving into another dimension. With 3,200 exhibitors in three different venues, it's a gigantic show.

And what's more, with over 200 start-ups, France is the leading foreign delegation.

I picked out a number of insights, including the transformation of the business models of major manufacturers. From selling products, they are now positioning themselves as service providers. Samsung, in the connected home market, is presenting itself as an aggregator hub for all its multi-brand connected devices, offering support services to users (energy saving, for example). Schneider Electric is doing the same with its application.

Technology is making a host of health- and mobility-related services available to as many people as possible. For example, Sony has presented a concept car, "Afeela" in partnership with Honda, with the aim of becoming the leader in mobile entertainment services. They want to join forces with all car manufacturers. Hyundai presented an 'Ocean Wise' application that enables transport operators to optimise their routes to reduce energy impact and costs.

This demonstrates the importance of capturing and enhancing data to provide the best possible service. We could imagine Carrefour offering connected fridges to its customers and filling them according to their preferences and types of consumption.

What about the metaverse phenomenon?

VP: The subject of web 3 was very much present, with over 200 exhibitors linked to this universe. It's no longer just a buzz, but a reality, albeit one that remains within the scope of gaming. Goggles, gloves, helmets, clothing... are all part of the total immersive experience. Numerous virtual worlds are appearing by theme: entertainment, commerce, etc.

We are also seeing an increase in the number of start-ups offering NFT marketplaces, where consumers create and sell their digital assets and run their own communities.

Finally, fungible assets are becoming increasingly popular as a reward currency for loyalty programmes. Starbucks (accumulated digital stamps) and Time Magazine (magazine covers in NFT) are leading the way in this area. In this context, the creation of a crypto-wallet is just two clicks away.

What are the next challenges for retailers?

VP: The issue of monetising their omnichannel data, and not just their online data, will come to the fore in the next few years. Tomorrow, retailers will be selling their customers' data to brands in order to maximise sales performance. This change of paradigm and balance of power will lead to a more personalised offering for consumers.

Supermarkets have invested heavily, but e-commerce data only accounts for 15% of their sales. The Holy Grail is to connect data across all channels to address the customer throughout their entire journey. After search and social media, retail media has been heralded as the third digital media revolution. New models need to be invented.

Career :
  • Valerie Piotte set up HighCo 3.0, a digital agency serving the retail sector, in 2007, before heading up HighCo Shopper until 2012. She joined Publicis Shopper and repositioned the agency on shopper marketing expertise and the digitalisation of retail before joining Altavia's Cosmicen agency in 2015, where she has been CEO since 2018.

  • Sarah Gaïsset joined Altavia as Consulting Director in 2007. She became director of the digital & store expertise division in 2011 before creating Altavia Coach, an entity dedicated to Innovation and the detection of strategic business lines. Since 2020, she has been in charge of investments and monitoring investments within Altavia Adventures, as well as relations with the RetailTech start-up ecosystem ("Start-Up Community"). Sarah is a member of the French Tech jury for NRF 2023.

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