How Europe’s leading retailer of home furnishings is going from disrupted to disruptor

Posted On: 11th December 2018
How Europe’s leading retailer of home furnishings is going from disrupted to disruptor

This is the third instalment in our series about digital culture and its fundamental role in the digital transformation of companies. In the first article, Frederick Buhrhead of digital practice at Zalis, described the different phases from the cultural standpoint.  In the second article Mathias Vicherat – Deputy Managing Director for Strategy, Communications and Branding at the SNCF group, gave us an insight into high speed digital transformation.

For this article, Zalis caught up with Romain Roulleau  former SVP digital at Accor Hotels, who joined Conforama in May 2018 as their deputy CEO in charge of, you guessed it, digital and customer. We asked him about his early achievements and his plans for the future.

Interestingly enough, they are less about transforming Europe’s second home furnishing retail chain into a digital powerhouse and more about becoming “Digical” as in digital + physical.

Frederick Buhr: Romain, thank you for taking time to answer our questions, I know you’ve been busy, I always catch up with you in an airport it seems…

Romain Roulleau: That’s right, it’s been a hectic pace almost as fast as digital transformation itself…

Frederick Buhr: The holiday season is upon us, is Conforama dependent on this time of the year to turn red ink into black like other retailers?

Romain Roulleau: Not as much… We are more impacted by “back to school”, spring and summer, when people move, than the holiday period.

Frederick Buhr: Companies have different reasons to invest in digital transformation, what is Conforama’s core objective?

Romain Roulleau: Clearly to go from disrupted to disruptor. Unless you have lived under a rock for the last 5 years, you know that the retail industry worldwide is taking a lot of heat from pure players. I could mention some of our peers in the UK, which are losing 10% of revenue every year. This type of situation is not sustainable in the long run for any business.

Customers used to over rely on stores and sales staff to inform their purchase. Now they are taking all their initial information online, including from other other shoppers they don’t even know!

The fact that we have digital and physical outlets is yielding hybrid or “digical” customer paths. We see customers engaging with us using digital touch points first then moving to physical engagement when visiting our stores. Sometimes they even track back online to confirm an order and re-arrange a delivery time.

What is clear is that our stores are adding the most value in the customer path. Firstly their staff are clarifying or confirming the information available online, then they advising shoppers on the best options available for their needs. By offering the right type of  information at the right time in the purchase cycle, stores and their staff are much better at influencing and converting customers than any smart online campaigns or fancy websites.

This is the reason why we don’t see our stores as a liability but as a fantastic asset that plays a crucial role in converting shoppers into customers.

My goal is to take strong key positions in this hybrid path to engage and meet customers’ expectations with our brand, product and service.

Frederick Buhr: Digital transformation forces you to place educated bets fast.  How did you structure your team to experiment and learn rapidly?

Romain Roulleau: Retailers, by definition, are customer centric. However, in the digital age being customer centric is not enough, you have to become customer obsessed.

With this in mind, I have hired fifteen talented individuals in less than 6 months and created a customer obsessed team that is analysing, measuring and acting on the Conforama customer experience at each stage of the life cycle.

This team is composed of data analysts, UX experts, guest relation ninjas and marketing talents, collaborating intensely with each other. It is not an easy task trying to break the silos between websites, stores and call centers in order to create an omni-channel experience that is branded, consistent and efficient at adding value for our customers at every touch point.

Frederick Buhr: How do you lead this highly collaborative and multi talented team?

Romain Roulleau: First by giving them the right tools then by designing flexible processes around their objectives.

Obviously we are using a CRM, BI and analytics software… All the right technology to be able to be self-sufficient, and to test and learn quickly.

In terms of process, I was glad that agile methodologies already existed in the company, I just accelerated their adoption and I lead like a captain of a race boat. Every one must be trained to know exactly what they have to do at every second or else the sail will flap and the boat will slow down.

The plan is create a center of excellence that will transform the company into a learning organisation where talents grow, adapt and innovate.

I believe the value any employee brings to the company at the beginning should not be the same after one year or two years.  If it is the case, the organisation is regressing and will eventually become irrelevant. By shaping Conforama into a learning organisation, we will ensure more resilience to disruption in the future.

Frederick Buhr: Sail on Captain! Thank you Romain…