Jérôme Hiquet (CEO of StratNXT): “Retail is in a turbulent cycle” – Interview > Retail

You created the company StratNXT, supported 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, a global digital performance agency in 20 countries. We are trying, in 2022, to reconcile the three main dimensions of consulting, especially the ability to define a strategic and operational vision, business expertise (digital throughout the value chain) and experience in the field – thanks to my 20 years spent in different marketing departments. StratNXT brings together approximately thirty customers in France, the United Kingdom and the United States. The company acts a little like a digital auditor, a justice of the peace in front of digital complexity (orchestration or acceleration of projects) for large accounts, investment funds, but also SMEs.

You mentioned the “StratNext touch” as a corporate identity, what exactly is it?

To define it, the best thing is to explain my desire to create the company that I want to be next to me as marketing director. So it combines three things that I was missing: having influential beliefs, an agnostic, business-oriented perspective and being supported in day-to-day management. Thanks to our internal tools, we can scan a company’s digital maturity in six weeks.

In your opinion, what are the next developments, or even changes in terms of data usage in consumer service?

The first challenge for brands is to succeed in refining and unifying consumer signals and intentions. Then, the tip of the cookie will mechanically accelerate the value of retailers as media players. Because they will have a large amount of unified and qualified data. All the players in the United States are positioning themselves on this topic. Finally, managing the customer journey without friction, which means having a single customer repository, an ability to orchestrate orders in an omnichannel way. The necessary fluidity of customer journeys will drive topics around data.

“Covid has allowed the clarification of the role of the store as a place of immersive discovery and omnichannel fullfilm”

How would you define the “New normal” post-Covid?

The difficulty of the current context is to manage the conflicting tension with, on the one hand, frictionless customer journeys and the boom in super convenience for consumers, as well as pressure on margins. How can brands develop more services while controlling their margins? They should be “price balancers”. Ditto for CSR issues. The expectations of citizens are not always the consumers confronted with a price logic. Finally, the metaverse must be integrated into digital strategies while remaining connected. Hence the interest for brands to be attentive to the insights to prioritize what matters in terms of innovation.

What, in your opinion, are the powerful “megatrends” in retail that really seem to be taking shape?

First, the advent of ultra-practicality that forces the normalization of new buying trends (cryptocurrency, BNPL, etc.). We can see that the battle for the last mile is fierce with the omnipresence of Amazon and control of the entire chain of the delivery route: road, air, sea… The rapid trade is followed by many trials of deliveries by autonomous that robot (Uber Eats ), although the business models have not yet been developed. There is also the arrival of local, close-to-home consumption. Hence the explosion of the “dark kitchen”. Finally, the retail sector must integrate the complexity of the customer journey with the proliferation of contact points and the hybridization of purchase journeys.

Second trend, “alt-commerce”, or alternative commerce. Live streaming has become a key tool for brands to connect with their audience. By extension, personalization will increase through “live personal shoppers”, as in the world of luxury. Re-trading is also exploding and inflation can be an opportunity for the second-hand market.

Third axis, the enlarged store and the clarification of the role of the store as a place of immersive discovery and omnichannel full filming (for example Zara). The point of sale is transformed from a simple place of passage into an attractive destination. Last trend, finally, customer engagement 3.0 with the role of augmented reality in the virtual retail experience. Many luxury brands are trying to monetize their assets in this digital world and I think the reality of NFT will have its full meaning in a logic of loyalty program (for example Roland-Garros and its fan club ). Commitment 3.0 is as much a marketing commitment as it is a societal one with the emergence of a digital identity as a means of expression for individuals.

Is the younger generation’s requirement in terms of brands’ CSR compatible with brands’ marketing strategies? Does transparency have no limits?

Yes, because we are witnessing the arrival of the second-hand market and I think it is a lever for acquiring new customers for brands 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 for price issues. Despite everything, I see no limit to transparency as long as the brand has a real strategy.

What are the next challenges for retailers?

We are entering a new retail paradigm with an ecosystem – outside the blockchain – where the store becomes a place of experience and e-commerce is increasingly “live”, collaborative; and on the other hand – in the blockchain – with the advent of cryptocurrency and metaverse. This triangular composition between the store, digital commerce and meta-commerce is the next challenge for retailers to understand. At the same time, data management is essential for better fluidity of customer journeys and understanding of consumer expectations. Finally, the role of store personnel needs to be reinvented. The human factor is different, but with increasingly autonomous stores, it is necessary to imagine the role of sellers as facilitators of local communities through social networks or accelerators of live shopping with live streaming…

What is your “American experience” in retail?

Retail in the United States is the number one industry in terms of employment, so the impact is huge. What stands out is Amazon’s deployment and efficiency in its outlets. The brand is signing partnerships, especially with Starbucks, to create the most autonomous store possible in New York with Amazon Go and Amazon One (payment system based on customer palm recognition). Amazon is a very inspiring retailer (more than 500 stores worldwide) in terms of innovation with the launch of a store in Los Angeles, called Amazon Style, which is a standalone version of shopping in personalized mode . Other major players in the US are working together to facilitate the customer experience. Americans in their approach to CSR are more aware of the social side than France.

“The retail sector must integrate the complexity of the customer journey with the multiplication of contact points and the hybridization of purchase journeys”

What promises or brands inspire you?

Amazon obviously admires me for its expertise in retail, as well as Nike, Walmart who have applied the same fundamentals to accelerate in digital. In France, Club Med is a good example of the reconciliation between a raison d’être around happiness that dates back more than 70 years and a customer-centric strategy around a reinvented business model.

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

I see the rise of responsible consumers, brands gradually losing control, the increasing role of celebrities in trusted sources, the increasing vigilance vis-à-vis 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 companies from different worlds – Club Med, Formula E and Tough Mudder… – how do these experiences help shape the future?

Tourism, sports and experience are ultimately based on the same pillars of marketing, namely the very strong foundation of the brand, expertise in the challenges of journeys and customer data, and finally a dimension of change in the culture of company. My experiences in Formula E and Tough Mudder (entertainment) taught me the importance of content in an attention economy. This requires seamless connectivity for these passion-related industries.

His journey:

2004: Director of CRM for Voyages-sncf.com

2008: digital and CRM director then marketing vice-president of Club Med

2014: Marketing Director Tough Mudder

2018: Formula E Marketing Director

2021: Founder and CEO of StratNXT

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