European consumers still in gloomy mood

23 February 2010

PARIS: Consumer behaviour in some of Europe's biggest markets is unlikely to see any substantial changes for at least another six months, according to Lars Olofsson, ceo of Carrefour, the retail giant.

The company's revenues fell 1%, to €87.4 billion ($119.1bn; £76.9bn), in 2009, and in seeking to answer the "million dollar question" of how the climate might develop in 2010, Olofsson sounded a note of caution.

"Honestly speaking, I don't see major changes on a global level that will change customer or consumer behaviour, let's say, for the coming six months," he said.

Within this, he suggested that three distinct regions are emerging, with strong growth set to continue in Latin America and conditions beginning to improve in Asia, while Europe will remain more challenging.

"In terms of Europe we are in four major markets and I don't see any real changes that will change the behaviour of our customers and clients," argued Olofsson.

In France, the hypermarket titan intends to focus on pursuing a "stable price policy" and implementing "fewer but bigger promotions."

As part of this process, it has introduced the Promotion Libre scheme, with the aim of giving its customers a greater say in "choosing the products that they would like to have on promotions."

Since the onset of the recession, Carrefour has been trying to change perceptions about its performance on price, such as with the launch of Carrefour Discount, an own-label line that now contains around 430 products.

"We launched this range ... we have advertised it, and I can see that there has been a very significant shift in the price image in France today," Olofsson said.

A similar approach has been utilised in Spain, where the retail sector as a whole has been forced to face up to "serious problems", while its operations in Belgium and Italy have also been subject to a radical overhaul.

Globally, the company invested €600 million in ensuring its pricing strategy was competitive in 2009, and having set the right "base", it now plans to reduce its overall expenditure in this area.

Looking forward, Olofsson predicted "it is our major emerging markets, which are China and Brazil, which are evidently going to contribute to our future growth."

Data sourced from Carrefour; additional content by Warc staff