Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Why We Should Believe In Costco In France

I wanted to share with you some thoughts I had about the conference I attended about Costco at Paris Dauphine. As I have explained in a previous post, I really believe in the concept, and that it has some chances to grow in France. But during the Q&A session, I could feel how skeptical a large part of the audience was. Here are some of the issues they have pointed out, which I must admit will be some challenges to overcome for Costco in France:
  • France is a very tough market. Carrefour, Casino and Auchan are among the largest grocery retailers in the world, and they excel in retailing. Furthermore, even though these 3 companies cruises in the international market, they have an even stronger local competitor, which gains marketshares month after Months: Leclerc. How can Costco find his place in between?
  • France proposes very low margins: Due to the competition, prices are low, and therefore the French market tends to be less "profitable" in terms of %margins. 
  • France has specific concepts, and don't know how a membership wholesale works. It will be difficult to explain the concept and to convince French people to pay 55€ to become members.

I know all of those problems: I experience them every day as a category manager at DIA. France is for sure a very difficult market. But what I notice, is that even though people who raise these issues are for sure retail experts, they are very pessimistic and negatives. We all know how negative French mindset can be. What these people calls obstacles I'd rather consider them as challenges. Here is how I see it:
  • Sure the French market has a tough competition. But isn't Walmart a tough competitor in the US? Walmart succeeded in settling down in England, where there is Tesco, and where Carrefour failed couple of years ago. Also, they are in Japan, also a tough country where Carrefour failed.
  • The French market proposes low margins? Costco knows how to work with low margins. And they know how to work with it everywhere. Yes it will be difficult, but Costco knows how to work with international suppliers, so they should be able to get strong partnership even in France.
  • People don't know how a membership wholesaler works? Japanese got it, English got it. As long as you propose true advantages to a customer, he will get it. Costco has strong ambitions in France, so they should have the money to communicate on how it works.
Something that marked me, in the answers Costco's CEO gave, is that it seems they don't pay much attention to the competition's landscape. Indeed, they have their own concept, a unique concept, and therefore, they don't really have a true competitor, that proposes the same service. In the retail world, where pricing is one of the single factor of differenciation, I think it is a tremendous technique. They know that if they deliver what Costco's knows how to deliver, things would work. And I believe it is the right mindset. By focusing too much on competition and how a market is at a specific time, you don't focus on what is really important: satisfying customers.