Sunday, August 4, 2013

Chronoshopmall... 3D virtual supermarket (folly?)

Maybe it is me who is faint of heart, but trying to understand and rationalize the (rather visually interesting) Chronoshopmall - the first 3D supermarket in the world which "opened" in Lebanon (among all countries!). It the branchild of entrpereneur Pierrot Achkar who certainly deserves credit for this 1,5 Million Dollar gamble.
First let's start by saying that experience is interesting, almost real, and entertaining as a whole. Now, you can either pay by being redirected to a BLOM partner bank site or on (free) delivery (which is three hours later in a refrigerated truck which covers Damour to Amchit (but with a minimum bill of 50 USD).
Mr. Achkar is aiming for a 5 million Dollar a month billing of which 2-3% are yearly profits. Prices apparently are the same as the larger supermarkets which already exist in Lebanon.
All of this is fine and dandy, but we do live in country where online shopping is almost unheard of, and also with the advent of Carrefour, and the major price war and offer-frenzy it has launched with its competitors TSC and Spinney's, prices are tumbling down by the day and aiming for price-sensitive and product-savvy consumers.
Mr. Achkar's rationale is that this will save consumers fuel price, time (hence probably the name chrono or Chronos with the s merged with the word shop behind it to make chronoshop - with Chronos being the Greek god of time), and most importantly impulse buys (which add a substantial sum to any consumer's supermarket bill). According to Mr. Achkar this saves a family of three with no young infants 30-40% of buying expenses which would amount to 600 USD.
But, opening a supermarket online basically breaks all established rules of supermarket indoor marketing. Large surfaces rake incredible sums to put certain brands on eye level (shelf placement) as opposed to lower shelves or above eye level. Soda brands, also pay substantial sums just to have the last soda refrigerator before the cashiers. Products placed right before paying (chocolates, sweets, gums and breath fresheners) are also not put there by accident or out of charity.
What about POS (Point of Sale) material? Danglers, hangers, etc... Which are also a massive income generator to supermarkets as brands try to attract consumers towards them and as a byproduct insuring humongous sums of money to supermarket chains.
Also, what about payment methods to suppliers? One of the usual tricks of supermarkets is to buy products and then pay them 90 days later. In the meantime, money generated from sales would be used to buy products from (often) competing suppliers (yes, through the sales of a competitor brand).
All of this without even going through the incredible amount of freebies supermarkets get while buying wholesale. Will Chronoshopmall be able to offer the same buy "2 get 1 free" or "free apron with brand X", etc?
Already, the site has broken a major supermarket display rule. It has windows with lights coming in! Probably you never thought of this, but supermarkets are hermetically sealed with artificial light to stop consumers from worrying about the outside time and making them feel atemporal. Yes, I understand this goes hand in hand with Mr. Achkar's perception of limiting impulse buys, but it does insure a longer experience time wise.
Sure, not everything is about backdoor supermarket machinations. Other elements are about the consumer himself. Shopping is essentially a social experience. In the Gulf region (where Mr. Achkar intends to expand) with few open places to go to, families consider this as an outing in itself, where all members contribute and solidify bonds. Based from the experience offered by the website, it all seems so eerily empty. No friend to bump into, no unwanted acquaintance to avoid, no me-time alone for mothers, etc....
The initiative is certainly laudable. That is for sure. Time will tell if it will catch on with Lebanese consumers. Whether a certain socio-economic class will adopt it in parallel to its shopping habits or if it will become a primary and exclusive source of replenishment for them.

PS: All statements attributed to Mr. Pierrot Achkar in this article were taken from the L'orient le Jour article "Le premier supermarch√© virtuel en 3D au monde « ouvre » ses portes... au Liban" by Dalal Medawar published on August 2nd 2013.

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