The rise of Social Shopping in France

Mar 1, 2012
Vote on Hacker News

As the market share of smartphones in France grows, so do the different markets which are ripe for innovation – one of them is shopping. While initial hypotheses may have assumed that price-comparison would be the way to go, it seems that not only are major supermarket chains unwilling to play the price comparison game, it seems that the margin of gain is rarely worth the effort of changing supermarkets. And so, the race is well underway in France to figure out how a smartphone can best be used to accompany shoppers. Shopmium, an ISAI-funded company, has already identified itself as a major player in this space, providing ‘private promotions’ to shoppers. Prixing has had an app out for both iphone and android over a year, and has also been widely adopted throughout France. Skerou, a Le Camping company, is rumored to have just closed a round of seed funding, with what I promise will be a very well designed iPhone (and perhaps Android) app – once they actually put it in the appstore!

The rise of social shopping: online grocery ordering

While delivery grocery services have been available for awhile with a courtesy charge, one of the fastest-growing trends in the shopping world of France (other than the inefficient self-checkouts) is grocery pick-up, or “Drive” in French (as in ‘drive through’). You order your groceries online, and when you arrive at the grocery store 15 minutes later, your groceries are bagged and ready to go – and the price is exactly the same as the in-store prices. This is more adopted outside of Paris, where there is more of a desire to take the car to the grocery store, but there are still plenty of stores who allow pick-up in-store and allow you to walk out instead of ‘drive-away’, though adoption is slower.

The advantage here is that these participating supermarkets (currently about 10% in France, or just over 1,000 locations) must post the daily prices and deals for their products online. 48 hours of coding later, and now startups like Prixing can regularly scrape the data right off these sites and provide users with up-to-date pricing on products.

Smart shopping list & Barcode Scanning

With the in-store prices available online, users can now have a digital shopping list. Did you just run out of your favorite brand of toothpaste? Find out which brands are in stock in your town. You’re about to buy a brand-name can of soup? Why not try the cheaper store-brand version for 1 euro less – and for users of services like Shopmium, you can receive private discounts that are only available to shopmium users for certain products.

When I sat down with Prixing to talk about their app, they were pretty proud of their database of shopping items. Holding an empty toothbrush case, co-founder Thomas France scanned the item, and instantly brought up the average price of the items, along with a list from least expensive to most expensive and the distance to the stores. As he pointed out, the value-added of knowing a price-difference for one item in multiple stores may not be that great, but what if we take your weekly shopping list (juice, milk cereal, eggs, fruits,etc.) – all the things you buy every week, add in some particulars for this week (toilet paper, more trash bags, shampoo, etc.) ; run a few algorithms on this list and choose store-brands instead of name brands, and suddenly you can see your grocery budget drop 15 euros if you choose a particular store.

Skerou – taking it one step further?

Sitting down with Skerou founder Gregory Thurin, we went through the normal ropes of social shopping – he showed me the coupons, the price comparison, the smart shopping list – all the ‘givens’ one might expect from a smartphone-adapted shopping aid; however, from there he offered up a different story. According to Gregory, the value-added may seem to be in getting grocery budgets down and offering cash-back opportunities to shoppers, but the real value is in the potential to save time. He said that shoppers lose much more time when they forget certain things that they need to buy, and this is where a real value-adding app could come in. Imagine that your smartphone were tracking your shopping habits by reading your grocery receipts – within weeks or months the app might be able to detect a pattern – say that it takes you roughly 38 days to go through 6 rolls of toilet paper. Then, if it’s been 36 days and the app detects you’re in the grocery store, or you’re writing a grocery list, it might say “hey, are you out of toilet paper?”

The problems with “Social Shopping”

It seems that social shopping has a long road ahead of itself – certainly people will always be shopping, and as smartphone adoption grows, the market will have more room to grow. When discussing with these startups, though, I couldn’t help ask myself “Is shopping really a social occasion?” Do I want to tweet about the €.22 I just saved on toothpaste? Probably not. Do I want to be recommended grocery items based on my facebook friends’ grocery habits? Doubtful. I would much rather see Shopping 2.0 than Social Shopping, but perhaps that is just semantics.

The other threat that I see is that Casino, Auchan, Carrefour (for non French people, “Safeway”), these major supermarket chains may just steal this idea – after all, they have the database, the customer base, and the ability to market them directly. What’s to stop them from creating a mobile app themselves? Then again… what’s to stop them from purchasing the right startup, instead…