With 25 years in China and formerly the second-largest foreign retailer on the mainland, the Shanghai-based arm of France's supermarket chain Carrefour China has undergone a dramatic digital transformation in the past year.
It has morphed into an integrated offline-and-online supermarket and is emerging from its cocoon of the former "hypermarket."
In the face of an e-commerce trend, Carrefour China sold 80% of its shares in September last year to China's third-largest retailer Suning.
Coinciding with the 4.8 billion yuan ($700 million) acquisition, Suning launched a plan to open more than 200 in-Carrefour Suning stores across China. By selling home appliances and electronic products, these stores are helping Suning compete with e-commerce competitors JD.com and Tmall.
As of the end of 2019 Suning ranked top in the domestic field of home appliances and electronic products - owning 22.8% of retail brick-and-mortar stores, according to a report from the China Household Electric Appliance Research Institute.
In-Carrefour Suning stores are expected to enhance Carrefour China's market position. Carrefour China now has 209 large combo stores with both general merchandise and food, 10 boutique supermarkets and 21 Easy convenience stores in 52 cities. It has about 30 million members.
Six months after the acquisition, Carrefour China opened a new supermarket in Chongqing, but operating within the Suning's network - which comprises Suning subsidiary brands including cinemas, baby products and online cloud stores.
Suning owns nearly 9,000 stores in 700 cities and is the country's third largest e-commerce operation behind Alibaba-backed Tmall and JD.com.
A few years ago, when e-commerce was forcing a transformation of traditional retailing, Carrefour was slow to respond, experts said. Consumers complained the Carrefour app performed poorly, product variety was limited and many locations didn't sell fresh food. Carrefour didn't have its own e-commerce distribution center until 2015, according to a report by Daxue Research & Consulting.
On April 21, nine domestic food-supply companies signed agreements with Carrefour China to provide fresh meat, fruit, vegetables and seafood. The company stated its sales goal for 2020 is 3 billion yuan ($443.1 million).
Rather than making a big shop every week, buyers in China are inclined to shop locally and more frequently, and have been changing habits from in-store shopping to online shopping. Carrefour China said it plans to expand fresh goods and make deliveries within one hour to customers - similar to Hema Fresh.
"In terms of digitalization, our exciting 209 stores nationwide have completed a smart retail transformation to meet the one-hour delivery service within three kilometers of the surrounding area," Carrefour China chief executive Tian Rui said.
This new "community store" concept takes advantage of Suning's cloud service for fast-moving consumer goods and Suning's 3 million stock-keeping units across the nation.
As of Aug. 23 there were 8 million users on the Carrefour China community store app.
Carrefour China has seen promising results in profits in the final quarter of 2019. The company made its first quarterly profit in the past seven years.