Article

21.09.2017

How will retail stores look in the future?

Many commentators predicted that the advent of online shopping would spell the demise of the bricks-and-mortar store.

However, physical shops are still very much alive, though the rise of e-commerce has forced them to re-think their approach.

Over the next few years, the role of the retail store is likely to be redefined, improving the way they work through the application of new technologies.

Between the growth of online shopping, the appearance of futuristic stores without sales assistants, such as Amazon Go, and the introduction of robots, it’s clear that the retail business is in a radical transition phase right now. And over the next few years there is little doubt that the shop as we know it is set to undergo a profound transformation. However, if you want to predict what’s coming in the future it’s often useful to take a look into the past.

The retail business has seen three major innovations in recent years. The expansion of the drive-through phenomenon, which originated with fast food outlets in the United States some 50 years ago, to grocery stores, saw the foundation in France over a decade ago of the pioneering Chronodrive, which enables customers to order online and then drive to the store to have their groceries packed in the car boot while they remain at the wheel.  Meanwhile back in the US, Amazon set up two Amazon Fresh Pickup grocery outlets this year, with retail giant Walmart following suit in Oklahoma City.  The second phenomenon has been the come-back, in opposition to the hypermarkets and ‘shopping malls’, staged by local shops where customers can make their purchases without having to take their car along and then search between endless rows of shelves. The third revolution has been the rise of online shopping, which began in the apparel and electric appliances segments but has since spread to groceries and fast-moving consumer products, as illustrated by the Amazon Fresh concept. 

Re-thinking the role of the bricks-and-mortar store

Matthieu Jolly, Service & Innovation Manager at the Echangeur, an Innovation meeting-point run by BNP Paribas Personal Finance, underlines that this triple revolution has been driven by the retailers’ desire to adapt to the changing expectations of their customers, notably for greater efficiency.  “The customer wants to save time,” he points out, adding: “However, this new reality raises a fundamental question: if nowadays the customer wants to spend as little time as possible inside shops, what are the shops going to do about it?” Does that mean they’ll simply disappear? Jolly argues instead that sales outlets will have to introduce new formats and take an approach that goes beyond the purely utilitarian, with three main areas for improvement. “The first is about turning the shop into a venue for new experiences, a place where you can be amazed, where you can have a good time,” he says. This might well mean giving customers greater freedom. For instance, the Nike store in the SoHo neighbourhood of New York City offers customers the chance to try out its gear in realistic situations, shooting a few basketball hoops or going into a full sprint. Similarly, US store Pitch, which specialises in luxury furniture and appliances, everything in the shop can be tested out – for example taking a shower or drying your hair on the premises.

Another option involves using Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) technologies. Given that the cost of these technologies is still rather high for the general public, brands will be able to vaunt their dramatic effect, offering customers a truly immersive experience. For instance, during a promotional campaign in Autumn 2015, The North Face store in Seoul, South Korea rolled out an initiative whereby it invited customers to sit on a dog sled, put on an Oculus Rift headset and experience for a few moments the life of a ‘musher’, being pulled through a snowy landscape by huskies. In the meantime, a sales assistant attached real live huskies to the sled, and when the customer took off the headset the dogs took off on a real race through the store. Similarly, in November 2016, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba invited its customers to put on a VR headset and be teleported to Macy’s store in New York. This kind of dramatic spectacle gives stores a ‘raison d’être’, creating a meeting-point where you can have new, fun experiences. “We’re moving from a transactional mode to an approach based on experiences,” explains Nicolas Diacono, Digital Project Manager at the BNP Paribas Personal Finance Echangeur.

A place for interaction and socialising

The second area for improvement actually goes in the opposite direction, concentrating on what is unique about shopping in a bricks-and-mortar store – i.e. the material aspect, the customer’s ability to see and touch. “A store is also a place where you go to get hands-on contact with a product, to feel how it works,” Jolly underlines. He does not think that the general public has yet been entirely won over by e-commerce. Retail stores therefore still have a strong hand to play if they focus on their specific features. The recently-announced partnership between US startup Casper and nationwide discount retailer Target is a telling move. The hypermarket chain has invested $75 million in Casper, a high-end, exclusively online, direct-to-consumer mattress business. As a result of Target’s financial injection, Casper’s mattresses can now also be bought at Target hypermarkets. Despite enjoying fast growth, Casper has struggled to attract buyers beyond a rather select circle of people who are happy to buy expensive items online without first trying them out. Partnering with Target opens the door to a wider potential clientele, while Target benefits from having attractive products at its premises. Customers like to try them out in-store, and they now have a reason to go to the Target store to do so. Similarly, French home appliance and multi-media store Boulanger is setting up areas within its stores where customers can try out all its products.

The third area for development is turning the store into a place for interaction and socialising. “Many people go shopping as a way of getting out of the house. Shopping malls in the United States are now widely used as a place where young people can meet up,” points out Matthieu Jolly. Amazon showed that it has fully understood this phenomenon when it acquired natural and organic food company Whole Foods Market, a brand known for its community feel and its pleasant stores where people enjoy walking around, up and down the aisles. 

However, making customers feel welcome isn’t enough, you also have to teach them something", argues Jolly. Carrefour’s store in Villiers en Bière, in the Greater Paris region, now offers classes in cooking, wine-making and make-up. 

Meanwhile French postal service La Poste provides premises for would-be drivers to take the written part of their driving test, and other companies are setting up co-working facilities. 

The Virgin Megastore in London has combined these three trends. Customers are hailed in the street by a hologram of Richard Branson, and then welcomed inside the stores by hostesses. They can then go downstairs where they’ll find a bar, a café, a piano, a relaxing space with armchairs, TV screens, and even a real-life Virgin Atlantic business premium cabin where they can watch the sky go by through the porthole windows. Children can play on the consoles at the video games space. You can even rent part of the premises for events, and every Friday evening a film is screened.

More efficient, better-managed stores

The store of the future will therefore play a different role from the one we know today and will moreover provide customers with a more efficient shopping experience. In the medium term, there will no doubt be many AR-based experiences on offer. Using a future version of Google Glass or the Oculus headset, tomorrow’s consumers will be able to navigate around the supermarket aisles and see the products they are interested in highlighted in front of them. These might be food items corresponding to a diet – vegetarian, gluten-free, stone-age diet, and so on – or the products they need for a cooking recipe, suggested by their personalised virtual assistant, depending on what they already have in their connected refrigerator. Also highlighted might be the wines that go well with the dish a customer intends to cook. “We’re entering the era of ambient shopping, where everything will be interactive,” predicts Nicolas Diacono, who sees the advent of this technology in ten to fifteen years’ time.

Yet another area for potential improvement is the checkout process. “The checkout queue remains today the least enjoyable part of the in-store experience. Streamlining this process, reinventing the payment procedure, will be one of the most important innovations,” stresses Nicolas Diacono. This means allowing customers to leave the shop without first having to go through the checkout. The items in their trolley would be recognised and tallied up on the customer’s smartphone app. Says Diacono: “This is for instance what Amazon is aiming for with Amazon Go, but the technology isn’t yet sufficiently mature. The costs are still too significant for this to be a profitable approach for a shop.” So the right system still needs to be developed. Explains Matthieu Jolly: “There already exists a technology that enables a retailer to automatically recognise the items in your basket when you pass the checkout – RFID, which is used by for example Nespresso. So it’s technically feasible to scan your selected articles, pay with your smartphone and leave the shop. However, for this to work, all the products on sale would need to be fitted with an RFID chip, which is still far too expensive for all the items purchased at a grocery outlet.

Lastly, the store of the future will be optimally organised through the use of advanced technologies. It will be equipped with robots set up to answer basic questions – this is what Pepper does already – or to direct customers to the products they are looking for, while human sales assistants focus on giving more sophisticated advice and on building the customer relationship. Robots will also no doubt have a role to play at the store’s warehouses. Supplying and restocking will be made easier through the use of AI and image recognition technology. As they move along the shelves, robots will be able to scan products and identify those that are out of stock, a task that could equally be carried out by connected trolleys equipped with cameras. Overall, sophisticated data management will enable retailers to get a better grip on what lies ahead. Nicolas Diacono foresees: “The store will be optimised by drawing on a threefold data input based on the customer’s needs, the environment – i.e. the weather, events that are taking place in the town, etc. – and the store itself. They will thus be able to make more accurate stock forecasts, taking into consideration seasonal factors, and will therefore be more efficient at restocking. A Decathlon store would for example be able to predict three or four days in advance how many bicycles it will sell during the coming weekend.”. So at the end of the day, this well-established social institution that we know as a ‘retail store’ still appears to have a bright future.

Source: L’Atelier

Article

06.05.2024

Ecosteryl decontaminates medical waste

Thanks to its low-pollution solutions and the arrival of new investors, the Mons-based company has every intention of continuing to grow. Discover more about this inspiring success story.

Eradicate the environmental and health problems associated with medical waste on a global scale: Ecosteryl's ambitions match the technical expertise of this Mons-based company. Founded in 1947, its core business was equipment and machinery for the mining industry.  Around twenty years ago, it completely reinvented itself by specialising in the treatment of (potentially) infectious waste from the healthcare sector.

A global player with high-profile clients

Today, Ecosteryl is a globally recognised player in its sector, exporting 100% of its production to more than 65 countries. Its customers? Hospitals, of course, but also organisations in the waste recycling sector and international institutions such as the World Health Organisation, the World Bank and the United Nations, as well as cities and states. The company employs around forty people and has an annual turnover of over €20 million.

Medical waste, a critical public health issue

Syringes, dressings, masks, sharp instruments... 15% of medical waste is considered hazardous and therefore requires special treatment. Given that a single hospital bed produces between 0.5 and 3 kg of this waste every day, it's easy to imagine the scale of the problem. The infectious, toxic and sometimes even radioactive risks associated with hazardous medical waste are far from minimal: among other things, it can trigger or accelerate a pandemic, and even give rise to new diseases. Decontamination and recycling of this waste, the only solution to eliminate this health risk, is therefore a global public health issue.

An environmentally responsible process

Direct incineration or autoclaving: these are the two methods used by Ecosteryl's competitors to decontaminate hazardous medical waste. The problem is that these processes are far from being environmentally neutral. Incineration causes significant CO2 emissions and harmful emissions, such as dioxins, and is also energy intensive. And autoclaving requires large amounts of water and energy, again with significant environmental consequences.

It is in this area of the environmental footprint that Ecosteryl has made a difference, thanks to a technological breakthrough developed in collaboration with the University of Paris. The decontamination and recycling process uses microwave and dry heat technology to disinfect hazardous waste. The decontaminated waste is then shredded to reduce its volume, after which it can be processed in the same way as non-hazardous waste. Or better still, it can sorted and recycled.

This process requires very little electricity to operate, and its environmental performance compared to incineration and autoclaving is incomparable in terms of emissions and water consumption.

Too much plastic in medical waste: recycling instead of prevention

Single-use plastic products, equipment and utensils are a fact of life in hospitals. In many cases, this single use is justified, for example for syringes. The problem arises when this waste is directly incinerated. But thanks to pre-treatment, decontaminated and dried waste can be given a second life.

Until now, there has been no machine for this final stage. Ecosteryl's latest development, R-Steryl, fills this gap. It is a unique sorting centre. Placed after the decontamination machines, it can sort decontaminated waste and recycle up to 80% of it. The major players in waste collection and treatment know that recycling is and will be a real challenge in the coming years. Ecosteryl is also positioning itself as a key player in this field, and is investing in a number of analyses to this end.

Private equity to accelerate development

Despite its size in the medical waste decontamination sector, Ecosteryl has no intention of slowing down. The company intends to continue and accelerate its international growth, and welcomes new investors: BNP Paribas Fortis Private Equity,  Wallonie Entreprendre and IMBC, an investment company focused on the Mons, Borinage and Centre regions. Philippe Dufrasne, Chairman of Ecosteryl, comments:  “With these new shareholders, we have found the right partners to help us stay ahead of the game and achieve our long-term goals, particularly in terms of ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) performance.”

A priority to invest in the transition of companies

BNP Paribas Fortis is also enthusiastic about this new project.

“We are particularly proud to support this company, which has developed a unique expertise in the production of cutting-edge equipment specialised in the environmental field. Over the years, Ecosteryl has succeeded in expanding worldwide in a niche market at the intersection of environmental and health issues. This investment is fully in line with our ambition to invest €1 billion in venture capital by 2025, focusing on funds and companies that respect environmental, social and governance criteria,” explains Raf Moons, Head of Private Equity at BNP Paribas Fortis. 

Article

03.05.2024

Transporting and securing energy across Europe

The Princess Elisabeth Island, is the world's first artificial energy island for transporting offshore wind power to land. A combination of innovation, technology and biodiversity conservation.

8,802 km: that's the length of all the onshore and offshore power lines and cables managed by Elia Transmission in Belgium.  As the operator of the Belgian high-voltage grid, Elia keeps the lights on by matching electricity generation and consumption at all times.

Artificial energy island

Grid operator Elia has just started to work on one of the most challenging projects in its history: the Princess Elisabeth artificial energy island. It will be located in the middle of the 285km2 Princess Elisabeth wind zone. This is the second offshore wind zone in the Belgian North Sea that has yet to be fully built. With a capacity of 3.5 gigawatts, the new wind farms will produce electricity equivalent to the annual consumption of 3.5 million households.

Catherine Vandenborre, CFO of Elia: “The Princess Elisabeth Island is a vital link in the successful energy transition in Belgium. The island has a dual function. First, it will bring electricity from the new offshore wind farms to the mainland. And then from 2030, the island will also be connected to wind farms in other countries with which electricity can be exchanged. This will give our country access to cheap and renewable energy.  This is crucial for our energy-intensive industries, which are rapidly moving away from fossil fuels and switching massively to wind energy over the next 10 years. In this way, Belgium is contributing to Europe’s climate goals and the ambition to realise 300 gigawatts of offshore wind in the North Sea by 2050.”

Designing for nature

In terms of location, design and implementation, due attention is being paid to limiting unwanted impacts on the marine environment. “We are going one step further and opting for nature-inclusive design,” explains Catherine Vandenborre. “In consultation with experts, we are taking concrete steps to protect the biodiversity around the island. For example, we are adding ledges to the outer storm walls where the kittiwake – a vulnerable bird species – can rest and breed. Below the waterline, several measures will be combined to create a diverse and rich artificial reef, with a particular focus on the return of the European flat oyster.  The measures have been selected on the basis of their technical feasibility and expected positive outcome.”

Co-creation and innovation

Achieving such a nature-inclusive design required close collaboration and knowledge sharing between all stakeholders and different domain experts. “An instructive process for all involved,” confirms Vandenborre. “With this initiative, Elia wants to set the tone for the environmentally friendly realisation of future offshore infrastructure. Europe’s seas are becoming the power stations of the future. By integrating biodiversity conservation measures from the design and construction phases, we want to increase and accelerate the positive outcomes. The co-creation project with the experts has already made an important contribution to scientific development in this field. But the work is not finished. Monitoring programmes will be put in place to follow up, and if necessary, adjust the selected measures.

Ready for the next gust of wind

As one of the main financial partners, BNP Paribas Fortis is supporting Elia’s transition to a reliable, affordable and environmentally friendly energy system. BNP Paribas Fortis has already financed 8 offshore wind projects in the Belgian North Sea. These 8 farms together represent 2200 megawatts, equivalent to 2 to 3 nuclear power plants. The next round? New wind farms in the Princess Elisabeth zone. This will be done through project financing, with the underlying contracts and resulting cash flows backing the loans.

Article

03.05.2024

Ziegler’s environmental strategy

How does Ziegler aim for greater environmental responsibility? By methodically exploring various avenues. Their approach is based on four key pillars.

From delivering jars of chocolate spread through the winding streets of Brussels, to storing and transporting satellites to Patagonia, to packing and moving valuable works of art, Ziegler does it all. Founded in 1908, the Belgian transport company provides international logistics solutions via multiple channels.

“The transport industry doesn't have the best environmental reputation,” admits Ziegler CEO Diane Govaerts. "People rightly expect solutions from us in that field. We do not run away from our environmental responsibility and have found a true partner in BNP Paribas Fortis.”

On land, at sea and in the air

Everything we use in our daily lives comes to us by road, rail, water or air. As a transport company, Ziegler is aware of its environmental footprint. The company is committed to improving its Environment, Society and Governance (ESG) performance in a number of areas.

“Our environmental strategy is based on four pillars,” explains Govaerts. "First, we have rainwater systems, LEDs, solar panels, electric charging stations and more. Our lab in Poland is constantly looking for new solutions like these.

Secondly, there is the transport itself. We are switching to the EURO 6 standard, which consumes less fuel and minimises pollution. At the same time, we are actively promoting alternatives, such as rail. Thanks to our trials with electric cargo bikes, we can now make B2B deliveries of up to 500 kg in small city centre streets. We are also developing autonomous electric delivery vehicles. Another interesting development is the use of drones in our warehouse logistics.

The third pillar is our team. We are running a number of educational initiatives to raise awareness of energy savings, recycling and vehicles with a smaller environmental footprint.

The last pillar is our partners, because they have the same needs as we do. This is certainly something we have in common with BNP Paribas Fortis."

No way back

Ziegler is actively looking for solutions. Despite the financial challenges, carbon-neutral solutions tend to be significantly more expensive, Diane Govaerts confirms 'there is simply no other way'. "If your company is not actively changing, you will not be here in five years. We are on the same wavelength as BNP Paribas Fortis in this regard. They are helping us make our transformation possible by providing support and financing. Their knowledge of multiple industries is extremely valuable to us. They are a true partner, making real contributions and helping us to find appropriate solutions. It’s reassuring to know that we can count on their guidance."

The young Belgian Cohabs renovates town houses and turns them into well-equipped, comfortable and stylish cohousing projects. The social and environmental aspects are also important in their story.

"The real estate market has been very tight for a few years. Finding a house or flat in the city is not easy. The economic situation is not ideal for new housing projects, but demand for housing remains high”, explains Youri Dauber, CEO of Cohabs. “The challenge? To curb parcellation and concreting by densifying cities. We also need to make buildings more energy efficient and, last but not least, find solutions to loneliness, which many people suffer from across generations.”

Cohabs has 2.500 rooms, spread adcross 150 buildings in Brussels, Paris, New York, Madrid and Luxembourg. The rent includes all costs such as internet and a Netflix subscription, as well as a cleaning service and the use of the gym, a cinema room, the garden and a coworking space. To make living together easier and avoid any frustrations, Cohabs supplies a number of basic products in all houses, such as toilet paper, washing-up liquid, olive oil and salt and pepper. The Cohabs residents of a city keep in touch through an app and can meet each other at a party held every month.

Not just young professionals

"When we started out in 2016, we had a target group of 25-35-year-olds in mind. But we immediately received a lot of applications from people over 50,” says Dauber. "My own parents, who are 75, pushed me to open up the concept to their generation too. We realised that cohousing is not just for young professionals. There are also people in very different stages of life who are going through a kind of transitional period. This is often accompanied by loneliness, as in the case of a divorce or someone who has lost their partner. We also think about what we can offer families. They need larger communal spaces and well-defined conditions. Like any young and innovative company, we’re evolving as we go along. We learn by trial and error.”

Solidarity and social coexistence

The young managing director is regularly amazed by the social adventure that coliving can be. "We had a 45-year-old Syrian refugee who saw something in cohousing. We thought living with a group of twenty-somethings would never work out. But we were wrong. The relationships built there proved so rich that we’re now working with the French NGO Singa. In the meantime, we offer solidarity rooms in some forty of our houses.”

Design, upcycling and an app

The young company is firmly committed to design. To that end, it works with Lionel Jadot, the Belgian pioneer in upcycling. His approach fits perfectly with Cohabs’ environmental philosophy, which itself also uses recycled materials for renovations. Solar panels and rainwater recovery are also part of this story. "Achieving an EPC score of B or C is our goal. This is exceptionally good for old buildings,” Dauber adds. "We are carbon neutral and a member of 1% for the Planet.”

Ready to push boundaries together

Cohabs was able to count on the support of BNP Paribas Fortis for investments and the purchase of new buildings. “They’ve been part of our story since our third property. Back then, we were just a small company, but we were asking for significant sums of several tens of millions of euros. But they supported us and granted us loans, which allowed us to grow abroad as well. It’s really a collaboration. They put their trust in us and believe in the potential of our concept."

Cohabs is ready to change the world. Discover even more inspiring entrepreneurial stories.

Quotes

“In forty of our cohousing houses, we offer solidarity rooms for people who want to reintegrate into society.”

“My 75-year-old parents pushed me to open up the concept to their generation as well.”

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