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The Big Whale: When we think of Casino, we think of retail, stores, but not the web3. What prompted you to start?
Stéphanie Zolesio : Yes, it may come as a surprise, but in reality, it is very logical that Casino is present in this universe. The activity of Casino, and more particularly of Casino Immobilier et Innovation which I am in charge of, is to create spaces so that our brands, Casino, Franprix, Monoprix and Cdiscount, can express themselves.
We are very present in the physical and digital world, so it seemed essential to us to go and test and explore this new hybrid world.
When did Casino start interested in the web3 ?
I remember it very well, it was two years ago. I had asked my teams to present me some innovation topics during a meeting and that's when I was told about "tokenization", and to be honest I didn't understand anything at that time.
This is often the case the first time...
But as I am quite curious, I wanted to understand. So the team organized meetings with players in the ecosystem, and pretty soon we realized that there was a real potential around the metaverse, NFTs and cryptocurrencies. Only a few months after these first meetings, we bought our first plots in The Sandbox.
Casino manages the web3 internally via its real estate and innovation subsidiary. Why do you want to do this? What does this have to do with real estate?
It's only weird for those who decided that web3 was only digital. Twenty years ago, some people said that the Internet was the domain of marketing, when it is not. Today, the Internet is about all business lines, and the same goes for web3.
We are convinced that tokenization will have a very important impact on real estate. Splitting the ownership of real estate assets among different owners already exists with real estate investment trusts (SCPI). Why not do it digitally through blockchain?
What would be the benefit of tokenizing your stores?
My teams take care of both the stores and the grounds for the group and also for third parties.
We are specialists in these topics, and by offering a tokenization platform with real estate services, we can position ourselves to support clients in physical and digital investment.
What is blocking the launch of such a platform?
We are making good progress on the project. It's a matter of weeks.
In the meantime, you have already done a lot of things with Monoprix and Leader Price. What is your assessment?
The Sandbox organized in 2022 a French Weeks operation in which Monoprix and Leader Price participated. During two weeks, users had an avatar in The Sandbox with quests to complete. In the quests, there were QR codes and points to be earned that could be used directly in stores.
Last year we also launched a collection of NFTs distributed free of charge to members of the Leader Price club. There were 10 families of NFTs representing different retail professions.
What is the interest of this kind of collections?
These are loyalty tools. Take the case of the NFT vigneron distributed to Leader Price club members. If you have an NFT vigneron, you can get discounts on the bottles you buy.
This also works with the delivery person. This NFT allows you to have free deliveries for a certain period of time, and above all, you can exchange these NFTs with their benefits. This type of functionality was not possible with the traditional web.
In addition to your consumer experiences, your subsidiary Cdiscount has used NFTs for the traceability of its large packages. How did this work out?
Savings! For large packages, especially the more expensive ones, we had breakage or loss, which we could no longer tolerate. In logistics, you have a slip that is filled out at each step. Sometimes you have ten pallets, and at the next stage you only have nine...
Thanks to blockchain and Ownest's system, we have reversed the responsibility: you no longer have to fill out a document, but use an NFT that acts as the proof of responsibility. If you have the NFT, you are responsible for the goods and it is by transmitting it that you free yourself from this responsibility.
It's kind of the NFT that nobody wants to have?
Exactly. We now triple-check the merchandise. There is no better example to show that an NFT has a real impact.
For the moment, this system works with large packages. Could it be developed in other stores?
Technologically, it is possible.
Many companies wonder by which end to take the web3. Obviously, Casino has decided to take the subject in a very broad way without focusing on a single activity. Isn't it too complicated?
We chose to do many things at the same time because web3 is still in its infancy and it allows us to test new uses. We have to test the marketing angle, the management angle, the commercial angle...
When companies launch web3 projects, there is a lot of noise, but the impact is usually quite limited. Is this the case for you?
The experience of the French weeks in The Sandbox is a perfect example of the opposite. We were surprised by the number of people who came, and especially by the average length of their gaming session. It was longer than the time people usually spend on our online site!
The bottom line is that we're getting people and they're even more engaged. In The Sandbox, the engagement rate was ten times higher than what we usually get on social networks.
You may have very little engagement on your social networks...
No, we have a very good engagement rate, but it's true that the proportion of players in The Sandbox who joined the merchant site was much higher than what we do on traditional media. In the Leader Price operation, 50% of people used their NFTs to make transactions.
How do you explain this success? Was it the immersive dimension that played a role?
There is obviously the immersive dimension. At Monoprix, we have installed kiosks that allow you to physically buy NFTs from the "RudeKidz" collection in some Monoprix stores.
The operation lasted two weeks. When you bought an NFT, you had physical products, with a subscription at Monoprix that gave 10% discount on its shopping.
At the end of this operation, we organized a party in one of the Monoprix stores of the operation (Monoprix Montparnasse in Paris, editor's note), and we were overwhelmed by the event. We had to kick people out at 10:30 pm. This operation was very instructive because it showed that community activation via NFTs works very well.
What are the next steps?
We are now working on the scaling up of these experiments.
After two years of testing, what interests you about these technologies?
Very clearly, decentralization. It's interesting to see how, as a brand, we can totally disrupt traditional marketing where we are obliged to know everything about the customer, their gender, their age, their sociology.
Our customers no longer want us to know everything about them and to be the product. Things are changing and blockchain allows us to respond to these new challenges.
How to find the right balance between the business dimension and the customers' wishes?
That's the learning curve we've started to go through. There is inevitably some frustration because on certain operations we will be blind, we will not have the right information, but we must learn to work differently.
Now, we are learning to look at wallets, to look at transactions, to follow NFTs that can move from one wallet to another, which lets us imagine many possible uses. With web3, we are no longer tracking customers, but buying paths.
To make progress on these issues, we also need to change the culture internally. How do you do this?
At first we hired generalists, people who were curious about these subjects, and then we gradually recruited more specialized people.
How many people do you have in-house?
We have a small team with five people dedicated to the web3 subject. This team can help all brands in their strategy and choice of partners both technical and marketing.
How do you acculturate internally?
At the beginning of the year we created a Web3 Academy. The Web3 Academy is a program on different modules that allows to understand what web3 is. At the end of the training, there is a certification system with a diploma in the form of NFT and even a ceremony in the metaverse.
Who is concerned by this training?
All Casino employees. Our goal is that these topics are not only marketing. Our role is to make people aware that, like the Internet 20 years ago, the web3 is going to have a considerable impact on our business and our relationship with customers.
The arrival of Facebook, now Meta, in the web3 has pushed many companies to position themselves on topics related to cryptos and NFTs. Is it also your case?
We started looking at it before Meta came along. Our first acquisitions in the metaverse were in December 2021.
Meta launched in October 2021...
We made the acquisitions in December, but it started before that. We had to know where to buy and how. There are also governance issues. Who creates the wallet, who has access to it? Such an operation, with its accounting implications, cannot be done in a few days, especially for a listed group.
How did you handle being interested in cryptos by being a listed group?
We had to prepare the file well and convince people internally, especially at the highest level. We explained what the vision was and where the ambition lay.
For the past year, it has been much more complicated to move in crypto. Wasn't there too much hype?
I remember very well the beginning of the Internet where we were told that it was not finished, that nobody was ready to buy items on a computer, that paying by credit card at a distance would never work... All this is well known!
After testing all these technologies, what is the most complicated to learn?
The hardest thing was to sort out the topics, without getting lost, because the days are only 24 hours long. When we started in 2021, it was crazy around NFTs, there were many projects, lots of experts who, for some of them, had been there only a few weeks...
I have a fairly simple technique for sorting out: at each appointment, I ask for the names of three other people to follow on web3 topics. The human recommendation worked very well. The second difficulty was sorting through our projects, because once we identified all the use cases, we had to make choices 😏.
Another important project for Casino is Lugh and his stablecoin euro, the EURL. How far along is it?
This was a very important project because it was the first time that a traditional company launched a stablecoin.
Two years after the launch, the EURL's reserves barely exceed 6 million euros. We would have imagined a little more. Why doesn't it take off?
I think you are being very harsh. In the last few weeks, volumes have increased significantly. We are currently testing and changing parameters to further increase the use of EURL.
How to make the EURL more widely used?
There is the question of use cases and the question of availability on platforms.
Wasn't the choice to make the EURL available only at Coinhouse a mistake?
I still think it was a good decision. What's certain is that we need to continue to make it more accessible. We've started to do that with other platforms and other digital portfolios.
When Lugh was launched, Casino assured us that there would be other retail players in the project. Where do you stand?
We are discussing it with other players. It just takes time.
Could the EURL be integrated more directly into the Casino environment, or will it remain a product of the crypto universe?
The vision we have is to have a global ecosystem that embraces the web3 philosophy. We have to adapt as we go along. Having the possibility, tomorrow, of sending EURLs to everyone makes no sense. We have to go gradually, but the EURL is clearly a priority for Casino.