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World Retail Congress tackles climate change and AI

lllustration of the earth with a continent in the shape of a dollar sign

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

At the World Retail Congress in Paris, climate change and AI dominated discussions.

Why it matters: Consumer-facing companies are facing unprecedented challenges this year, from rising costs to election outcomes that could impact trade.

What they're saying: Retailers not adapting to the challenges of climate change will only increase their cost of doing business, Carrefour CEO Alexandre Bompard said.

  • It's about "more than just reducing our climate emissions," he added.
  • "It's about how climate change directly impacts our businesses. From the rising costs of commodities like olive oil and cocoa to the volatility of energy prices, climate change is making resources more scarce, more expensive," he said.

Zoom in: Carrefour has been in turnaround mode under Bompard since he came aboard in 2017.

  • Carrefour's hypermarkets were on the verge of extinction when he took the wheel, the CEO says.
  • A restructuring and a focus on omni0channel, among other moves, have revived the retailer, he says.

Artificial intelligence also emerged as a key topic on the main stage and in conversations.

  • Mark Ibbotson, the former EVP of Central Ops at Walmart U.S., touted AI to attendees as the best way to combine technology and people.
  • Kingfisher CEO Thierry Garnier said on the main stage that successful deployment of AI means focusing on a handful of areas where it can immediately drive efficiencies, which in his company's case meant management of markdowns and clearance.

Inside the room: Impact Analytics' CEO Prashant Agrawal told Axios that his AI startup, for example, is helping retailers to better forecast demand to order the right type and amount of inventory.

  • Lily AI president Ahmed Naiem talked with Axios about how his company — which had a post-money valuation of $205 million tied to its last round — is helping improve search both on retailers' sites and on Google.

The intrigue: The death of the mall hasn't hit the Middle East, where they serve as air-conditioned escapes from the heat and community centers, Majid Al Futtaim Lifestyle CEO Fahed Ghanim told Axios.

  • The division, part of retail conglomerate Majid Al Futtaim, operates more than 70 stores and 22 e-commerce platforms in six markets in the Middle East, with exclusive licenses for brands such as Lululemon and Lego, and generates north of $270 million in revenue.

What we're watching: Ghanim forecasts IPOs by retail-related businesses based in the Middle East, though he declined to comment on if a public offering was in the cards for his parent company.

Stay tuned for more coverage from the World Retail Congress, including on how Kmart turned itself around in Australia (sadly, the chain stopped offering the Bluelight Special).

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