BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- Carrefour, the French retailing giant, is focusing on customer service as it seeks to expand its presence in Argentina.
And it is not alone: Coto here, a domestically owned 71-store chain of supermarkets, is offering shoppers some distinctive services as well.
Currently, Carrefour, with 22 stores, most in the Buenos Aires region, is the largest operator of hypermarkets in the country.
The emphasis on service is built into the format of Carrefour's recently opened units, the newest of which debuted in September.
The typically 80,000-square-foot stores have between 60 and 70 checkouts. All the checkouts are rarely in use at the same time, perhaps only three or four weekends a year. Carrefour built in the oversupply so customers "will never have to wait" to pay for their purchases, according to a company spokesman.
The stores also have in each department a category expert available to answer customer questions and promote products. The experts appear as eager to consult with an elderly man about laundry detergent as to display their thorough knowledge of the products in a store's cosmetics aisle.
Along with the in-house experts, manufacturers representatives are also frequently on hand to promote their employers' products.
As a result, customers should have no trouble finding someone to answer their questions. At any given time, there are approximately 130 Carrefour employees (out of a total store workforce of 400) and roughly 100 manufacturers reps available to assist shoppers.
Other international food retailers expanding their presence in Argentina include Wal-Mart Stores, Bentonville, Ark., France-based Auchan and several Chilean supermarket companies.
A Carrefour spokesman said the company is not worried about Wal-Mart's arrival and growth in Argentina. He said his company and Wal-Mart do not really compete for the same customers, with Carrefour attracting more upscale shoppers and Wal-Mart drawing on a more price-conscious market.
Domestic food retailers, who have been selling to the price-conscious market, are also using customer service to hold on to their shoppers.
Coto, which began as a family-owned butcher shop in 1970 and has grown into one of Argentina's largest supermarket chains, and is still family-owned, features one of the more distinctive services: a day care center with a high-tech security system for shoppers' children.
When parents drop off their children, digital photographs of the kids are taken. The parents get a card with the photo on one side, a bar code on the other. To retrieve a child, the photo must match the appearance of the actual kid, and the bar code must match the one on a wrist tag the children wear while in the center.
The center also has a video camera broadcasting live to monitors throughout the store, so parents can keep track of their kids even while shopping.