Interview with Nicola Farinetti: Waving the Fork for Experience Retail

Italian food purveyor Eataly is recognized as one of the most exciting of a new breed of retailers. But what makes it so different? We asked its chief executive …

November 2016

The Possible: You’ve said that Eataly isn’t a market or a restaurant but something else altogether. How would you like people to think of it?

NF: I guess when I said that Eataly isn’t a market, I meant Eataly isn’t a supermarket, because we do think of Eataly as a market — an old-style market like the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul or La Vucciria in Sicily or La Boqueria in Barcelona. The supermarket is the place of immediate. It’s the place of rush, it’s the place of no information, it’s the place of no talking, it’s the place of no people. A market is a place where you not only have an exchange of things but a cultural exchange. It’s a place where you can learn more about how products are made, how people use their hands.

TP: With online shopping, people can buy anything they need without leaving home. What do retailers, developers, store designers need to do differently to attract people to their stores?

NF: Retailers have always had this challenge. The merchant has always thought in his mind, “What is my added value? Why should people come to my store?” In the last 20 years most companies answered that question on price, so everybody was just dropping prices and not offering them anything else. At Eataly, people have something within our stores that they will not get online. You might go there looking for one thing and then go home with something else, because you talk with our guys, you understand that you actually like the other thing better. The thing is discovering and being able to take risks on your own. E-commerce is making the shopping experience less painful, but it’s not making it fun, which is what we like to do.

TP: Eataly is designed to be a unique experience for everyone who walks through the door. How do you create that experience and make it different for each person?

NF: For us it’s all a matter of the street experience. You go to Eataly and you can’t decide if you want to eat, if you want to shop, if you want to learn, if you want to do all of those things, and I guess what we really focus on is making sure that those three experiences are not bettered. This is how we stand out from the crowd. When I’m choosing my ham, I’m actually learning, I’m having an experience. I’m talking with somebody, I’m not interacting with a robot. Most likely there is a producer in the store that particular day trying to tell the story, trying to explain what he’s doing, why he’s doing it, why the four generations are there making the cheese and why their cheese is different and it’s spectacular.

TP: You’ve got an online business as well your real-world stores. How do they complement each other?

NF: We’re trying the online business in order to understand who we should be in the online world. What we’re learning is that the more we link our online shopping to the real store experience, the better our results are and the more people get engaged. So we are moving from being an ordinary online experience for everybody and being more focused on the people who actually shop in our stores. We try to connect those two experiences by inviting those people to events, or by giving you something in exchange if you come to the store. Selling items to somebody who is 2,000 miles from our stores is a little less intriguing. It’s a little pointless.

TP: What’s your ambition for Eataly? Where do you hope the company will be in, say, five years?

NF: Our ambition is poetical, it’s not numbers. Our ambition is to be recognized as the most important Italian food brand in the world. Italy has Ferrari, Lamborghini in cars, we have Versace, Armani in fashion. We have so many different brands in furniture and design. But there is no Italian brand that’s known for telling the story of Italian food all over the world. We would like to be that guy.

Nicola Farinetti is the CEO of Eataly

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