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18 Apr 2018

El Corte Ingles bullish on future for department stores

El Corte Ingles bullish on future for department stores
Dimas Gimeno Alvarez, Chairman, El Corte Ingles
Europe’s largest department store chain, Spain’s El Corte Ingles, is optimistic about the future of the genre and its own future despite the challenges it is facing from hard discounters and pure online players.

“Department stores are great and they have a great future. People have been trying to kill us off for centuries,” Dimas Gimeno Alvarez, El Cortes Ingles’ Chairman told the World Retail Congress on Thursday. “We’ve been through the hypermarket times, when people said they would kill us, and now online…It’s about finding what makes you different.”

But he admitted that El Corte Ingles had an easier time than peers in other European countries since there was no other rival department store chain. El Corte Ingles has 94 department stores throughout the country, present in most large and medium-sized cities. Its stores are an average of 20,000 sqm, selling everything from clothes, entertainment, electricals and books to insurance, ticketing, financing and IT.

The family-owned business makes revenues of €16 billion, with €12 billion from retail.

Gimeno Alvarez said the chain had learnt lessons from Spain’s severe crisis in which discounters like Primark expanded in the country to take advantage of sky-high unemployment and stagnant and falling wages. “The most important we’ve learnt is that complacency is not good,” he said.

The store has introduced gourmet restaurants and bars on the top floors of many of its buildings and has targeted high-spending tourists through Chinese and English speaking services and personal shoppers.

“Another differentiation is convenience: everything under one roof, at least in Spain that’s something the clients like,” said Gimeno Alvarez.

It is now focused on using its vast data from its store cards and 11 million customers and making the most of having 2.5 million customers visiting its stores per day. “Being not very active in the past with that database has given us opportunities to learn from what others do,” said Gimeno Alvarez.

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