Could El Corte Inglés become an ecommerce leader?

Like not a few consumers, my shopping experience with the El Corte Inglés website started during confinement. Before, I had not bought anything online with them because I already used other online stores and because the delivery conditions of their supermarket – the service that could have been more interesting to me – were too demanding (to qualify for free delivery you have to exceed 125 euros shopping).

However, during the confinement of a year ago, in the city where I live, El Corte Inglés was the only supermarket capable of recovering more or less quickly to the avalanche of online orders. It took them more or less a week, while other chains directly closed their online store.

His success at that time could have been a way to keep me loyal forever, at least in the ecommerce version of his supermarket. They did not know it but, in reality, I am the prototype of the desired customer of online supermarkets: I buy from the supermarket mainly online and I have been doing it that way for years, since another consumer told me about the benefits and the positive experience she had with his supermarket and crossed the border to bring one of the last great strongholds of physical consumption to the network.

I do not know the algorithms of her established that my profile was interesting or if they did it with all the consumers that we bought during those months on their website and we belong to a certain age group. Shortly after my first online purchase at their supermarket, El Corte Inglés gave me a year of their premium online shopping service, which I happily accepted thinking that it would free me from supermarket shipping costs (then the supermarket remained oblivious to the plan ). A few months later, El Corte Inglés tried again.

When he launched El Corte Inglés Plus, his version of Amazon’s Prime, they also sent me a one-year trial version. Now it does include the supermarket, although the improvement in conditions is quite minimal, but until not long ago they had not been able to use it for any purchase in their online store. The funny thing is that they did not do it because of their own fault. Basically, it has been a usability problem. While when using Amazon as a Prime customer it is very clear that there are shipping costs but that you are going to save them, that does not happen when browsing the El Corte Inglés website. And that is a major problem.

Shipping costs are free, at least if you cross a certain spending threshold, and you even have access, and also free if you spend a certain amount, to ultra-fast shipping. The point is that the consumer should not be expected to venture to discover it by reaching the final basket. It should be almost in neon lights already on the product page. In the end, the express shipping costs were free and the purchase arrived home in the estimated time frame, on the same day. It could even have come earlier: that strip was also free if he had wanted to choose it.

All this personal experience about shopping on the El Corte Inglés website serves to contextualize a key question, that of whether El Corte Inglés can reinvent itself as an electronic commerce giant – actually an omnichannel giant, which is where its true strength lies – in a moment in which its usual model is going through a deep crisis and in which new players, such as Amazon, are eating ground and even brand values. Decades ago, consumers knew that everything they wanted was “in El Corte.” Now, they think the same, but from Amazon.

El Corte Inglés has been trying to reinvent itself for the last decade, but has also been shaken by market shocks and changes in consumption. Right now, the company is embarking on an employment regulation file to reduce its workforce. In 2019, the company was already embarking on a rebranding process, to appear more fun and less boring and distant. In the previous years, he had tried to shake off the idea that they were an expensive place. Their supermarkets, for example, had campaigned insisting on their offers and their white label.

The English Court starts with an advantage, if you know how to see it
And the truth is that, if El Corte Inglés plays its cards well, it could have a solid future and be a powerful rival for Amazon. The company already has a powerful logistics network, built over decades in its expansion into Spain and Portugal, which allows it to reach consumers and which, above all, means that it already has a stable presence in many places.

My purchase that arrived in a two-hour window on the same day as the online purchase was made in a city of those that from the center of the peninsula are called “provincial”. Its urban agglomeration exceeds half a million inhabitants, potential consumers of many products, but it is not usually one of the places where ecommerce companies launch things.

Madrid first and Barcelona later get all the attention and are the pioneers of fast deliveries and innovations. Another topic could almost be opened by analyzing the error that ecommerce companies make many times with their recurring commitment to centralism and the oblivion of the rest of Spain beyond two cities, but the truth is that El Corte Inglés already starts with a situation advantage.

It is already in those environments and can now provide service. You can do it even to the places that surround those medium-sized cities that are not the big poles, because it has some of its centers more or less close. A consumer told me that for her family, who lives in rural Galicia, El Corte Inglés was the company that offered the best and fastest deliveries.

This omnichannel nature not only allows it to respond to what the consumer is looking for now, in the post-coronavirus consumer environment, but it also offers an extra addition that giants like Amazon still have a long way off. Its department stores are platforms to reach a very high population mass with quality, even with services – such as the online supermarket – that these giants cannot offer.

And to that we must add that, no matter how much your brand has lost its shine, it is still associated with a certain image and idea, such as being a reliable and solid store.

What it does not do well

If El Corte Inglés is capable of recovering the image of the past, reinforcing and resettling it, for example connecting more and better with younger consumers and removing the certain air of old staleness that it has begun to accumulate, it would achieve a solvent future position. That is not the only mistake you have to work on and the only issue you should correct. Your online store still has a lot to refine, especially if you think it is competing against Amazon.

Searching for products is not particularly straightforward, the recommendation functions are not as good as they should be and the purchase process would have to be more intuitive (and much clearer, for example, on the benefits that consumers have).

Even the terms of your Plus service should think about what is simpler for the consumer and how it competes with other services. For example, free shipping does not start at 19 euros, which makes smaller purchases go to their competitors (with Prime you don’t need to reach those limits and it was not needed either when its price was lower).

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