More than 1 billion Chinese people regularly use WeChat, a powerful mobile application that integrates from the classic messaging service to a payment system, WeChat Pay, which hundreds of millions of citizens use every day for any type of payment. Something similar happens with Alipay, the payment method of the Alibaba ecosystem, the Chinese e-commerce giant, which manages about 900 million people. These applications allow the citizens of the People's Republic to pay in millions of shops worldwide. Among them, The English Court.
The WeChat incorporation at the end of November It has been the last movement of the department store chain in a race started years ago to attract the Chinese customer. From facilitating the payment to being present in his retina or his usual places, without forgetting to speak in his language, the chain that today directs Marta Álvarez has oriented the focus to earn a portion of a business with a potential that the firm describes as “incalculable " Both the one that can reach its centers in Spain from the hand of the tourists who visit the country and the one that can be achieved within the borders of the Asian giant.
“We started working proactively in the Chinese market eight years ago,” explains Javier Fernández Andrino, director of International Marketing at El Corte Inglés. The first steps of the company in Asia consisted basically in strengthening the brand and Spain as a destination – advertising investment in the main airports – for Chinese tourists traveling abroad, which in 2018 reached 150 million. Not only has China in a few years become the largest emitter of tourists in the world, but also its citizens are the ones who spend the most when they travel. In Spain about 650,000 arrived in 2018, 25.5% more than in 2017, and spent 839 euros on average in each transaction and represent almost a third of purchases tax free in Europe, according to the latest Planet data, a company that provides tax-free payment systems that El Corte Inglés works with.
About 200,000 of those tourists passed through the English Court of Paseo de la Castellana, which has become the chain's reference store for the Chinese customer. There the spaces of the most luxurious European firms are concentrated, for which the Asians: Louis Vuitton, Loewe, Gucci, Carolina Herrera sigh, and rumpily pull the card … And from there the Spanish school expands the battery of measures to grease this expense: the WeChat and Alipay payment systems (already accepted in all terminals), the kiosks to manage the VAT refund (immediately in the center of Diagonal, in Barcelona), the celebrations since 2013 of Chinese New Year (promotions or visits of Chinese celebrities). And in that center the specialized staff is concentrated to serve that client. Up to 200 Chinese-speaking people work in the establishment, either hired by El Corte Inglés or by the brands.
"Most of the customers we had were Chinese, tourists. The guides brought them here," says Jin, who worked a few years ago for one of the boutiques on the ground floor, watches. "The cheapest cost 5,900 euros: It was not uncommon for them to pay 7,000 or 8,000 bills, "he recalls. The average Chinese customer ticket at El Corte Inglés exceeds 1,100 euros, according to company sources, with a special predilection for" accessories, watches and gastronomy and, lately, also fashion. ”“ They travel to Europe and want European brands, they are very interested in the native, ”says Fernández.
The strategy of El Corte Inglés towards the Chinese market has other pillars, beyond facilitating payment. And a fundamental one is the powerful agreement reached between the Spanish company and the Chinese technology giant Alibaba. Through this “close collaboration” agreement, Alibaba took advantage of the logistics and physical presence of the Spanish group and El Corte Inglés, in addition to providing itself with technology (a boost to the digitalization of the company and the use of its data), entered through the big door in the huge Chinese market: it meant selling its products in the e-commerce portals of Alibaba, Tmall and AliExpress, gaining an international presence (China and other countries) that already reproached it Standard & Poor’s last year, when it issued 600 million in bonds.
The agreement was recently extended, so that there are already several El Corte Inglés own brands that are sold on AliExpress, and it was extended to travel: the Spanish group's agency, one of the most important in Spain, will have a presence in Fliggy, Alibaba's flight and accommodation search platform. One way to access those 150 million travelers for El Corte Inglés Viajes, the group's second source of income, 2.7 billion in 2018. The chain also maintains a “close collaboration” with the other Chinese travel giant, CTrip , with airlines like Iberia and some Chinese, and is present in The Shopping & Quality Tourism Institute, an organization that promotes shopping tourism.
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