An engaging digital catalog can be more than just a website

April 24, 2022
Rebecca Wine profile picture
Matt Whitby


  • Interview with Marysol García Gruben, General Director of Production, El Corte Inglés
  • Marysol discusses the challenge digital transformation presents to El Corte Inglés
  • And how to transition catalogs from analog to digital channels, such as apps
  • Marysol says digital catalogs need to be more than just a retail website

El Corte Inglés is the biggest department store group in Europe and the largest company in Spain measured by the number of customers. The group is also present in Portugal and consists of the hypermarket chain Hipercor, home improvement retailer Bricor, supermarket chain Supercor as well as fashion retailer Sfera. 

Marysol García Gruben is the General Director of Production at El Corte Inglés. She is in charge of all the production teams that serve the different business units of El Corte Inglés.

In this interview:

Marysol discusses the challenges facing the production teams at El Corte Inglés, why and how El Corte Inglés uses printed and digital catalogs, and how digital catalogs can play an important role in their digital transformation.

The challenge of managing 1 million assets 

Every year, El Corte Inglés runs around 500 campaigns across all channels, using more than 1 million different marketing assets.

With so many campaigns, efficiency is a must, and Marysol says marketers should involve production in the strategic planning process when creating their yearly calendars. 

“You need to plan the campaigns, channels, and the budget from six months to a year in advance. You have to establish the main objectives, so we can prioritize the tactical, promotional, brand and aspirational campaigns. Depending on that, decide how to spend your budget. You shouldn't be spending the same for a two-day promotion, which you could use in a month-long campaign.” 

Do printed catalogs still have a purpose?

El Corte Inglés uses printed catalogs across its business, but especially in the supermarkets and home business units. 

“The role of the printed catalog at El Corte Inglés is huge,” says Marysol. “In our home division, catalogs are the main vehicle of communication. They are specially curated and take a long time to produce. 

“But in supermarkets, what we call ‘gran consumo’. It's different. We produce those catalogs or flyers quickly, in high volume, and they're distributed every 15 days.” 

Marysol explains that El Corte Inglés uses printed catalogs for two main reasons. Firstly, as an advertising tool together with partner brands, so they can publish their different campaigns in the magazines. 

Secondly, among older customers of El Corte Inglés, there is a considerable demand for the print catalog. Especially among supermarket customers, where there is a very loyal following of the print catalog.

Marysol feels that marketers only use printed catalogs, as they’ve not found a better solution yet. 

“My personal belief is that 80% of the time, shoppers will read the supermarket leaflets and put them straight in the bin. The format doesn't have a cycle of life which is worth the cost of the paper.”

But does that mean that retailers should just kill off the printed catalog? Marysol is not so sure.

“If the printed catalogs were to be banned, I think we’d definitely miss out on reaching that part of that population that still likes the catalog and still uses coupons. However, I think that's because we have not found a better solution for today's catalog because you could have coupons in another format.”

Can digital catalogs be the new format?

Marysol underlines that the main objective of the catalog in either the print or digital format is to sell products. She says as shopper attention spans are much shorter online, digital catalogs need to be dynamic, have to be engaging and must be more than just a retailer's website. 

“The El Corte Inglés website is already just a massive catalog of products. Shoppers can effortlessly search for a chair and just see chairs, or a table and just see tables. Shoppers want to browse a printed or digital catalog because they hope to see how that table fits in an ambience. That has to be very engaging.”

“I've seen reports on digital catalogs that had click rates of 0.78 percent and an average view time of two minutes. Why does a shopper only spend two minutes browsing a 100-page catalog? It was not engaging enough.”

Marysol gives an example of a shopper looking for the trends in decoration for their home. She says in the analog world they would spend 5 euros to buy a magazine for decoration and spend their weekend reading it. 

“If I publish a digital catalog on the website, the purpose has to be for shoppers to engage with it, want to read it through it and even think, ‘this is the spring catalog. I'm excited about the autumn catalog.’” 

“For me, the question is: What's the added value for a catalog to exist? It has to be like a magazine, its content has to be beautifully produced. It has to be something that your website isn’t.” 

A screenshot from El Corte Inglés digital catalog showing a living room

Apps are key to transitioning shoppers to digital 

Marysol underlines that, like most countries, shoppers in Spain and Portugal are moving more and more from the physical space into the digital space. 

“Shoppers still go to the stores when there are sales or special events when they want to look around or find opportunities. But most shoppers have moved to digital channels.”

“We have even measured cases where there are many shoppers in the store, then there is also concurrently a peak of visits on our website. Shoppers see a product they like in the store, and they would like to compare with another. They would like to see if the product is in a different place or if they can buy it for less money online.”

One such online channel is the El Corte Inglés app, designed to be a centralized digital space to provide services to shoppers. It was built two years ago and is one of the most popular retail shopping apps in Spain. 

“The El Corte Inglés app provides a more personalized experience for shoppers. They can shop hands-free, see their purchase history as well as of course browse and purchase products. It’s the perfect tool to merge offline and online shopping,” says Marysol.

In the future, Marysol believes the app will play an even more important role for shoppers on mobile. 

“Now when shoppers are browsing products on our Instagram channel, the links direct them to the website, not to the app. I am not convinced that's the best shopper experience. Because they need to log in on the website to proceed. By directing shoppers to the app, it would create a smoother checkout journey. I think that's the direction we're going, and hopefully, it will be fully integrated soon.” 

The untapped opportunity of digital catalogs in apps

Like El Corte Inglés, many other European retailers have launched apps to provide more personalized offers and gather data about shopper preferences. 

But while most shoppers view digital catalogs from mobile devices, many retailers haven’t integrated digital catalogs into their shopping apps. 

Marysol underlines that the production team at El Corte Inglés always focuses on creating the right content for the right channel, and digital catalogs should be optimized more for mobile to be smoothly integrated into shopping apps. 

“If we put a catalog on our app, we need to first think about what it looks like and how it works. Because if shoppers open an unresponsive PDF that can only be swiped through, I don't think anyone’s going to click on it.” 

“I think where we are stuck today is that the format for the catalogs or digital catalogs is still a bit too rigid in what we can do and how it can be nurtured and communicated with the other channels.” 

“If digital catalogs can be interactive and offer shoppers something different from the website, then it can add more value when integrated into the app.” 

Digital transformation

Marysol admits El Corte Inglés still has a long journey ahead on their road to digital transformation. 

“I came to El Corte Inglés three years ago. When I arrived, this team was reactive, but it was also very manual.”

“It was very effective day to day, but the problem is you can never analyze anything. You're not gathering any data that can help you improve.”

The production team has been implementing tools and technologies to manage projects, workflows, and assets. 

“Technology is vital. But traditionally, El Corte Inglés has used very few technologies,” says Marysol. “The learning curve transitioning to digital has been quite tough, but we’ve started to see the benefits, and we’ll get there.”

A big thanks to Marysol for participating in this interview. Stay tuned to for more insights from retailers going forwards. 

Want more from El Corte Inglés? 

Read the omnichannel integration success case with El Corte Inglés Portugal here.

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