The Current State of Retail with Dimas Gimeno

LS International

It is undeniable that for the last few years the Retail Industry has been undergoing a radical transformation when it comes to where and how people shop. This rapid shift leaves a big question mark on the future of retail, this is why we have invited Dimas Gimeno Alvarez to this edition of the Career Success Podcast to shine some light on the current state of the retail industry featuring how to include, and work with smaller, up and coming brands.

Dimas is a Spanish businessman with more than 18 years of experience in retail. Between 2014 and 2018, he was President of El Corte Inglés, a retail giant in Spain and Europe with annual sales of 16 billion Euros, 35 shopping centers in Spain and Portugal and more than 92,000 employees. He promoted and led the company’s e-commerce transformation, creating an online platform and positioning it as a serious competitor for Amazon in Spain.

Topics covered in this podcast:

  • Challenges smaller brands are currently facing
  • Do smaller brands need a physical presence to be successful? What does a store add to them?
  • How to adapt the retail trends happening in Asia to western markets.
  • What do brands need to do to be successful?


Lauren: Hi, I’m Lauren Stiebing and welcome to this episode of the Career Success Podcast. Today we will be joined by Dimas Gimeno, a Spanish businessman with more than 18 years of experience in retail. Between 2014 and 2018 he was president of El Corte Inglés, a retail giant in Spain in Europe, with annual sales of 16 billion euros, 35 shopping centers in Spain and Portugal, and more than 92,000 employees. During his career at El Corte Inglés, Dimas promoted and led the companies e-commerce transformation creating an online platform and positioning it as a serious competitor for Amazon in Spai. For this reason and many more we’ve invited him here today to discuss with us the current state of retail welcome Dimas.

Dimas:  Thank you very much, it’s a pleasure to be here with you and let’s see if I can help a little bit in order to understand what’s going on in these amazing moments for retail.

Lauren: Sure, so we were both recently attending the Retail and Brand Experience World Congress, here in Barcelona. And there were a range of topics discussed. There were a couple of comment threats in my opinion, in various presentations and panel discussions, one being how smaller brands can make it into large retailers. The second being how large retailers can stay relevant. And specifically, to millennial consumers. I think I never heard to word millennial so many times besides that congress. So, I’d like to start just with the smaller brands. During our conversation there you’d mentioned that you’re working with some smaller brands now. I’d be interested to understand what are some of the challenges that smaller brands have at the moment.

Dimas: OK, well I think it’s an excellent movement to have the initiative to whether just create one or just – if you have a smaller brand and you really want to make it big or bigger – I think it’s a very interesting moment because right now you can find excellent brands that are in the digital commerce ground and I think that – and I’m a true believer – that soon we will end talking about physical and digital everything is going to be the same thing and in a natural way it will be just part of something that it’s the same. And then you have different ways to contact the client. So, I think that there is a very interesting opportunity to give those digital brands the opportunity or the elements to really go beyond the digital experience and start engaging physically with a client. I think that there is a huge world out there to talk about and make these interesting opportunities. And I think that nowadays I don’t see yet real platforms or really mechanisms to really help these kinds of brands to move faster to the physical ground.

And on the other hand, I see lots of interesting and brands that are mainly physical and probably there not just as good as they should on really being also digital. So, I think that as long as you are good and as long as you are nice and a new brand that offers – sometimes in a little scale – but you can be really differentiated. As long as you will have those elements, it’s going to be really a matter of how do I engage better the client, and whether I am a digital natives or physical native brand; then it’s going to be very important to see how fast you go into this. I don’t like to call it omnichannel because I think the omnichannel is a word that’s been invented by physical retailers that they need to be also digital. I think that it’s more accurate to talk about new retail and how fast you move into this common ground for both spaces, and whether you began on one how do you move into the other one and really become just one experience. So, I really think that it is a very interesting moment and anything you create in order to help and in order to be a part of that transition I think it’s a very interesting time: being an actor in this scenario and also help this interesting brands to move on.

Lauren: And there are a number of brands that aren’t in a physical or don’t have a physical store now, that are only online. Do you think they need a physical presence or what does the physical presence add to them?

Dimas: I’m absolutely a believer that they need this physical space because, first of all, I don’t think that there can only be a digital and not physical experience. I think that – specially in some categories – it’s just impossible not to have the physical engagement. It is true that nowadays you can almost buy everything digital and you can receive it whatever you want in a correct manner or way; but it’s hard to understand that at the end of the day you won’t have the need of really getting attached to the product and also do that engagement. In fact, I think there are some essential things related to commerce, like for example the social part, that I think that you cannot avoid, and you cannot leave without it. So, I think that’s actually needed.

Another question is if retailers are doing the job right, which I think many times they are not doing. So, if I were to create a digital gram – obviously nowadays it’s much more easier to start on the digital and then move on to physical rather than the other way – I certainly will have on my calendar or on my business plan a moment when I need to move into physical. It is true that moving into physical is very complicated. In fact it should be easier to move from physical to digital because it is supposed that you have some tools and some structures that would help to do it. So, that’s – and believe me I know because I’ve been there for many years – operating physical service is very complicated because you have to deal with friends, you have to deal with labor issues, you have to deal with unions and all that stuff. So, probably I think there is a huge business opportunity for everybody to create a first stage of these digital brands, to find a friendly environment and opportunities to become physical. But, in the 1st stage to do it in a very smooth way. Imagine a place where everything would be easy for you and someone would do it for you that had the experience of the physical world. And I think that it would be a very interesting next step to help these brands to move on to physical and for them to understand and see how important is that engagement. You’re an expert on retail and you know that there are several surveys and studies that prove that these new generations, they really value the physical experiences because they value a lot of the social part of shopping and also the engagement. So, it’s just a matter of understanding that it’s more about the how you do it, whether you need to do it or not. Obviously, it’s just a matter of scale and it’s just a matter of opportunity. So, I’m a true believer that soon we will not talk more about physical or digital, it’s going to be just a substituted by a normal way of understanding commerce and it will be just the same. So, we will be part of the same thing.

In fact if you see what’s going on in China – which I know it’s difficult to understand because no one really understand what’s going on there – but big retailers like Alibaba or, I mean they’re opening stores in a very natural way and they come from the huge digital experience. So, that’s also a proof that obviously there’s no discussion there about the traditional retail, because everything is new even the clients are new because everybody is native. And you can see how there, this transition into physical from the digital is absolutely done with no discussion. It’s something normal, and obviously if you talk to a Chinese retailer and you talk about omnichannel, he’s going to say “what’s that”. I mean, what’s omnichannel? This is just about retail, this is the way we do it and we understand in a natural way that we need to touch the client, we need to engage this client, we need to create a physical experience to complement the whole experience. I think that probably it’s more of a part of an American and European conversation about these, you know, discussions about physical and retail, that it’s normal because obviously we come from a huge physical tradition. But believe me sooner than we think this is going to be substituted by a natural way of understanding just one way of doing commerce and retail. And I believe that obviously and answering your question, the smaller you are in the digital, the more need you have to really start the physical experience.

Lauren: Ok. And from looking at China, I mean obviously it wouldn’t work – well maybe it would, I’d like to get your opinion on that – to just cut and paste what they did in China and here in Europe or even in the US. So, what do you think? How can that be adapted, you know, taking what they’re doing in China adapting that to either the US market or European market? What does that look like to you?

Dimas: That’s a very good question. I mean probably you won’t be able to do it because obviously there are some social and some cultural differences that would make that to happen very difficult. But it will come. Obviously, in the United States and in Europe the discussions about privacy and data, I mean, are very important, and they must be because obviously we are very protective of what’s going on with our… with information about us as individuals. And obviously that discussion is not happening in China. So, probably it’s just really about understanding what are the pieces of Chinese retail that really are interesting for us to learn. And to be honest I think that anything that has to do with retail tech and how technology applies to that understanding of just one world of innovation and one world of understanding one client – one environment I think that is very interesting for us.

In fact, as an Spaniard and understanding that in Spain digital retail is about 1/3 of one represents in United States, which is an advantage for us, nowadays to understand what’s going on and what’s going to happen in the future it will be a mix of watching what’s going on in United States and the UK, for example, as a very developed market in retail. but I would never forget what’s going on in China because it’s like a little bit of a step beyond because, for example, anything that has to do with artificial intelligence, anything that has to do with RFID, anything that has to do with recognizing the client… all those things are happening faster and are moving into a more practical thing, rather than United States or UK. So, I think that it’s really relevant what’s going on and what is more amazing is that probably today to understand what’s going on in United States or UK, it’s quite easy because there are lots of conversation going on. But if you want to understand what’s going on in China, if you’re not there and you don’t really move with the right people, you won’t be able to understand what’s going on because, in fact, it’s hard to understand. So, probably the right answer to your question will be obviously you cannot apply what’s going on there to our traditional markets, but if you do the right filter and you do the right transition I think it’s very useful, because they’re really going a step beyond in some cases and some issues like, but with others they are going really fast and they’re applying everything into a real world much faster than the markets that were talking about.

Lauren: Well Dimas, I appreciate you joining us today and thank you for your insights on the state of retail. I’m sure listeners have learned something today and gotten some key takeaway so thank you so much!

Dimas:  Thank you very much it’s been a pleasure!