Avoid: El Corte Inglés – Service with a Scowl

Shopping in Madrid, Weird : Quirky : Fun

by Faye Davies

I try to boycott this poor excuse for a department store, but a few months ago I happened to be in El Corte Inglés getting some help with my tax return (a free service that I urge residents to exploit). Passing the make-up section with a softened heart, I decided to buy a mascara. Until I saw the price – which was a good 3€ higher than anywhere else.

Welcome to the Corte Inglés, where you can expect to pay anything up to 30 percent over the odds for everything. This might be redeemed by the convenience factor, if it weren’t for the sometimes surreal levels of rudeness achieved by its staff.

Every ex-pat I know has a Corte story to tell. My favourite takes place in the supermarket. A friend of mine was shopping for wine: he approached an assistant in the alcohol department who was stacking bottles and asked her where he could find a specific bottle of red – to which she replied ‘Ni puta idea‘ (mild translation: ‘No bloody idea’), before returning to her task.

Amy has some good things to say about the specialty food – but personally, I’d rather go hungry.


Comment from Ben
Date: October 21, 2007, 1:22 pm

Anywhere that helps you with your tax return for free can’t be all bad! My Corte story involved asking a suited assistant in the hifi department when they could expect the latest generation iPods in (this was in September, just after they were released). He said “Ooooof, maybe in time for Christmas, these things take ages to arrive from the States”… Two days later they were in stock in FNAC. I never bothered to go back and check in the Corte Ingles. I can never spend more than 20 minutes in there anyway before I feel like I’m being starved of Oxygen and start suffering mild claustrophobia.

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Date: October 21, 2007, 1:46 pm

[...] Notes from Madrid wrote a fantastic post today on “Avoid: El Corte Inglés – Service with a Scowl”Here’s ONLY a quick extract. A friend of mine was shopping for wine: he approached an assistant in the alcohol department who [...]

Comment from Dean Hunt
Date: October 21, 2007, 2:58 pm

I have to agree. The prices are often crazy, and the service can be baffling.

We bought a home cinema system from them earlier in the year, it stopped working after two weeks, so they sent someone to come to our house to check it wasn’t working.

Two weeks later someone arrived, and confirmed it was broken. Ok, so can you replace it then? We asked… sure, I will send this one back and get another to you next week.

Why didn’t you just bring another one with you?

errrrrrrrrr…. i don’t know, was his reply.

Then, as usual, we had to go through the paper work and waiting before we could get our new system.

We also bought a video camera from there 18 months ago. It also stopped working, so we took it in and asked them to replace it… the guy answered: “I can give you the address of the manufacturer and you will need to send it to them yourselves”

Luckily Elena has a relative who used to work there, and he told us that they always try this trick… the key is to demand that they send it, and that they cover the cost.

So Elena said “no, you are going to deal with it”

Which he did.

It is now three months later and we haven’t heard anything.

On a more positive note, we have had nothing but good experiences with FNAC.


Comment from José Miguel
Date: October 22, 2007, 9:41 am

Las personas que suelen almacenar en el supermercado de El Corte Inglés suelen ser empleados del PROVEEDOR que además de transportar las mercancías debe instalarlas en el sitio del supermercado que le hayan indicado, por tanto no sabrá donde están colocadas las mercancías de otras marcas. Sin embargo esto no disculpa la contestación grosera que dió.

Comment from gary
Date: October 22, 2007, 6:54 pm

When I was in Barcelona this summer for 3 weeks i needed to do some work on my laptop, but alas I left my powersupply in the UK. I needed to get power so I could get the work off my dead lappy, on to a memory stick and finish it in an internet cafe. there were 2 Mac resellers in town.
I tried FNAC first but got a flat refusal from the hip, trendy modern outlet. The stuffed suits in El Corte Ingles saved the day, they unlocked a glass case and let me plug in for a couple of minutes – long enough to do the file transfer.
So dont be too hard on them…

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Date: October 22, 2007, 6:56 pm

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Comment from Richardksa
Date: October 31, 2007, 6:15 am

Last Feb I decided I needed a new laptop. Advised by Ben, I trawled the different brances of El Corte Ingles as he told me they had the best returns policy! I found the one I wanted in the Madrid Sol branch and despite my poor level of Spanish I spent a happy half hour discussing the merits of my intended purchase with a non English speaking salesman. He couldn’t have been more helpful and I went away happy. A few days later I made a finger error that somehow stopped the computers ability to access the internet. I went back to El Corte Ingles and five of the staff came to my rescue and sorted my problem and showing me what I had done wrong. I can’t praise them enough for their assistance.
And as it was Feb, the computer was on sale and the price reduced by about 500 Euro, so I was very even happier.

Comment from DH Wall
Date: November 8, 2007, 5:02 am

I’m from the US and with the exchange rate with the Euro being what it is, all I can do is look. :) That’s ok, because I am just happy to see a store other than Walmart. Be glad Walmart’s are not on every corner in Madrid like they are in the US and Canada.

The El Corte Ingles stores with self-service restaurants are also a good place to get a quick bite to eat if you are in a hurry and want real food.

Comment from The Agent
Date: November 16, 2007, 12:03 pm

Well… I have to say that with the suffusion of ‘buccaneer’ capitalism is most other areas of Spanish business (i.e. shops open and close when the proprietors want to open and close them and sell what the proprietors want to sell–not what customers necessarily want to buy, when they want to buy it) El Corte Ingles is an unfortunate but necessary evil.

How any working person can be expected to get good quality items in the scant hours when they’re not chained to their desks during the ridiculous and outmoded Spanish working day of 10 till 7 is beyond me. El Corte Ingles is open when the rest of the country is asleep.

In case anyone hadn’t noticed, we live in a very advanced capitalist system and we occasionally need to buy something in order to continue to participate in it eg. food, clothes, a washing machine. El Corte Ingles buys in volumes that keeps the prices within what the market will bear and has very high quality control in a very strange retail market in which the customer is not even court jester, never mind king.

José Rodrigo Acevedo Acevedo Acevedo Acevedo in your average white goods store on the street corner has a rent-controlled premises stuffed full of dusty old stock that he bought in single units that he has to shift to clear some space.

Find yourself in possession of one of his shoddy lemons and attempting to take it back and you’ll invariably end up with a useless vale that you can’t use on anything other than the rest of the shite in his narrow-banded store. They’re too close to the bread line to give you your money back and your consumer rights are shredded with a snarl.

Let’s hear it for El Corte Ingles!

Comment from Faye
Date: November 19, 2007, 9:24 pm

Some good points, Agent. My decision to boycott came when I left the store enraged one day, having gone in to look for a vacuum cleaner and having had no less than four ‘assistants’ either be rude to or ignore me (not to mention contradict me about an offer I had seen advertised twice). I eventually found my machine in a very friendly ‘electrodomesticos’ chain called Expert. It’s true I may not have been able to do it in my lunch hour (see my upcoming posts about out-of-hours Madrid), but at least my blood stayed below boiling point.

Comment from DH Wall, About Spain Travel
Date: December 15, 2007, 3:29 pm

If you get to Barcelona, consider the big El Corte Ingles in Placa Catalunya. Here’s pictures of food from the restaurant on the top floor:

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Date: December 17, 2007, 3:47 pm

[...] Luckily, other streets close to Sol and the lively Plaza de Santa Ana conceal many treasures, transporting you far away from the likes of El Corte Inglés, Mickey and other snares. [...]