Famed as one of the world’s most accessible existing fashion brands, Zara is a staple feature of must-visit shopping streets across the world and is fuelled by a success that’s seen it expand from small roots in Spain back in 1975 to become one of the most notable fashion names imaginable. This brand, which we have to thank for the very creation of fast fashion, has especially made its name through a focus on providing passions for fashion across cultures, age groups, and tastes. And, if the experts are to be believed, Zara largely has a focus on customer co-creation to thank for its often astounding success.
Before we get into the details of why putting customers at the forefront of fashion has proven so transformative, let’s first consider just a few stats proving how much of a powerhouse Zara has become for fashion worldwide, including –
- Stores across 96 markets
- 3,000+ stores worldwide
- $14.7 billion brand value
- Purchases from 4% of UK adults in 2021
- 1.8 million monthly searches
- And more
In short; Zara is the most iconic and well-represented high-street fashion retailer of the moment, which employs as many as 174,000 members of staff worldwide, and welcomes upwards of four million female shoppers in the US alone each season. However, the real question, and the consideration we’ll address here, is not how successful Zara is right now, but how customer co-creation has paved the way for one of the most notable rises to fashion fame that we’ve seen in generations.
Collaborations in the fashion world aren’t exactly unique at the moment, with just a few notable collabs of 2021 alone including Gucci’s pairing with Balenciaga and of course, Versace’s work with Fendi. Collaboration is also nothing new to Zara, which has long worked with brands including Pull & Bear, Massimo Dutti, and Oysho. However, Zara has gained the edge of collaborations for perhaps the longest sustained period thanks to a focus on making these partnerships work while always keeping consumer needs in mind. That’s not to say, of course, that Versace didn’t think about what people wanted when partnering with Fendi, but these one-time focuses are ultimately blown out of the water through the ongoing collaborative focuses that have made Zara what it is, always developed in keeping with what the information this high-street brand has access to when it comes to what consumers want, and the best ways to deliver it at speed.
Exclusivity through scarcity
Scarcity isn’t something that we can normally expect from high-street fashion that’s designed en masse and is perhaps the prime reason why many of us prefer to pay more for designer pieces than heading to our local fashion retailers. However, Zara has uniquely managed to overcome this setback even within a traditional high street setting by limiting the quantities of every style. From a business perspective, of course, these limitations and the cost savings possible as a result have clear benefits (especially considering Zara’s speed of turnover), but even more notably, the scarcity that this creates taps into the desires of fashion-conscious consumers who forever seek to stand apart. As a result, as many as 85% of Zara clothes sell at full price, compared with just 65% across the rest of the industry.
Expansive style selections
Most often, designers and fashion retailers cater for unique but limited demographics that have proven lucrative for them in the past. That’s a business basic, but it’s one that Zara has gutsily thrown out of the window by providing expansive styles (as many as 12,000 annually, in fact!) across the wide-ranging customer-first collaborations that we’ve already discussed. Casual clothing from brands like Pull & Bear displayed directly alongside the high-end offerings of Massimo Dutti especially enable a far wider-reaching consumer appeal, thus providing Zara with arguably a far-ranging customer base and profitability that’s enviable to even the highest-end fashion designers.
Customers as key designers
Zara’s co-creation strategy particularly comes into its own considering that this high-street retailer also prioritises its customers as key designers. This is especially made possible through the use of in-store radio frequency identification technology (RFID) which tracks the locations of garments to ensure awareness of the most popular items, and the consumer habits worth taking note of. This focus on relevant customer insights at any given time pairs especially well with Zara’s focus on the quick turnover of goods, which in just one example that allowed them to deliver pink scarves to 2,000 stores after consumers requested these items in locations including Tokyo, San Francisco, and Frankfurt. As well as again reducing costs by limiting the need to produce unwanted stock, this focus allows Zara to always prioritise items that are guaranteed to sell well, producing a responsive retail design that eliminates the guesswork that’s used elsewhere across the fashion industry.
Competitive customer research
As customer service expectations expand way beyond clothing refunds offered at the till, every single fashion retailer is putting plans in place to expand the efficiency of its service. This goal is largely achieved through addressing admittedly crucial questions, like how to maintain speedy social media replies, and what is the best live chat for website? However, Zara once again piques customer-centric fashion focuses to the post by empowering its employees through some of the most competitive customer research on the market. Employees and management teams across the company are specially trained to listen out for customer comments and ideas, while keenly observing the styles customers wear in-store, and whether those would work for Zara.
This step away from more traditional research focuses like sales figures queue times (though Zara inevitably tracks those things too), makes for a far more human approach to product development, always tailored towards consumers in ways that wouldn’t necessarily be possible if people were simply treated as numbers on a computer screen. As well as making every employee feel far more valued within their roles, these research methods have particularly helped with Zara’s global expansion thanks to efforts such as smaller sizes offered in Japanese stores, special culturally-sensitive women’s clothes offered in stores across Arabic countries, and much more. Systems that are designed to very quickly spread these insights back to Zara’s Spanish headquarters are particularly effective for the development of designs that match consumer needs in the moment, always at a moment’s notice.
Ethical commitments that everyone can get behind
As the brand that heralded the fast fashions that see as many as 10,000 clothes items ending up in landfills every five minutes, Zara’s generally negative environmental reputation has perhaps been its largest hurdle when keeping customer needs at the forefront. That said, our favourite fashion retailer has more recently been doing a great deal to turn opinions around in its favour regarding even this. In particular, Zara stores are now 100% eco-efficient, while the brand has vowed to become zero waste by 2023. Zara has also made a more general ethical commitment to people which focuses on everything from professional development to diversity and beyond. Continuous improvement programs for employees, and an increased focus on community projects like the ‘Forandfrom’ program, are especially helping to highlight Zara as an employer worth working for, and a company worth bringing into any community. And, with people always on-side wherever they set up shop, Zara can’t go wrong with continuing to expand across perhaps more locations than any other fashion retailer in the world.
Zara’s success just keeps on growing
Even at a time when consumers are forever expecting more from brands in general, Zara, and its parent-company Inditex continue to hold onto a competitive edge thanks to these efforts and many more. A focus on adaptable and responsive designs particularly enables a forward-thinking edge that’s already seen sales exceeding pre-pandemic figures despite the so-called ‘death of the highstreet’.
Admittedly, Zara has faced some challenges as sales shift online, with this customer-centric focus on reactive design particularly resulting in the retailer joining the online environment as much as a decade behind its closest competitors like H&M. However, even as eCommerce continues to take fashion stores by storm, Inditex predicts that a hybrid model will be far more effective for continuing to ensure results that keep everyone happy.
So far, that theory certainly seems to be holding its own and is particularly effective as Zara continues to consider a more sustainable approach to fast fashion that could bring even sceptics onboard. This sustainability focus, already seen from luxury designers like Vivienne Westwood, will inevitably have a major impact and will include the ongoing use of things like in-store clothes recycling bins that importantly make sustainability accessible to the mainstream.
As more and more struggling retailers, in particular, continue to learn from and follow in the footsteps of the so-called ‘Zara approach’, this favourite fashion store will find itself growing from strength to strength, and perhaps even providing foundational service offerings that prove as transformative as fast fashion itself. In either instance, high-street fashion doesn’t get more fascinating than the example of co-creation that Zara is already setting.