I wonder how much I spend at Zara over the course of a year… it’s too scary a concept to actually work out, as I’m fairly confident it’s a small fortune. I love Zara – as does any fashionista worth her weight – it’s the go to brand for affordable, credible, trend worthy fashion season after season. Just take a look at Instagram to get a feel for why there are so many sell out pieces (this leopard skin pleat skirt being the biggest hit of the season so far).
When it comes to the high street brands I’m a laptop shopper – I enjoy scrolling through the new arrival images every Monday, thinking about whether an item will suit me, its quality, its longevity. Zara’s internet site is smooth and easy to use, just a couple of clicks and the purchase is made. It’s convenient and dangerously addictive. Just a few days later a branded box arrives neatly on my doorstep, encased in a plastic envelope to keep the rain off.
It’s exciting getting a Zara box. The clothes are beautifully wrapped in tissue paper and crease free. I get to try them on in the comfort of my own home, spend some time debating over whether to keep them or not. I can try them with other items from my wardrobe to ensure I can put some good outfits together. Sometimes I’ll wait for my husband to get home to get his opinion. Then the next day if I don’t feel it’s quite right I can just pop it back to the post office for a refund. Easy.
Now let’s compare that to the recent shopping experience I had in the Zara on Oxford Street. A jumble sale mess of creased clothes and rampant shoppers, security guards and impassive shop assistants. Ridiculous queues for the changing rooms, which are stuffy, scruffy, noisy and too small. I ask one of the shop assistants where a piece is that I’ve seen on Instagram. She has no idea and tells me to ask someone on the other side of the shop. I eventually find it and ask another shop assistant for my size. She literally snatches it out my hand and rushes off. By the time I finally get into the changing room I feel stressed by the number of people waiting and end up rushing to try things on. The clothes feel cheap and synthetic. I am hot and very bothered. I don’t buy the item. I see other items on my way out that I like but there’s no way I’m queuing up again and going through the whole palaver again… Hell.
Why is this Zara? Why does the brand experience vary so much? It completely ruins it for me. When I pop into the local fashion boutiques near where I live in Hertford or St Albans, they are friendly and ensure customers have an enjoyable experience. It doesn’t take much. With Zara it’s the sheer volume that I hate so much. I’m not sure what the answer is – it’s a popular store and they just don’t seem to be able to meet the level of customers that they have in store.
I know Zara’s key strength is its speed at getting items from sketch pad to store – apparently it takes just 15 days. This means they are constantly feeding in new inventory with a limited lifetime, which draws customers in and is a great strategy to build loyalty and revenue.
Back in 2012 Mary Portas aptly reviewed the Zara shopping experience as ‘the Ikea of the retail world’ so it would appear the brand has not changed much in recent years. However there are changes afoot as Zara announces it aims to improve the instore experience by investing in technology . Changes include self service tills and an interactive inventory screen in each changing room. The hope is that by freeing up shop assistants they’ll be able to deliver some customer service (please invest in training too Zara!). It’s really good to see improvements being planned, I just hope it’s enough to keep its loyal clients happy…