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What Is a Case Study?
When you’re performing research as part of your job or for a school assignment, you’ll probably come across case studies that help you to learn more about the topic at hand. But what is a case study and why are they helpful? Read on to learn all about case studies.
Deep Dive into a Topic
At face value, a case study is a deep dive into a topic. Case studies can be found in many fields, particularly across the social sciences and medicine. When you conduct a case study, you create a body of research based on an inquiry and related data from analysis of a group, individual or controlled research environment.
As a researcher, you can benefit from the analysis of case studies similar to inquiries you’re currently studying. Researchers often rely on case studies to answer questions that basic information and standard diagnostics cannot address.
Study a Pattern
One of the main objectives of a case study is to find a pattern that answers whatever the initial inquiry seeks to find. This might be a question about why college students are prone to certain eating habits or what mental health problems afflict house fire survivors. The researcher then collects data, either through observation or data research, and starts connecting the dots to find underlying behaviors or impacts of the sample group’s behavior.
During the study period, the researcher gathers evidence to back the observed patterns and future claims that’ll be derived from the data. Since case studies are usually presented in the professional environment, it’s not enough to simply have a theory and observational notes to back up a claim. Instead, the researcher must provide evidence to support the body of study and the resulting conclusions.
As the study progresses, the researcher develops a solid case to present to peers or a governing body. Case study presentation is important because it legitimizes the body of research and opens the findings to a broader analysis that may end up drawing a conclusion that’s more true to the data than what one or two researchers might establish. The presentation might be formal or casual, depending on the case study itself.
Once the body of research is established, it’s time to draw conclusions from the case study. As with all social sciences studies, conclusions from one researcher shouldn’t necessarily be taken as gospel, but they’re helpful for advancing the body of knowledge in a given field. For that purpose, they’re an invaluable way of gathering new material and presenting ideas that others in the field can learn from and expand upon.
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Case Study of the Growth of Zara
Zara is a fast-fashion retailer founded in 1975 by Amancio Ortega in Galicia, Spain. With a vertically integrated business model and quick response to customer demands, Zara has expanded globally and become one of the leading fashion retailers in the world. The company has embraced e-commerce and sustainability and continues to innovate, staying ahead of its competitors.
Business Model of Zara
Zara follows a fast-fashion business model that emphasises responding quickly to changing trends and customer demands. The company has a vertically integrated business model, allowing it to control all aspects of production, from design to manufacturing to distribution. Zara operates a mix of company-owned stores and franchises and has invested in e-commerce to reach customers in new markets. The company prioritises sustainability and continuously innovates to stay ahead of its competitors.
Designs − Zara has a team of designers who closely monitor global fashion trends and customer preferences. This allows the company to quickly respond to changing customer demands and design new products that meet those demands.
Sourcing and Manufacturing − Zara's vertically integrated business model allows the company to control all aspects of production, from sourcing raw materials to manufacturing final products. This enables the company to have a quick response time to new trends and customer demands.
Distribution − Zara uses a combination of company-owned stores and franchises to distribute its products globally. The company also has an online store that is available in many countries, allowing it to reach customers in new markets.
Retail − Zara operates a mix of company-owned stores and franchises, and its stores are designed to provide customers with an immersive shopping experience. The company invests in technology, such as artificial intelligence and data analytics, to improve its operations and customer experience.
Zara's Growth Case
Start and Expansion − Zara was founded in 1975 by Amancio Ortega in Galicia, Spain. It started as a small clothing store and expanded rapidly in Spain and later in other countries in Europe.
Fast Fashion − Zara is known for its fast fashion business model, where it quickly responds to changing trends and customer demands. This has allowed Zara to stay ahead of its competitors and maintain its position as one of the leading fashion retailers in the world.
Global Expansion − Zara expanded globally and entered new markets through a combination of company-owned stores and franchising. Zara opened its first international store in Portugal in 1988 and later expanded to countries such as France, Italy, the UK, and the US.
Vertical Integration − Zara's parent company, Inditex, has a vertically integrated business model that allows for quick responses to customer demands and quick turnarounds of new products. The company controls all aspects of production, from design to manufacturing to distribution.
E-Commerce − Zara has invested in e-commerce and online sales to reach customers in new markets and expand its reach. Its online store offers a wide range of products and is available in many countries.
Sustainability − Zara has made a commitment to sustainability and has implemented practises such as reducing waste, using more sustainable materials, and increasing energy efficiency in its stores. This has helped the company improve its reputation and appeal to customers who are concerned about the environment.
Innovation − Zara continues to innovate and stay ahead of its competitors. The company has embraced technology, such as artificial intelligence and data analytics, to improve its operations and customer experience.
Internationalization of Zara
Zara's internationalisation can be characterised by its rapid expansion into new markets and its ability to adapt to local cultural differences. The company's strategy for internationalisation includes the following steps
Market Research − Zara conducts market research to identify potential new markets and to understand local customer preferences and cultural differences.
Local Adaptation − Zara adapts its products and store designs to local cultural differences and customer preferences, ensuring that its products and shopping experience appeal to customers in each market.
Partnerships and franchising − Zara use a combination of company-owned stores and franchising to enter new markets. This allows the company to benefit from local expertise and control costs while expanding globally.
Sustainable Practices − Zara prioritises sustainability and implements sustainable practises in its stores and production processes. This has helped the company improve its reputation and appeal to customers who are concerned about the environment.
Zara's internationalization strategy has helped the company to expand rapidly into new markets and to maintain its position as one of the leading fashion retailers in the world.
Market selection is an important step in Zara's internationalisation strategy. The company conducts market research to identify potential new markets and to understand local customer preferences and cultural differences. This allows Zara to make informed decisions about which markets to enter and how to tailor its products and store designs to meet local customer demands.
Zara also considers various factors when selecting new markets, such as the size of the market, the level of economic development, the level of competition, and the potential for growth. The company looks for markets that are large enough to support its business and where it can achieve a competitive advantage through its fast fashion business model and vertical integration. Additionally, Zara considers the cultural differences of each market and adapts its products and store designs accordingly. For example, in some markets, customers may prefer more modest clothing styles, while in others, they may prefer bold and daring styles. By understanding local cultural differences, Zara can ensure that its products and shopping experience are appealing to customers in each market.
Overall, market selection is a crucial aspect of Zara's internationalization strategy, allowing the company to expand into new markets while maintaining its focus on customer demands and cultural differences.
Zara's marketing strategy focuses on creating an immersive shopping experience for customers and using technology to improve its operations and customer experience. The key components of Zara's marketing strategy are
In-Store Experience − Zara invests in store design and technology to create an immersive shopping experience for customers. The company's stores are designed to be attractive and welcoming, and the company uses technology, such as augmented reality and data analytics, to improve the customer experience.
Product Range − Zara offers a wide range of products, from clothing to accessories, that are designed to appeal to a broad range of customers. The company uses its fast-fashion business model to quickly respond to changing customer demands and design new products that meet those demands.
E-Commerce − Zara has invested in e-commerce to reach customers in new markets and provide them with a convenient and easy shopping experience. The company's online store offers a wide range of products and is available in many countries.
Advertising and Promotion − Zara uses a mix of advertising and promotion to reach customers and raise awareness of its brand. The company's advertising campaigns are designed to be bold and memorable, and the company also uses social media and influencer marketing to reach customers and build its brand.
Sustainability − Zara is committed to sustainability and implements sustainable practises in its stores and production processes. This has helped the company improve its reputation and appeal to customers who are concerned about the environment.
Overall, Zara's marketing strategy is focused on creating a memorable and enjoyable shopping experience for customers, using technology to improve its operations and customer experience, and committing to sustainability. These key components of Zara's marketing strategy have helped the company achieve success and become one of the leading fashion retailers in the world.
In conclusion, Zara's success as a global fashion retailer can be attributed to its innovative business model, quick response to changing trends and customer demands, and commitment to sustainability. The company's vertically integrated business model and fast fashion approach allow it to quickly respond to new trends and customer demands, while its investment in e-commerce and partnerships with local partners have helped it expand into new markets. In the future, Zara is likely to continue its expansion into new markets and to continue to innovate, staying ahead of its competitors and meeting the changing demands of customers. The company's commitment to sustainability and its focus on customer preferences and cultural differences will likely remain key to its success in the future.
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Operations Transformation & Decentralization: ZARA Case Study
Introduction, identification, analysis and evaluation, recommendations, works cited.
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Zara is a global retail brand that designs and sells clothes, shoes, and accessories for men, women, and children. The brand is a part of Inditex, a retail corporation that also features other clothing brands, such as Pull and Bear, Stradivarius, and Massimo Dutti. Zara was initially developed as an affordable brand with a strong focus on fashion. Most of its operations, such as production and distribution are based in Spain and the nearby European countries.
However, as the brand has developed a strong presence in the global research market, it might be beneficial to transform operations and allow for a significant degree of decentralization. The present paper will seek to provide an analysis of the case study by identifying and assessing the key issues affecting Zara, as well as providing recommendations for future development.
Zara was created in Spain, which remains the principal location of its operations. However, the company has also developed a truly global image, with thousands of stores all over the globe. The retailer operates both online and offline and has a robust supply chain with well-established suppliers. The company’s main strategy is to remain flexible in its operations, promote sustainability, and deliver excellent value to customers all over the globe. However, the implementation of this strategy is affected by several important issues.
Zara has three large distribution centers in Spain, which arrange for shipments to other locations. The production of the brand, however, is decentralized, with factories in a variety of European countries. The different levels of centralization in production and distribution are the main issue faced by the company, as they contribute to transportation costs while also contradicting the brand’s sustainability strategy.
Given that the three distribution centers in Spain serve all of Zara’s stores, including its online stores, the complex transportation chain also creates a risk of delivery delays and stock-outs, thus impacting its global sales and revenues. Another problem that was identified based on the information from the case is that Zara’s online store does not offer any significant benefits compared to other brands’ stores, thus relying on customers who are already familiar with the brand. This problem could affect the future of Zara’s online sales and thus needs to be addressed by the management.
In order to judge the brand’s financial performance, it is critical to perform a ratio analysis. Zara’s financials are included in Inditex’s consolidated financial statements; however, as the brand constitutes a vast part of the parent company’s operations, it is possible to evaluate the general financial health of Zara based on Inditex’s performance. As seen in Table 1, Inditex had a gross profit margin of 58.3% in 2014 compared to 59.3% in the previous year. Similarly, other ratios are stable and do not indicate any significant solvency, profitability, or liquidity problems. Hence, the overall financial health of Inditex is good, and there are no threats to the company’s profitability.
Table 1. Ratio Analysis of Inditex.
The financial information of Inditex also shows that the company’s capital structure relies predominantly on equity, although it also uses a significant share of current liabilities, mainly trade and other payables (Inditex 189). The share of non-current liabilities in the capital structure is low, which shows reduced reliance on financial debt and reduces the long-term financial risk for Inditex.
Based on the information in the case and the financial information available, the key strengths of Zara are its established position on the global scene and excellent supply chain management. The case shows that Zara fosters long-term relationships with most of its suppliers and has an extensive network of reliable supplies of products and raw materials. Nevertheless, stability in financial results despite opening new stores also indicates that the brand’s competitive position is not improving. Enhancing operations, promoting sustainability, and increasing the volume of online sales would help Zara to strengthen its competitive position.
There are two main recommendations that can help Zara to resolve its key problems. First of all, it would be helpful for Zara to improve distribution by opening regional distribution channels that would receive products straight from production facilities instead of the three main distribution centers in Spain. The proposed action plan here is to open regional distribution centers in North America and Asia and establish transportation of products from production facilities in Europe.
Secondly, Zara would benefit from improving its online sales by distinguishing itself from the key competitors. In order to do so, the brand should conduct market research to determine the type of unique selling point that would attract more customers to use its online stores. Examples of unique selling points in online clothing stores are next-day or same-day delivery, fitting services, and free online stylist consultations. These features would help Zara to increase the volume of online sales.
The two proposed developments would be useful for the brand in overcoming its main problems. For example, opening regional distribution centers that are directly connected to production facilities would decrease operations time, thus preventing delivery delays and stock-outs. It would also enhance the online shopping experience by allowing for faster delivery. In addition, reduced transportation would contribute to Zara’s sustainability goals.
Creating a unique selling point for Zara’s online store could help to attract more customers, thus boosting sales volume and achieving growth. Both parts of the action plan are feasible given Zara’s capital structure and will likely be accepted by the management due to their anticipated effects on the business. Based on the scale of Zara’s current operations and its experience in global distribution and sales, it is also evident that the brand has the competence to implement them and that there will be no constraints to implementation.
All in all, Zara is a profitable global brand that has a stable financial position. Nevertheless, the competitive environment of the market requires the brand to undertake new activities in order to develop further. The recommended options that should be applied by Zara are to improve distribution by opening regional distribution centers and to achieve increased online sales volume by creating a unique selling point. Using these recommendations, the brand will be able to attract more customers and increase net sales, thus enhancing its profitability.
Indetex. Annual Report 2014 . 2015. Web.
Snap, Inc. Form 10-K . 2018. Web.
The Change Foundation. Annual Report 2005/2006 . 2006. Web.
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IvyPanda . 2023. "Operations Transformation & Decentralization: ZARA." October 30, 2023. https://ivypanda.com/essays/zara-case-study-analysis/.
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The Secret of Zara’s Success: A Culture of Customer Co-creation
Zara is one of the world’s most successful fashion retail brands – if not the most successful one. With its dramatic introduction of the concept of “fast fashion” retail since it was founded in 1975 in Spain, Zara aspires to create responsible passion for fashion amongst a broad spectrum of consumers, spread across different cultures and age groups. There are many factors that have contributed to the success of Zara but one of its key strengths, which has played a strong role in it becoming a global fashion powerhouse as it is today, is its ability to put customers first. Zara is obsessed with its customers, and they have defined the company and the brand’s culture right from the very beginning.
The Zara brand offers men and women’s clothing, children’s clothing (Zara Kids), shoes and accessories. The sub-brand Zara TRF offers trendier and sometimes edgier items to younger women and teenagers.
The Zara brand story
Zara was founded by Amancio Ortega and Rosalía Mera in 1975 as a family business in downtown Galicia in the northern part of Spain. Its first store featured low-priced lookalike products of popular, higher-end clothing and fashion. Amancio Ortega named Zara as such because his preferred name Zorba was already taken. In the next 8 years, Zara’s approach towards fashion and its business model gradually generated traction with the Spanish consumer. This led to the opening of 9 new stores in the biggest cities of Spain.
In 1985, Inditex was incorporated as a holding company, which laid the foundations for a distribution system capable of reacting to shifting market trends extremely quickly. Ortega created a new design, manufacturing, and distribution process that could reduce lead times and react to new trends in a quicker way, which he called “instant fashion”. This was driven by heavy investments in information technology and utilising groups instead of individual designers for the critical “design” element.
In the next decade, Zara began aggressively expanding into global markets, which included Portugal, New York (USA), Paris (France), Mexico, Greece, Belgium, Sweden, Malta, Cyprus, Norway and Israel. Today, there is hardly a developed country without a Zara store. Zara now has 2,264 stores strategically located in leading cities across 96 countries. It is no surprise that Zara, which started off as a small store in Spain, is now the world’s largest fast fashion retailer and is the flagship brand of Inditex. Its founder, Amancio Ortega, is the sixth richest man in the world according to Forbes magazine.
Today, Inditex is the world’s largest fashion group with more than 174,000 employees operating more than 7,400 stores in 202 markets worldwide including 49 online markets. The revenues of Inditex was USD 23.4 billion in 2019. The other fashion brands in the Inditex portfolio are:
Zara Home: Home goods and decoration objects founded in 2003. Operating in 183 markets, 70 of them with stores.
Pull & Bear: Casual laid-back clothing and accessories for the young founded in 1991. Operates in 185 markets, 75 of them with stores.
Massimo Dutti: High end clothing and accessories for cosmopolitan men and women acquired in 1995. Operates 186 markets, 74 of them with stores.
Bershka: Blends urban styles and modern fashion for young women and men founded in 1998. Operates in 185 markets, 74 of them with stores.
Stradivarius: Casual and feminine clothes for young women acquired in 1999. Operates 180 markets, 67 of them with stores.
Oysho: Lingerie, casual outerwear, lounge wear and original accessories founded in 2001. Operating in 176 markets, 58 of them with stores.
Uterqüe: High-quality fashion accessories at attractive prices founded in 2008. Operating in 158 markets, 17 of them with stores.
Apart from fashion brands, Amancio Ortega has also set up a global real estate investment fund, Pontegadea Inversiones, which manages corporate offices across 9 countries including United States (Seattle), Britain (London), France (Paris), Canada, Italy, South Korea. These corporate properties house large companies including Facebook, Amazon and Apple, and prestigious luxury and retail brands.
The Zara brand strategy
In 2019, Zara was ranked 29th on global brand consultancy Interbrand’s list of best global brands. Its core values are found in four simple terms: beauty, clarity, functionality and sustainability.
The secret to Zara’s success has largely being driven by its ability to keep up with rapidly changing fashion trends and showcase it in its collections with very little delay. From the very beginning, Zara found a significant gap in the market that few clothing brands had effectively addressed. This was to keep pace with latest fashion trends, but offer clothing collections that are a combination of high quality and yet, are affordable. The brand keeps a close watch on how fashion is changing and evolving every day across the world. Based on latest styles and trends, it creates new designs and puts them into stores in a week or two. In stark comparison, most other fashion brands would take close to six months to get new designs and collections into the market.
It is through this strategic ability of introducing new collections based on latest trends in a rapid manner that enabled Zara to beat other competitors. It quickly became the people’s favourite brand, especially with those who want to keep up with fashion trends. Founder Amancio Ortega is famously known for his views on clothes as a perishable commodity. According to him, people should love to use and wear clothes for a short while and then they should throw them away, just like yogurt, bread or fish, rather than store them in cupboards.
The media often quotes that the brand produces “freshly baked clothes”, which survive fashion trends for less than a month or two. Zara concentrates on three areas to effectively “bake” its fresh fashions:
Shorter lead times (and more fashionable clothes): Shorter lead times allow Zara to ensure that its stores stock clothes that customers want at that time (e.g. specific spring/ summer or autumn/ winter collections, recent trend that is catching up, sudden popularity of an item worn by a celebrity/ socialite/ actor/ actress, latest collection of a top designer etc.). While many retailers try to forecast what customers might buy months in the future, Zara moves in step with its customers and offers them what they want to buy at a given point in time.
Lower quantities (through scarce supply): By reducing the quantity manufactured for a particular style, Zara not only reduces its exposure to any single product but also creates artificial scarcity. Similar to the principle that applies to all fashion items (and more specifically luxury), the lesser the availability, the more desirable an object becomes. Another benefit of producing lower quantities is that if a style does not generate traction and suffers from poor sales, there is not a high volume to be disposed of. Zara only has two time-bound sales a year rather than constant markdowns, and it discounts a very small proportion of its products, approximately half compared to its competitors, which is a very impressive feat.
More styles: Rather than producing more quantities per style, Zara produces more styles, roughly 12,000 a year. Even if a style sells out very quickly, there are new styles waiting to take up the space. This means more choices and higher chance of getting it right with the consumer.
Zara only allows its designs to remain on the shop floor for three to four weeks. This practice pushes consumers to keep visiting the brand’s stores because if they were just a week late, all the clothes of a particular style or trend would be gone and replaced with a new trend. At the same time, this constant refreshing of the lines and styles carried by its stores also entices customers to visit its shops more frequently.
In the following sections, the key components of Zara’s winning formula in the fashion retailing industry are illustrated.
Customer co-creation: Zara’s principal designer is the customer
Zara’s unrelenting focus on the customer is at the core of the brand’s success and the heights it has achieved today. There was a fascinating story around how Zara co-creates its products leveraging its customers’ input. In 2015, a lady named Miko walked into a Zara store in Tokyo and asked the store assistant for a pink scarf, but the store did not have any pink scarves. The same happened almost simultaneously for Michelle in Toronto, Elaine in San Francisco, and Giselle in Frankfurt, who all walked into Zara stores and asked for pink scarves. They all left the stores without any scarves – an experience many other Zara fans encountered globally in different Zara stores over the next few days.
7 days later, more than 2,000 Zara stores globally started selling pink scarves. 500,000 pink scarves were dispatched – to be exact. They sold out in 3 days. How did such lightning fast stocking of pink scarves happen?
Customer insights are the holy grail of modern business, and the more companies know about their customers, the better they can innovate and compete. But it can prove challenging to have the right insights, at the right time, and have access to them consistently over time. One of the secrets to Zara’s success includes using Radio Frequency Identification Technology (RFID) in its stores. The brand uses cutting-edge systems to track the location of garments instantly and makes those most in demand rapidly available to customers. Additionally, it helps to reduce inventory costs, provides greater flexibility to launch new designs, and allows fulfillment of online orders with stock from stores nearest to the delivery location thereby reducing delivery costs.
Another secret of Zara’s success is that the brand trains and empowers its store employees and managers to be particularly sensitive to customer needs and wants, and how customers enact them on the shop floors. Zara empowers its sales associates and store managers to be at the forefront of customer research – they intently listen and note down customer comments, ideas for cuts, fabrics or a new line, and keenly observe new styles that its customers are wearing that have the potential to be converted into unique Zara styles. In comparison, traditional daily sales reports can hardly provide such a dynamic updated picture of the market. The Zara empire is built on two basic rules: “to give customers what they want”, and “get it to them faster than anyone else”.
Due to Zara’s competitive customer research capabilities, its product offerings across its stores globally reflect unique customer needs and wants in terms of physical, climate or cultural differences. It offers smaller sizes in Japan, special women’s clothes in Arab countries, and clothes of different seasonality in South America. These differences in product offerings across countries are greatly facilitated by the frequent interactions between Zara’s local store managers and its creative team.
In the fashion world, a trend starts small, but develops fast. Zara employees are trained to listen, watch and be attentive to even the smallest seismographic signals from their customers, which can be an initial sign that a new trend is taking shape. Zara knows that the quicker it can respond, the more likely it is to succeed in supplying the right fashion merchandise at the right time across its global retail chain. Zara has set up sophisticated technology driven systems, which enable information to travel quickly from the stores back to its headquarters in Arteixo in Spain, enabling decision makers to act fast and respond effectively to a developing trend. Its design teams regularly visit university campuses; nightclubs and other venues to observe what young fashion leaders are wearing. In its headquarters, the design team uses flat-screen monitors linked by webcam to offices in Shanghai, Tokyo and New York (the leading cities for fashion trends), which act as trend spotters. The ‘Trends’ team never goes to fashion shows but tracks bloggers and listens closely to the brand’s customers.
The fact that Zara’s designers and customers are inextricably linked is a crucial part of the brand strategy. Specialist teams receive constant feedback on the decisions its customers are making at every Zara store, which continuously inspires the Zara creative team.
Zara’s super-efficient supply chain
Zara’s highly responsive, vertically integrated supply chain enables the export of garments 24 hours, 365 days of the year, resulting in the shipping of new products to stores twice a week. After products are designed, they take around 10 to 15 days to reach the stores. All clothing items are processed through the distribution center in Spain, where new items are inspected, sorted, tagged, and loaded into trucks. In most cases, clothing items are delivered to stores within 48 hours. This vertical integration allows Zara to retain control over areas like dyeing and processing and have fabric-processing capacity available on-demand to provide the correct fabrics for new styles according to customer preferences. It also eliminates the need for warehouses and helps reduce the impact of demand fluctuations. Zara produces over 450 million items and launches around 12,000 new designs annually, so the efficiency of the supply chain is critical to ensure that this constant refreshment of store level collections goes off smoothly and efficiently.
Here are some of the characteristics of Zara’s supply chain that highlight the reasons behind its success:
Frequency of customer insights collection: Trend information flows daily into a database at head office, which is used by designers to create new lines and modify existing ones.
Standardization of product information: Zara warehouses have standardised product information with common definitions, allowing quick and accurate preparation of designs with clear manufacturing instructions.
Product information and inventory management: By effectively managing thousands of fabric, trim and design specifications and their physical inventory, Zara is capable of designing a garment with available stock of required raw materials.
Procurement strategy: Around two-thirds of fabrics are undyed and are purchased before designs are finalized so as to obtain savings through demand aggregation.
Manufacturing approach: Zara uses a “make and buy” approach – it produces the more fashionable and riskier items (which need testing and piloting) in Spain, and outsources production of more standard designs with more predictable demand to Morocco, Turkey and Asia to reduce production cost. The more fashionable and riskier items (which are around half of its merchandise) are manufactured at a dozen company-owned factories in Spain (Galicia), northern Portugal and Turkey. Clothes with longer shelf life (i.e. the one with more predictable demand patterns), such as basic T-shirts, are outsourced to low cost suppliers, mainly in Asia. Even when manufacturing in Europe, Zara manages to keep its costs down by outsourcing the assembly workshops and leveraging the informal economy of mothers and grandmothers.
Distribution management: Zara’s state-of-the-art distribution facility functions with minimal human intervention. Optical reading devices sort out and distribute more than 60,000 items of clothing an hour.
In addition to these supply chain efficiencies, Zara can also modify existing items in as little as two weeks. Shortening the product life cycle means greater success in meeting consumer preferences. If a design does not sell well within a week, it is withdrawn from shops, further orders are canceled and a new design is pursued. Zara closely monitors changes in customer preferences towards fashion. It has a range of basic designs that are carried over from year to year, but some in-vogue, high fashion, inspired by latest trends items can stay on the shelves for less than four weeks, which encourages Zara fans to make repeat visits. An average high-street store in Spain expects customers to visit thrice a year, but for Zara, the expectation is that customers should visit around 17 times in a year.
This expectation for such a high frequency of repeat visits is evidence of Zara’s confidence that it is keeping on top of changing consumer needs and preferences and is helping them shape their ideas, opinions and taste for fashion. In reality, Zara is also helping in giving birth to new trends through its stores or even helping in extending the longevity of some seasonal styles by offering affordable lines.
Sustainability at the core of Zara’s operations
Sustainability has been a hot topic in business for the last decade and is now quickly becoming a must-have hygiene factor for companies that want to resonate with and win the loyalty of its global customers. For Inditex, this means having a commitment to people and the environment.
Commitment to people: Inditex ensures that its employees have a shared vision of value built on sustainability through professional development, equality and diversity and volunteering. It also ensures that its suppliers have fundamental rights at work and by initiating continuous improvement programs for them. Inditex also spends over USD 50 million annually on social and community programmes and initiatives. For example, its “for&from” programme which started in 2002 has enabled the social integration of people with physical and mental disabilities, by providing over 200 stable employment opportunities across 15 stores.
Commitment to environment: Being in a business where it taps on natural resources to create its products, Inditex makes efforts to ensure that the environmental impact of its business complies with UNSDGs (United Nations Sustainable Developmental Goals). Inditex has pledged to only sell sustainable clothes by 2025 and that all cotton, linen and polyester sold will be organic, sustainable or recycled. The company also runs Join Life, a scheme which helps consumers identify clothes made with more environmentally friendly materials like organic cotton and recycled polyester.
Additionally, Inditex takes wide-ranging measures to protect biodiversity, reduce its consumption of water, energy and other resources, avoid waste, and combat climate change. For example, it has outlined a Global Water Management Strategy, specifically committing to zero discharge of hazardous chemicals. It has also been expanding its waste reduction programme through which customers can drop off their used clothing, footwear and accessories at collection points in 2,299 stores in 46 markets today.
Zara’s culture: The word “impossible” does not exist
Zara has a very entrepreneurial culture, and employs lots of young talent who quickly climb through the ranks of the company. Zara promotes approximately two-thirds of its store managers from within and generally experiences low turnover. The brand has no fear in giving responsibility to young people and the culture encourages risk-taking (as long as learning happens) and fast implementation (the mantra of fashion).
Top management gives its store managers full liberty and control over their store’s operations and performance with clearly set cost, profit and growth targets with a fixed and variable compensation scheme. The variable component amounts to up to half of the total compensation – making store level employees heavily incentive-driven.
In addition, once an employee is selected for promotion, his or her store develops a comprehensive training program for that individual with the human resources department, which is followed up by periodic supplemental training – reflecting Zara’s commitment to talent development. The organizational structure is also flat with only a few managerial layers.
Customers are the most important source of information for Zara, but like any other fashion brand, Zara also employs trend analysts, customer insights experts, and retains some of the best talents in the fashion world. The creative team of Zara comprises of over 200 professionals. They all embody and enact the corporate philosophy that the word “impossible” does not exist in Zara.
For example, while many companies struggle with long lead times in discussions and decision making, Zara gets around this challenge by getting various business functions to sit together at the headquarters and also by encouraging a culture (through structures and processes) where people continuously talk to each other. The sales and marketing teams who receive trend feedback talk regularly with designers and merchandisers. It is important that there is constant two-way communication so that sales and marketing teams can talk about new lines to customers and designers / merchandisers have a strong visibility of customers’ needs and preferences enacted at a store level. The production scheduling is also closely coordinated so that there is no time wasted on approvals. The design team structure is very flat and focuses on careful interpretation of catwalk trends that are suitable for the mass market – the Zara customer. The design and product development teams, who are based in Spain, work closely to produce 1,000 new styles every month.
Besides being customer centric, another important reason why Zara’s employee strategy is so successful is the fact that it empowers its staff to make decisions based on data. Zara has no chief designer. All its designers are given unparalleled independence in approving products and campaigns, based on daily data feeds indicating which styles are popular.
Due to the unwavering focus on the customer, the entire business model is designed in such a way that the pattern of needs for the finished goods dictate the terms of the production process to follow, instead of having the raw materials determine the nature of the production process – something that is very rare in multinational companies of similar scale.
In sum, the entire brand culture is extremely customer-centric, which has been and continues to be a significant contributor to Zara’s success.
The Zara brand communication strategy
Zara has used almost a zero advertising and endorsement policy throughout its entire existence, preferring to invest a percentage of its revenues in opening new stores instead. It spends a meager 0.3 per cent of sales on advertising compared to an average of 3.5 per cent by competitors. The brand’s founder Amancio has never spoken to the media nor has in any way advertised Zara. This is indeed the mark of a truly successful brand where customers appreciate and desire the brand, which is over and above product level benefits but strongly driven by the brand experience.
Instead of advertising, Zara uses its store location and store displays as key elements of its marketing strategy. By choosing to be in the most prominent locations in a city, Zara ensures very high customer traffic for its stores. Its window displays, which showcase the most outstanding pieces in the collection, are also a powerful communication tool designed by a specialized team. A lot of time and effort is spent designing the window displays to be artistic and attention grabbing. According to Zara’s philosophy of fast fashion, the window displays are constantly changed. This strategy goes down to how the employees dress as well – all Zara employees are required to wear Zara clothes while working in the stores, but these “uniforms” vary across different Zara stores to reflect socio-economic differences in the regions they were located. This effectively communicates Zara’s focus on the mass market, yet another detail that reflects its close attention on the customer.
To tap into the emerging e-commerce trend, Zara launched its online boutique in September 2010. The website was initially available in Spain, the UK, Portugal, Italy, Germany and France, and was extended to Austria, Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. Over the next 3 years, the online store became available in the United States, Russia, Canada, Mexico, Romania, and South Korea. In 2017, Zara’s online store launched in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and India. More recently in March 2018, the brand launched online in Australia and New Zealand. Today, its online store is available in 66 countries. As of 2019, online sales grew to constitute 14% of Zara’s total global sales.
As a fast fashion retailer, Zara is definitely aware of the power of e-commerce and has built up a successful online presence and high-quality customer experience.
Zara’s future brand and business challenges
Charting a new digital strategy in the COVID-19 crisis: With its primarily offline shopping experience, Zara has been hard hit by global store closures amid the COVID-19 crisis in 2020, with sales falling 44% year-on-year in Q1 2020 and the company reporting a net loss of USD 482 million. Inditex has announced that it will be closing between 1,000 to 1,200 stores worldwide, focusing on smaller ones in Asia and Europe. While online sales have been encouraging – Zara’s online sales for Q1 2020 grew 50% – it is not enough to mitigate the damage.
Amancio Ortega plans to spend USD 1.1 billion scaling up its digital strategy and online capabilities by 2022 and a further USD 2 billion in stores to improve integration between online and offline for faster deliveries and real-time tracking of products. Its goal is for online sales to constitute at least 25% of total sales. To achieve this goal, Zara will need to think of new ways to engage its customers digitally, not just through its online store, but through online communities and social media.
Mobile commerce: Zara woke up late to the potential of mobile commerce and needs to catch up fast with competitors. Different forms of market analysis strongly point towards a scenario wherein spends on mobile commerce will overtake desktop based ecommerce by 2021. On an average, most brands currently get about 15-20% of their website traffic via mobile devices and this is growing rapidly. With the deluge of investments planned in the mobile commerce space and Zara’s competitors already having an advantage on the mobile front, Zara needs to quickly make mobile shopping not only an effortless experience but also a delightful one.
Price is not an advantage anymore: Offering the latest fashion lines at affordable prices continues to be a strategic advantage for Zara, but cannot continue to be the only one. Across the world, and closer to home in Europe, competitors are cutting prices and refining their business models to cut the competitive advantage that Zara has. Swedish fast fashion retailer H&M, which is placed #30 just behind Zara on Interbrand’s list, launched an online store in Spain in 2014 to take own Zara in its home turf. Again in its home market, it now faces increasing competition from brands like Mango, which cut prices and started focusing on fashion segments in which Zara enjoyed popularity. In addition to H&M and Mango, other competitors like Gap and Topshop are all fighting for a share of the fast fashion retail market pie. Also with the rise of e- and m-commerce, the number of indirect competitors has mushroomed. We now have online fashion aggregators that bring in multiple brands under one single online platform and cut through borders and price segments. Some examples of such aggregators who are doing well include Lyst, Farfetch, Spring and Yoox Net-a-Porter.
For Zara to effectively compete and maintain its strategic advantage, the focus needs to shift away from price but towards quality. Even today the Zara brand enjoys high levels of appeal, which is evident by the serpentine queues outside its stores when it launches in new markets. There is a need for Zara to start investing in building a strong brand positioning and aggressively communicate it. Additionally, Zara needs to adopt, imbibe and leverage social media and digital platforms in its advertising and communication strategies deeper going forward.
Need for marketing strategy to evolve: As discussed above, Zara does not engage in advertising and instead uses its store locations as a marketing strategy. However, brand communication is crucial in attracting new customers to the brand to support its growth. Without advertisements, Zara relies heavily on word of mouth or social media. This causes the perception of potential customers towards Zara to be heavily shaped by family and friends, which may not be accurate. In addition, Zara’s social media platforms such as Facebook and YouTube exists merely as a feed for updates rather than a platform that consumers can interact with. Its videos on YouTube are also seeing very low viewership in comparison with its follower count, which is not ideal as videos are a powerful medium for brands in the fashion industry. This is a gap that Zara needs to plug immediately as the reach and impact of social media marketing gets stronger. As Zara’s target customer segments start using more social and digital platforms for communication and for sharing their lives, it is important for Zara to have a strong presence on such platforms.
Family business planning and succession: With various technological and business disruptions in the past decade, leadership in the 21st century will be influenced by constant change, geopolitical volatility, and economic and political uncertainty. For Zara’s first 36 years in business, the brand has been controlled by its founder Amancio Ortega, who is currently 85 years old. In 2011, Ortega passed the chairman title on to Pablo Isla, Zara’s Deputy CEO since 2005.
Succession is currently taking place at Inditex and generational transfer will empower the next generation in one of the wealthiest business families in the world. Pablo Isla, chairman of Inditex since 2011, steps down in April 2022, and 37-year-old Marta Ortega will take over as chair in the company that her father Amancio Ortega started with his ex-wife Rosalia in 1975 in Galicia, Spain. Marta Ortega is the youngest of Amancio Ortega’s three children.
Marta Ortega will become a non-executive chair, and will head the Inditex group, the portfolio of companies including supervision of strategic operations. She has been with Inditex for over 15 years, starting out working in a Zara store at King’s Road in London, and as an assistant at the portfolio brand Bershka. In recent years, Marta Ortega has been involved in strategy, brand building and fashion proposals for the Inditex portfolio of brands.
Marta Ortega will not be involved in daily management of the financial performance to shield her and the family from too much public exposure. Amancio Ortega has always been known for appearing less in public and avoiding any media exposure. His photo did not appear in the Inditex annual report until 2000. Marta Ortega seems to be more open to media interviews and public appearance, and granted her first interview with Wall Street Journal in August 2021.
Óscar García Maceiras will be appointed CEO of Inditex in April 2022 and will run the daily business. He joined Inditex in March 2021 and is currently general secretary of Inditex and secretary of the board.
The sharing of executive powers between the chair and the CEO to enhance corporate governance has historically been less common in the corporate world in Spain but is often seen in Europe and elsewhere. Inditex will therefore return to dual leadership in April 2022 with Marta Ortega as chair and García Maceiras as CEO, the very same structure that ran for six years with Amancio Ortega as chairman and Pablo Isla as CEO until 2011.
Despite working at Inditex for over 15 years, Marta Ortega Pérez does not hold an office. Her father, Amancio Ortega, never had an office either and always preferred to work in an open space in the fashion design department to be close to teams around him.
To effectively manage the above changes, Zara’s next generation leadership needs to step up to the succession planning challenge by being resilient in staying true to the brand promise to consistently produce “freshly baked clothes” for its fashion-forward consumers, and by balancing both short-term (profitability) and long-term goals (growing the business and reaching more consumers).
More importantly, despite Zara’s global reach and consequent product standardization, it needs to constantly find new ways to serve local fashion needs and preferences of its consumers across the globe. This will be a challenge for the brand’s leadership in the next decade.
Conclusion: Take Zara’s cue and listen to your customers
The Zara brand was born with a keen eye on its customer – its ability to understand, predict and deliver on its customers’ preferences for trendy fashion at affordable prices. In addition to its effective supply chain, the brand’s ability to have its customers co-create designs is unique and provides it with a competitive advantage. Most fashion trends often start unexpectedly, originate from uncommon places and grow out of nowhere. With reference to the pink scarf trend mentioned above, it could have been that Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson had worn a pink scarf to a charity gala the evening before in Los Angeles, or golf star Michelle Wie had showcased a pink scarf at a celebrity tournament in Asia. The fact that Zara was able to quickly jump on to this trend and provide hundreds of customers with the pink scarves they desperately wanted to buy.
In a world swamped with Big Data, and yet more collected at an even more rapid pace than before, brands still need to be careful and observant. Big Data does not provide answers to all business challenges, and it may be too hyped to be considered as the Holy Grail.
One of the secrets behind Zara’s global success is the culture and the respect for the fact that no one is a better, authentic trendsetter than the customer himself or herself – and this philosophy needs to be continually reflected in all its business strategies going forward.
So, why not consult your customers for a start? Zara always does.
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About the author: Martin Roll – Business & Brand Strategist
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