Now that Zara is here, what might it mean for retail in South Africa?

Thursday, November 10, 2011


For a company that does not spend its revenue on advertising, Zara is a devastating retail success.  When I was in Europe and America I never made it to a Zara store, I’ve only ever heard about it via that powerful tool called word of mouth and of course the Internet yet there I was acting like I know what it’s going to be.



They had me at the facial expressions of the mannequins before I even looked at the clothes! This is how a woman feels when she looks nice.  ‘’You can look but don’t touch me, I am hot’’.  And then the clothes. Well cut, well-fitting and very clean lines – they yelled (but only subtly) luxury and sophisticated.  That was just the window.  When I walked into the store, I was not moved in the slightest. I looked left, right and straight and marvelled at the sheer size of the shop, 2700 square metres.  But as I got closer to each rail, each table and each shelf, I realised that bad design has no place in this empire.  


Every single item, even the ones I did not like, is well designed and is a generally good garment of clothing.  The shop is divided into a Women’s, Men’s and Kids section, each with further divisions according to style, price and age of customer.  The merchandising is spot on. You’ll find a top displayed with a pair of shorts that can actually be worn with the other trousers or skirt displayed in the same area, as well as interchangeable shoes and bags to go with the looks.  It’s trendy but not super trendy and what I like the most is that they don’t make millions of the same thing in different colours, the stocks are limited. Why? Because each Zara store in the world gets new stock twice a week – the result of their 36 – 48 hour cycle of delivery from Distribution Centre to Stores!  As a store owner,  I know for a fact that this is the reason people come back to a shop they like - the combination of trendy, affordable clothes that are limited and new each week.  



This four pronged model [Price, Limited Stock, Fast Supply of New Stock, Trendy] is a reason for Doreen and I to shake in our boots as small little boutique owners, but even more so for the other retailers in South Africa.  Mr Price can chill because they are super cheap but they will probably have reason to fear when H&M comes (it’s a rumour for now but I’m sure the Swedes are waiting to see how the Spanish fair in deep dark Africa and I’m sure the Brits and Topshop are on that same waiting wagon). The rest will have to up their game and possibly lower their prices. Not right now because there is only one store, but it’s a matter of time before there is a store in Cape Town, Durban and another in Johannesburg or Pretoria.  Spain’s neighbour, Portugal alone has 10 million people and 50 stores, I don’t even want to imagine how many stores there are in the rest of Europe. 

Southern Africa is a new frontier for Zara, with stores in North Africa (Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria) along with Australia. They only opened two stores in Australia earlier this year and now we hold our breaths and wait for the rest to pop up like corn.  You see, their business model is not the traditional one followed by other retailers, which is what makes them the greatest retailer according to many a Financial Times article and uh, what’s that Business School in Massachusetts? Oh Harvard. Traditionally, other retailers focus on the following in this order: Design, Manufacturing, Distribution and lastly the Customer.  Zara does it the other way round: Customer, Design, Manufacture and Distribution.  And unlike other retailers who outsource their manufacturing to Asia, Zara does 50% of its manufacturing in Spain, about 24% in Europe and the rest in Asia, South America and North Africa – so they control the cycle of production and distribution, which is why it has resulted in expedience.

I’m really not saying all these things to blow smoke up their asses but I am of the opinion that if the Johannesburg store is successful (judging by last night’s queues at the counters and that was only the media) , this is really going to rattle some retail cages and possibly, hopefully motivate our industry to become more competitive in design, price and approach to customers.  Their prices are not cheap by South African standards but they good.  I found a really nice white t-shirt with embroidery for R199. There was another top for R349 and a dress that Nicole and I fell in love with without the other one knowing, that we are going to share, it’s R1200.  They have a good stock of men’s clothing from casual to formal wear, with suit jackets going for R999, which is nothing.  There is also a kids section. Cute stuff for little ones but way too expensive.  I wanted to buy dresses for my 7, 6 and 4 year old cousins but at R450 a dress, I was convinced to rather buy them glitter and face-paint. 













The stock is from the past European Summer so it’s not brand new although there was an Asian girl there who told me that the leather skirt we were all admiring (R1200) was on sale in Beijing in May and she got it for R200.  But the pants she was wearing yesterday, which were on the rails in the Jhb store, she bought last week in Dubai for the same price.  At the end of the day, it’s stuff South African consumers have not seen.  In terms of sizing, people bigger than size 36 are going to have some issues buying stuff.  There are some styles that fit most figures but most of the stuff is for smaller figures, which is something our local retailers like Woolworths, have got right. We’re not a nation of morbid obesity but a loooot of our people have junk in their trunk and a lot of them have money to spend!
All in all, it’s a great store and I’m sure many people will destroy their credit rating there.  And no I doubt you can open an account there. 










20 comments:

pixiebugg said...

It's cool store but it really is a bit too expensive even for a working girl like me who lives for clothes. I have to have a real long debate with myself before id even consider buying a jacket like that (I was there yesterday) with that kind of material for R600,a real looooooong debate.

Other than the price, the store was cool, wasn't too crazy for the layout but it's a big retail store so it's kind of expected.

Love their t-shirts.Super cute.

Stella said...

I cannot wait to get into this store and shop till i drop everything is amazing - I window shopped while in Rome off course i was on a tight budget xo Super excited This is a really trendy store ....& I hope the H&M rumor proves to be true

Nikita said...

So heartbroken that they brought that brown leather shopper bag, its going to be everywhere.
Hopefully H&M doesn't follow suit we already all look the same.

RecessionNista said...

We hold anticipated breathd to go to this store.. i have shopped at the ones in london / barcelonana and amsterdam... and was hoping that the price would be well.. "affordable".. that said - definition of affordable is subjective...

I do hope though that they bring top shop / H&M.. whilst they at it - lets give Mr Price a run for their money - and please bring Primak ;)

I have a few questions to you markerters come fashionistas... will the prices of packages for dubai sales drop? and with zara here - can we buy from other zara stores and have it delivered here in Mzanzi? will there be less Mzanzi fashionistas on asos ;)

sindisokhumalo said...

OMG you're back!! I'm so happy. I am so so so very happy you're back. I hope you had a good sabatical. You were terribly missed.

Now onto your article. I think Zara will do well in SA, it will also balance out the scales a little bit with Woolies and companies like it loosing some of their market share. Edgars and Truworths and Foschini may perhaps change their approach and start adopting Zara's "Customer, Design, Manufacture and Distribution" ethos. Who knows. One thing is true, competition is always a good thing. I think boutique owners should concentrate on what makes them niche and exclusive. They are dozens highstreet brands in London, but I'd say most decerning shoppers will always be attracted to something special, something niche, something personal.

Welcome back Miss Milli B. x

Sabu said...

can i just say how excited I am that foreign fashion investors are finally acknowledging the high demand of good quality, fashion forward and affordable shops in Southern Africa??The truth is, no, I can't afford some of the items in Zara but I'm just glad their here! I'm glad that one day when I am able to buy that r600 jade green blazer there WILL be a Zara for me to go to. Southern Africa is moving up in the fashion world and, damnit, i like it!
As for H&M it better hurry up and get here, I feel Mr Price is getting a bit too comfortable knowing it basically runs the 'trendy but cheap-cheap' clothing industry - we need them to up their game a little.
Cheers to the weekend, and double-cheers to Zara!
xx

Milisuthando Bongela said...

Hey guys, especially you Miss Khumalo! I miss you too just in ge-ne-ral! Lol! I have been thinking about this post for the last couple of days and realised I missed a crucial point in the height of my excitement. They don't open store accounts and that's going to count against them because the rest of the retailers - WW, Edgars, Truworths etc have managed to retain their customer base during a recession on exacerbating debt problem because people can open accounts there. Between June 2010 and June 2011, I read in the Financial Mail that Foschinin and Truworths increased the number of account holders by 10% and 11% respectively. People are excited now because it's new, but as much as Zara prices are competitive, people don't always have money to buy clothing - let's see how this Christmas goes. I do, however think that the other cheap labour cheap fashion empires will be descending South for opportunity.

pretty little pigeons said...

Thanks for the best, most informative and intellectual commentary on the Zara opening I've read thus far. Other bloggers only care about the excitement of the new store and all the pretty clothes, but you feed me intellectually whilst still making me excited about all the pretty clothes...Your are ONE OF KIND!Thanks for not being like all the robot bloggers out there, I wish I could be more like you..you're an inspiration!

Milisuthando Bongela said...

Wow Pretty Little Pigeons. Thank you, I don't even know what to say. This fashion business is not only my passion but my real livelihood so these concerns come from a real place. I really appreciate what you're saying. It might just be that voice of reason when I'm like ''do people actually care?'' Thank you.

Silly Girl's Dream said...

I know this comment is somewhat late; I was one of the people who were oh so excited about Zara. First time at the store was very confusing..too many clothes..everywhere. But the bright colours made feel at home. I went through the entire store with some great finds. I agree with pixiebugg, a buy there is more of a splurge; the prices are a bit too steep.
I am a new follower of your blog. Love it!

Gabi and Love Expo said...

Wow. That's a great commentary. I love it. Well from what I hear I gather that Zara is quite pricey and I don't think I'll be able to afford to buy some of the clothes but it would be nice to go check it out when I come to Jozi next month. It's really good that Truworths, Foschini and Woolies will now have a tight competition - because most of their garments are ridiculously expensive!

Kelly said...

Actually, I don't think its that pricey. I think they are in line with the Twist collection @ Woolworths or even prices of Poetry. Must say I was very excited to go their. Went for my first time early January 2012 :-)

Athi Koyana said...

I am abSOULutely love your blog (Pretty Little Pigeons said it). i think that it's not that pricey if you compare it to some of Woolworths' ranges. i have shopped at a couple of ZARA stores (travelling job). i love that i can shop for my husband and kids and still look trendy. i have a cute pair of shoes i bought for my son in 2008 and my daughter also wore them last year and they're still in great shape. Great Quality and style!

Fashion Dude said...

I love all things Spanish and love the footwear at Zara. It is so awesome to walk into a store in South Africa where one sees several styles of shoes that appeal to one's taste! I literally wanted to leave with 3 pairs but settled for one pair that was a little over R1000. Generally in SA, one has to spend well ova R2000 for a pair of good-looking men's shoes. If ur budget is any lower u r doomed! Rather than cry tears of despair I almost shed tears of joy because someone in Spain had an excellent buying-eye / design-eye and forwarded that product to Gauteng. It has always shocked me how SA stores were nothing more than a sea of bland-and-boring wen it came to men's shoes. I am truly inlove now. Thank u Zara for considering SA as trading ground. I will definitely be popping into the Sandton branch once a month to swipe my card. Whoo Hoo!

Van Vuuren said...

The store is to die for, it feels like your a baby in a candy stores. ZARA is giving SA Designer stores a run for their money, its a healthy competition"""Which I like, even thou their pricess streches one's budget""""".

The Real Fashion Guru said...

great blog. Will be moving to SA soon so im so glad that there is zara! check out my blog. www.therealfashionguru.blogpsot.com are there any blog events for bloggers in SA? hopefully we can keep in connect, heres my email chanceazo@gmail.com! all the best!

jhon said...

nice post love it
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joannamae31 said...

All the suits are elegant and it is best to wear when you have a job interview so that you look presentable and professional. Thank you.

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Charlie Pedro said...

Zara is a cool brand name! I had purchased a leather bag and winter coat from zara online shop, last month. I really liked it.

Edie Jams said...

there have lots of gorgeous cream brands of south Africa. such a unique stylish design coat purse skits and pants etc. i am really excited to visit their. thanks for share.

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