Zara succeeds with speed
Consumers today, particularly younger ones, are notoriously fickle when it comes to their fashion purchases. Items that were flying off the racks a few weeks ago may already be heading for markdowns. That’s what makes a new Wall Street Journal story on the fast-fashion chain Zara so fascinating. The paper tracked the development of a new coat being sold by the chain, which went from prototype design to store racks in 25 days.
“The reason for Inditex’s success is short lead times: the ability to offer designs to the customer that other retailers do not yet have,” Société Générale analyst Anne Critchlow said of Zara’s parent company. Ms. Critchlow told the Journal that being first to market with new designs also enables Zara to charge more than its slower moving competitors.
Being fast to market, however, is not necessarily a guarantee of success. There were reports this summer of chains, including Forever 21, H&M and Uniqlo, slowing expansion plans to align operations with marketplace realities.
Old Navy, which sped up its supply chain and achieved four consecutive years of sales growth through the end of 2015, has struggled since former president Stefan Larrson left to join Ralph Lauren in October of last year. In November, the chain reported a decline of two percent in comparable store sales.
The need for speed has not been lost on department stores either. As the Journal reports, J.C. Penney adjusted its supply chain to cut the time to get clothing to stores from 10 months to eight. While an improvement, it’s nowhere near the bar set by Zara.
Penney, for its part, has claimed that it is having success in attracting Millennial women. The chain, whose average customer is 51 years old, according to Kantar Retail data, has said that its “emerging customer base” is comprised largely of younger women. This group accounts for 45 percent of its revenues. The chain, according to a CNBC report, points to its own fast-fashion brand, Belle & Sky, along with Sephora shops inside its stores as factors in attracting new and younger shoppers.
- Fast Fashion: How a Zara Coat Went From Design to Fifth Avenue in 25 Days – The Wall Street Journal (sub. required)
- Gap Inc. Reports November Sales Results – Gap Inc.
- Millennial shoppers are heading to J.C. Penney – CNBC
- Is fast-fashion slowing down? – RetailWire
- Where will Old Navy’s new captain steer the ship? – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTION: How important a factor is speed-to-market for clothing retailer success today? What will it take for retailers using more traditional sourcing techniques to compete with Zara and other fast-fashion chains?