Zara: An analysis of market-orientated supply chain management in the retail fashion industry

Bachelor Thesis, 2009

31 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Content

Table of Figures

1. Introduction

2. Aim and objectives

3. Literature Review
3.1 The global fashion industry
3.2 Market orientation
3.3 The merger of market orientation and supply chain management

4. Inditex - Zara
4.1 Background information
4.2 Competitors
4.3 Zara’s product range

5. Zara’s market-orientated supply chain management
5.1 Design and raw material sourcing
5.2 Production and Logistics
5.3 Distribution and store sales
5.4 Results

6. Conclusion and outlook

Appendix I: Inditex concepts
Appendix II: Zara’s (Inditex) product positioning
Appendix IV: Zara’s market cycle
Appendix V: Inditex concepts
Appendix VI: Zara’s business system
Appendix VII: Value chains for fashion retailers
Appendix VIII: Data from Inditex and key international competitors



illustration not visible in this excerpt

Table of Figures

Figure 1: Competitor snapshot

Figure 2: Design and raw material sourcing

Figure 3: Production and logistics

Figure 4: Distribution and store sales

Figure 5: Inditex distribution centre (Inditex 2008a)

Figure 6: Zara’s exquisite locations all over the world (Inditex 2008a)

1. Introduction

A glance at today’s financial pages shows the consequences of economic recession. More and more retailers, such as Woolworth and Montgomery Ward, have become bankrupt as they were no longer good enough to compete for a customer’s business. Or how Ander and Stern (2004, vii) describe it “They fell into the Black Hole of Retailing, the place where losing retailers go to die”.

However, it has been widely acknowledged that an effective downstream-orientated supply chain, focused on cost reduction, can avoid this fate. Reduced costs lead to reduced prices and thus to satisfied customers. But that is only half the truth. There are other factors than stringent cost control that ensure business success. Supply chain management is not only about cost-efficiency rather than flexibility and adaptability. The faster a supply chain is able to respond to a market, the better the company’s chances to achieve a competitive edge.

A paradigm for a company that manages to combine these aspects and to align its vertically integrated supply chain to the demands of its customers is Europe’s fastest expanding international fashion retail group Industria de Diseño Textil with its workhorse Zara. Its unique integrated business model permeates the whole organization and provides evidence that market orientation paired with an outstanding supply chain management can be viewed as a key factor for success.

2. Aim and objectives

The aim of this report is to examine Zara’s unique business model in relation to its market-orientated supply chain. In this framework certain questions are raised. For example, which elements of Zara’s supply chain make it so unique? And related to this, how manages Zara to compete with other vertically integrated fashion retailers such as H&M and Benetton that use aggressive advertising to entice customers in their stores? Also, how does Zara integrate its market orientation in its supply chain? The present study will attempt to answer these and other questions. Research the success of Zara’s market-orientated strategy as well as of its unconventional supply chain will help to figure out how they managed to become pioneer of fast fashion. To conclude, an outlook in Zara’s future as well as the US market is provided.

3. Literature Review

3.1 The global fashion industry

In recent years, fashion retailers have proved to be the most promising and successful segment of international retailers (Fernie et al., 1997; Gereffi, 2005). However, the other side of the coin is that the clothing sector is also an extremely dynamic market. This can be traced back to the fact that the global fashion industry has changed considerably during the past decades. According to Mazaira et al. (2003, 220) a “democratization process of fashion” took place which made the market highly competitive. While fashion formerly used to be an elite consumption article, often linked with haute couture brands such as Gucci and Dior, it is now mass product like everything else. Mazaira et al. (2003) consider this broadening of the target market as the main reason for increased expectations of fashion retailers. According to them, fashion retailers have to maximize their speed and at the same time keep prices low. Walters (2006) argues contrariwise, blaming fast fashion retailers for this ephemerality. He states that the fast fashion retailers “[…] have influenced consumer expectations for speed, variety and style at low prices and have found it necessary to make changes to speed up the production cycle” (Walters, 2006, 86).

No matter who is taken into account, fact is that today’s consumers are more demanding and fashion-conscious than they were before (The Economist, 2003). The fashion market therefore is not only characterized by non-influenceable factors such as weather and seasonal variation, but also by an ever-changing taste of customers who always want to be in vogue. This is confirmed by the definition of fashion that describes the fashion industry as a very volatile one: Fashion is ”[..] a broad term that typically encompasses any product or market where there is an element of style that is likely to be short-lived” (Christopher at al., 2004, 367). For the companies this entails difficulties in making reliable forecasts. They have to develop flexible business models that enable them to react quickly to emerging trends.

Due to this fact, fast fashion retailers such as Custo Barcelona or Caramelo, spring up like mushrooms. And also more established fast fashion retailers such as the Swedish Hennes & Mauritz (H&M), the Spanish Mango or the Italian Benetton expand with vertiginous speed. Tokatli (2008) observes that “[T]there is now a race between a significant number of ‘fast fashion’ retailers to increase the number of their stores while maximizing the speed, synchronicity and responsiveness of their supply chains” (Tokatli, 2008, 23). Thus, the question with regard to an adequate business strategy, that is able to withstand or even better adjust to these market turbulences, arises.

3.2 Market orientation

There are several options for a company to succeed in business. However, one of the most promising ones is to pursue a market-orientated strategy. According to Singh and Ranchhod (2004, 137) market orientation can be defined as a “set of activities coordinated in such a way that derives customer satisfaction through superior performance of products […] while still being competitive […] in the market place”. A company implementing a market-orientated approach gives the customer’s interests and the fulfillment of them top priority. The market orientation theory suggests that the efficient and effective creation of superior value for customers through understanding and satisfying their needs is the only way to achieve a competitive edge (Day 1994; Narver and Slater, 1990).

And although there are several studies that examine the impact of market orientation on business performance (Langerak et al., 2004¸ Mazaira et al., 2003; Hussein and Al-Hour, 2009) only few explain how to implement a market-orientated approach. Besides, most see the responsibility of the execution of marketing goals in the marketing department alone. However, as market orientation is more than a simple marketing strategy, every department should be involved (Mazaira et al., 2003). Therefore, a clear focus on creating superior value for the customer should permeate the entire company.

3.3 The merger of market orientation and supply chain management

To achieve an organisation-wide customer focus, the company needs to integrate all market-orientated activities adequately in its supply chain (Christopher et al., 2004). Thereby, logistics are a crucial factor to create a market-orientated firm and can be viewed as an advocate of cross-functional supply chain activities (Bowersox et al., 2003). Fernie (1994) argues that also quick response within supply chain management has gained much attention to realize a firm’s market-orientated strategy. However, as a conclusion one can say that only an integrated market approach that synchronizes supply chain management with the entire process in the supply chain is able to deliver flexible response to customers’ needs and wants. Notwithstanding such logical fit between supply chain management and market orientation, it is still a big challenge for fashion companies to gain a sustainable competitive advantage within their limited scope of possibilities within the fashion process (Nobukaza et al., 2004). However, the Spanish fashion retailer Zara demonstrated that this is not impossible. Their whole business system is characterized by highly vertically integrated activites and extremely short lead times. And although Zara does not even have a “formalized” marketing department, they are nevertheless - or perhaps for exactly that reason - often taken as an example for a market-orientated company (Mazaira et al., 2003).

4. Inditex - Zara

4.1 Background information

Zara was founded by Amancio Ortega Gaona in the Galician seaport A Coruña in 1975 (Inditex, 2008a). Henceforward, Zara with its parent Inditex, experienced an unprecedented success story. Its heavily oversubscribed stock price in May 2001 and an increase by nearly 50% in the year after pushed its market value to €13.4 billion and made his founder Ortega, to Spain’s richest man (Ghemawat and Nueno, 2006). Today (FY 2008), the Inditex Group is represented with more than 4000 stores in 73 countries and employs nearly 90,000 people. The group had a net income of €1253 million and a gross profit of €5914 million. In addition to Zara (and Zara Kiddy’s Class), Inditex owns seven other chains: Pull and Bear, Massimo Dutti, Bershka, Stradivarius, Oysho, Zara Home and the newly-founded format Uterqüe (Appendix I). In 2008, Inditex’ powerhorse Zara had net sales of €6824 million, an increase of 25% compared to its fiscal year 2007. Zara accounted for 75% of the group’s turnover in 2008 (Inditex 2009a). With 1292 stores worldwide, Zara expanded so rapidly that they managed to overtake the world’s number one fashion retailer Gap (Keely and Clark, 2008).

4.2 Competitors

Besides competing with local retailers, national and international department stores or companies on the Internet, Inditex or Zara’s major international competitors respectively - in terms of market - share are H&M, Benetton and Gap (Mazaira et al., 2003). Besides, Mango, Benetton, Adolfo Dominguez, Cortefiel, C&A and Next are also often mentioned as competitors. In addition, there are companies which distribute fashion as well as other products, such as El Corte Inglés and Carrefour. To give an idea of Zara’s main competitors, a snapshot of H&M, Gap as well as Benetton is provided.

General information about Zara’s key competitors


Hennes and Mauritz (H&M) was founded in 1947 in Sweden and offers middle-priced fashion for men, women, teenagers and children as well as cosmetics and accessories. Although H&M is considered as Inditex’ closest competitor, there are several significant differences between these two retailers. First of all, H&M operates a single format and tends to have slightly lower prices than Zara. This might be due to the fact that H&M outsourced half of its production to low-wage countries (the other half to European suppliers). In contrast to Zara, H&M’s expansion strategy is characterized by entering one country at a time. This led to the fact that Zara, albeit H&M started selling outside its home country ten years earlier, has a wider international presence. To entice customers in their stores, H&M hires celebrity designers such as Karl Lagerfeld and relies on extensive advertising. In contrast to Zara, H&M employs fewer designers and they refurbish their stores less frequently. H&M has 1,700 stores spread over 34 markets, with Germany being its biggest market (H&M, 2009).


Gap, incorporated in 1969 in San Francisco, was the world’s largest specialist clothing retailer until it was bridged by Zara. The company sells clothing, personal care products and accessories at moderate price points. Gap’s internationalization process is based on only a few countries. Having operated in the home market for nearly 20 years, Gap opened its stores in the UK and Canada (1987 and 1989). In the 1990s, Gap expanded into France and Japan. Gap outsourced 90% of its production, operations remain US-centric. Likewise Inditex, Gap has five different store chains, namely Gap, BananaRepublic, Old Navy, Piperlime. Altogether, Gap is represented with 3,100 stores in 6 countries: United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Ireland and Japan. Gap outsourced all its production from suppliers in the US and abroad. To regain lost market shares and to further expand their product range, Gap acquired Athleta, which offers women’s sportswear (Gap, 2009).


Established in 1965 in Italy, Benetton became famous for offering brightly colored knitwear. In the 1980s and 1990s, its unconventional advertising helped the company to become famous. Today, the Benetton Group is present with 5,500 stores in 120 countries around the world. Besides its casual United Colors of Benetton, it is present through the glamour-orientated Sisley, the American college style-orientated Playlife and the streetwear range Killer Loop. These chains are mainly managed by independent partners and generate a total turnover of about 2 billion euro. Similar to Zara, Benetton has own manufacturing facilities and outsources only labor-intensive activities to subcontractors. However, more than 90% of the production is carried out in Europe. It is now controlled by Edizione Holding, the holding company of the Benetton family, with a 67% stake (Benetton, 2009).

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 1: Competitor snapshot

4.3 Zara’s product range

Zara’s range of product includes medium quality garments for women, men and kids. Furthermore, they offer shoes, accessories, toiletries, and cosmetics. More than 11,000 styles of garments are created each year (Ghemawat and Nueno, 2006; Tokatli, 2008). Zara provides its young customers (17-22 year old) with a great variety of up-to-date and well-designed styles at reasonable prices (Walters, 2006). The company uses its brand name to market different product lines, such as Zara Basic, Zara Women or Zara Trafaluc. All stores have the same range of products as the main idea is “that national borders are no impediment to sharing a single fashion culture” (Inditex, 2009b). Zara’s products are affordable as well as fashionable. They can be settled between causal and formal, fresh and innovative (Appendix II).

However, Zara needs to be investigated further to establish differences in any other vertically integrated fashion retailers. Therefore, it is important to closely examine and elaborate Zara’s value chain. In the following the single constituents of the supply chain (design and raw material sourcing, production and logistics, distribution and store sales) are described. In the end, everything is put in a nutshell.


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Zara: An analysis of market-orientated supply chain management in the retail fashion industry
University of Hull
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Carmen de la Cruz Iglesias (Author), 2009, Zara: An analysis of market-orientated supply chain management in the retail fashion industry, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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