For many, the run-up to Christmas passes in something of a blur.
Address 460-490 Oxford Street, London W1
Size 1,500 sq ft
Number of floors Three
Opening day December 5, 2012
And somewhere during those heady, Bacchanalian weeks, a new Zara store opened at the west end of Oxford Street.
Nothing particularly remarkable about this perhaps - there are times when it seems there’s a Zara store every couple of hundred metres along London’s leading mid-market shopping thoroughfare. Yet this one is the latest in a tranche of ‘global flagships’ that have been beamed down into major cities around the world.
And its opening on December 5 at Marble Arch was almost as high-profile as the New York store that opened on Fifth Avenue last spring, with indie rock duo The Kills performing at the pre-opening night party. But is this store any different to its counterpart across the Atlantic or is it a case of cookie-cutter flagship time?
01 - VISUAL MERCHANDISING
Getting a big offer into a relatively modest three-floor space and still making it look as if there are acres of space is a trick that few manage to pull off. To an extent, this is achieved here, through the strategic use of light boxes that draw the eye along the various aisles and create the impression of avenues running through the space. Then, similar to the New York store, there are merchandise rooms, created by having walls on three sides with the fourth facing a walkway. These are where moods are created using minimalist display and ensuring the stock is the star. There are mannequins throughout, but these are secondary to the deft combination of side-hung, forward-hung and tabled merchandise.
02 - CONCEPT
Zara generally is about slick modernism and this store expands on that theme. This is a metropolitan retail interior that manages to persuade the shopper they are in a design-led environment. The use of high and low lighting, as well as side-lit mid-floor baffles, make this far better than many of the more obviously branded, expensive retail landscapes on nearby Bond Street. As in New York, this new interior will make upscale operators look to their laurels.
03 - SERVICE
Enter any Zara store and, from a staffing perspective, it looks like a fat-free zone. This is not to say that a shape or form policy is in place, but the staff all seem almost unnaturally slim. There are lots of them and, in fairness, this has to be the case - anything less would mean compromising display standards. In a store where there is frequently no more than one size per style on the floor, the replenishment effort has to be a matter of course, and this seems to be the case here. Plus you are never short of help.
04 - PRODUCT
Slim. Slim. Slim. To wear much of the merchandise you really do have to be pretty trim and while the prices are forgiving, the waistlines are not. Providing you do conform to Zara’s ideas about a size 12, or a male 40in chest, then you get to choose from the much-vaunted constant change of styles and all the latest trends. It’s now Sale time, but new season stock is already available in depth, and is all very affordable. This store also stocks a number of lines not carried by the other Oxford Street branches.
05 - COMPETITION
There are few retail arenas more red of tooth and claw than Oxford Street and it’s also hard not to imagine that this new store may have its customer base mildly cannibalised by other Zara stores in the area. That said, the real competition comes from the likes of Next, Marks & Spencer and maybe Primark. They may all be different, but they will all compete to deplete the possible spend in Zara. On the basis of a couple of visits following the opening, it seems reasonable to say that this branch of Zara is more than capable of taking its competitors head on.
06 - VERDICT - THE PROSPECTS ARE GOOD
As was the case in New York, in spite of the fact that there are multiple iterations of the Zara offer in the area, this new flagship raises the bar for fans of the retail behemoth. There is almost nothing to dislike about this store, except perhaps the sizing of the clothes, even when an extended range is on offer. We should all go on a post-Christmas diet before heading to the store. Either that, or the new Evans flagship is just along the way. This fairly major quibble notwithstanding, Oxford Street is a better place for the arrival of this store.