How Retailers Can Turn Your Complaints Into Clothing You’ll Actually Buy

Usually when I’m caught commenting to a friend that “that shirt looks like my baby nephew threw up on it and then tossed glitter on it” by a store associate, I cringe. Because they work for that company and I just said something awful. But at some retailers, like Zara, sales associates actually take that kind of feedback to the powers that be so they can make clothing customers will want to buy. Fancy that.

The New York Times Magazine takes a look at the rise of Zara, part of company called Inditex, and its marketing tactics of taking customer complaints and reflecting that feedback in new clothing.

Instead of the way other clothing businesses work — sending designs from the West to factories in the East, with the clothes shipped back and sold in spring and fall — Inditex brands like Zara will ship only a few of each item in each style to a store. Yes, that means there’s less stock leftover, but if something is popular, a manager can request more.

At the same time, they listen to what customers are saying, somewhat brattily in my case. Ahem.

From the NYT Magazine story:

They also monitor customers’ reactions, on the basis of what they buy and don’t buy, and what they say to a sales clerk: “I like this scooped collar” or “I hate zippers at the ankles.” Inditex says its sales staff is trained to draw out these sorts of comments from their customers. Every day, store managers report this information to headquarters, where it is then transmitted to a vast team of in-house designers, who quickly develop new designs and send them to factories to be turned into clothes.

In order to get the trendiest items to the stores in the West the fastest, those designs are made closer to where they’ll be sold so turnaround won’t take too long. And having less of an item makes consumers act differently than if they knew that design would stick around longer — kind of like, if I don’t buy this now, I never will.

We all do things we might not do if our backs weren’t up against a wall. Like buy those suede boots that were just absolutely perfect but just like the ones I already have at home. Oh well.

How Zara Grew Into the World’s Largest Fashion Retailer [New York Times Magazine]