The holy trinity of retail

Brand, product and business go together

Ana Andjelic
7 min readMay 16, 2024

On March 13th 2024, Inditex (owner of Zara, Massimo Dutti, Oysho, Pull & Bear, Bershka and Stradivarius) reported their 2023 net profit. It was the highest-ever, with 10.4 percent sales jump to 39.1 billion USD, per Reuters. Zara, the world’s biggest fashion retailer, contributed most to these results. Per Inditex CEO, this growth was the result of strong sales, selling more clothes at higher prices, logistics expansion and opening new distribution centers, improving online platforms and expanding its store space.

Zara’s uninterrupted rise is the result of 3 factors: a clearly defined business strategy; a clearly defined product strategy; and a clearly defined brand strategy.

Business strategy refers to clear and measurable annual sales, margins, revenue and profit objectives and the ways to reach them through pricing, demand forecasting, channel allocation, distribution segmentation and overall inventory planning. Business strategy also monitors retail channels performance, individually and together, and defines cross-channel amplification. It takes into account competitor moves, consumer behavior trends, and macro-economic conditions. Finally, it defines strategic investments in technology, new categories and retail channels.

Product strategy refers to the product pyramid, fashion direction and product design, management of fabrics, materials, and suppliers, pricing, and merchandising and assortment planning.

Brand strategy refers to consistent delivery of the promise that a brand made to customers and to reinforcement of the reason that a company exists in the world. It covers creative and art direction, styling and visual merchandising, cultural influence and PR, marketing strategy and media planning, commercial planning and customer relationship management — all of which ideally create and convey a distinct and recognizable brand world.

Underpinning the three is operational excellence throughout the entire value chain. (A combination of a successfully executed three factors is most visible in the store experience: I was impressed by Zara’s new flagship on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées on my recent trip to Paris).

The mix of business, product, and brand creates and maintains sales momentum, profit, and growth. Just like a stool cannot stand without all three legs, a company cannot succeed if one or two of the strategies are dysfunctional, underperforming, or nonexistent.


A good business strategy is clear, long-term, nimble, and consistently executed. It provides short term goals and a long-term vision. It is measurable and sets clear priorities.

Zara’s pricing strategy, channel allocation, distribution segmentation and assortment planning, paired with superior data-driven demand forecasting, provided a winning combination of “who to sell to,” “where to sell,” and “how to market their products.” This combination is constantly tested via Zara’s superior data and analytics capabilities that allow it to swiftly react to customer demand across different markets and modify supply.

Zara’s retail channels — physical stores, website, app and social media — are all mutually integrated in what comes the closest that I have seen of an omnichannel approach. Self-checkout in Zara stores is powered by its app, which collects customer shopping data from all channels. A recently launched Zara Hair category is shoppable on Instagram.

Customer experience in stores, e-commerce and on the app has a seamless, intuitive, engaging and elevated UX. The experiences are aligned and consistent, and conveys one brand.

Zara’s customer strategy is bifurcated. Zara’s assortment services its core, trend-chasing, deal-seeking customer, but its Studio Collections, Capsules (e.g. Steven Meisel), and collaborations attract the premium, more discerning and less price sensitive customer, as well as add aspirational dimension to the core customer purchases. Getting a $29 turtleneck feels more aspiring with Sasha Pivovarova’s editorial next to it.

Zara is driven by a clear and strategic business mission to “give customers what they want and get it to them faster than anyone else.” It hits on two core sources of Zara’s competitiveness: speed of trends and speed to market. The former has to do with understanding of culture; the latter with flexible and data-driven supply chain. The mission is Zara’s North Star in all its business decisions, from selection of suppliers to logistics and distribution to sales.

Finally, Zara’s business model is a hybrid between fast retail and luxury strategy. From fast retail, it takes novelty, trend responsiveness and speed. From luxury strategy it takes limited edition capsules and collaborations, elevated retail experience across channels, and fashion’s most exclusive talent.

For 2024 and 2025, Zara’s clear priorities are logistics, customer experience (live-streaming) and store network expansion. There is a set annual budget and success metrics for this business growth strategy (so far, the YoY sales results have been positive).

Zara Studio new collection, titled Rêverie


Zara’s product pyramid works for its wide customer range. At the top are capsules and collaborations, and at the bottom is trend-driven assortment. Pricing strategy and product quality reflect this pyramid, with capsules and collaborations featuring elevated fabrics and design. In the past few years, Zara featured Charlotte Gainsbourg and Kaia Gerber collections, Peter Lindbergh merch, and collaborations with Stephen Meisel, Studio Nicholson, Harry Lambert, and Ader Error, among others. These frequent collaborations and capsules give halo to the entire product pyramid

In terms of merchandising, Zara mastered the speed of open to buy to deliver the constant assortment newness and trendiness to its core customer. It has also built its inventory management around contracted product life spans and increased demand volatility. Before anyone else, Zara moved towards in-season assortment flexibility, including adding fast-tracked products and near-shoring. All of this allows Zara to predict demand patterns, accelerating its time to market.

Zara’s pricing strategy, which in recent years has seen price increases faster than H&M, aligns prices with value perception and uses analytics to price elasticity and margin dynamics.

The brand’s 300+ design team employs a mix of the top fashion talent and “ghost designers,” who, like ghost writers, churn out hits without revealing their name.

Zara Studio new collection, titled Rêverie


A couple of years ago, there were short films of Chloë Sevigny in a bubble bath on the Zara website. The site also featured Fabien Baron Zaratribute curation of Peter Lindberg’s photography, with merch to match. This March, Zara released its new Studio Collection, titled Rêverie, photographed by Steven Meisel, who also designed one of the brand capsules in the Fall of 2023.

The creative universe that Zara has been meticulously building over the past five-plus years is discerning, elevated, and consisting of the fashion’s top talent. Steven Meisel and Fabian Baron join models Kaia Gerber, Sasha Pivovarova, Marisa Berenson, Jessica Stam, and Edie Campbell, among others.

This creative universe does not come cheap, and years of persistent brand investment and the corresponding brand creative spend to elevate Zara’s brand image paid off, as its net profit shows. Site photography, social media, and stores are never not modern, never not cutting-edge fashion, and never not making products extremely desirable through the mix of clever art direction and different media formats. Zara is also mercifully devoid of nostalgia.

The outcome is that everyone wears Zara. Stores are always packed; there are lines before its opening hours. Zara app is one of the few retail brand apps that I use. We have all been primed to go and see “what’s new,” and we know that we will always find it, at a great value. Zara mastered shopping as entertainment and the “everything fashion store” positioning for our different wardrobe needs. It is worn together with luxury brands.

It is extraordinarily naive to think that a brand revamp alone can transform the fate of a retailer. It is like putting a lipstick on a pig. Changing the brand expression without changing the underlying business and operational practices never yields results. As Zara examples shows, though the years-long series of strategic business, product, operational and brand decisions, the company successfully grew into the world’s top retailer with elevated brand positioning, desirable and relevant product offering, consistent business growth, and enviable operational excellence. There’s a lesson here for all retailers.



Ana Andjelic

Brand Executive. Author of “The Business of Aspiration.” Doctor of Sociology. Writer of “Sociology of Business.” Forbes most influential CMO.