Zara: moving stylishly from linear to lateral processes

Linear processes push product through the system and into shops. They make money from buying & supply efficiency. Lateral processes consider at every stage the qualitative attributes of the product. They enhance and add-value to the assortment. They make money from selling. From selling more, and selling better.

Zara at its inception, disrupted the balance of linear and lateral processes in its buying and merchandising and supply chain operations. They introduced both efficiency in linear processes, and fashion through lateral process. The result is desirability at a staggering speed. The rest is history, as they say. It was a synchronized strategy. It had to be, because linear processes and lateral processes must work together, whatever the balance, or timings.

Enriching the lateral processes

The decision to enrich the lateral input into the product development process, through analysing competitors, devouring fashion cat-walk shows, listening intently to shop colleagues and analysing customer buying behaviours, could only add value to the business if it were matched by a much simplified and faster linear process. Spending time and effort to design the correct product for the customer would have been pointless if that product could not be brought to market quickly. And the next wave, and the next and so on.

It is a balance that has made it so difficult for competitors to copy and match the Zara strategy. In many ways adding lateral processes is not so difficult. There is a wealth of analysis for those who want to exploit it. Lateral intelligence can be added, but it cannot simply be bolted on to the existing linear process.

A symbiotic approach

Some competitors flatter themselves with their newfound ability to research and create their assortments in new and dynamic ways but are operationally stunted and held back from fundamental improvements by a linear buying and supply process that is still long and complicated. The linear processes can often be a ‘waste of time, and an added and frustrating distraction. Ironically, they can add to the total buying and merchandising timeframe. They make the linear process longer.

Zara’s strategy was not to shorten linear operations and increase lateral inputs. It was to deliver the best possible products quickly and continuously. A shorter linear process and enriched lateral processes were the only way to achieve this.

‘’Zara. Moving stylishly from linear to lateral processes’ is an extract from the book ‘Meaning in the Retail Madness: How to be an Essential Retailer.’ by Tim Radley.

If you would like to read more about the new ways that retailers are working with internal buying processes, how to develop different kinds of inventory, the importance of a ‘passion supply chain’ and how supply chains should be determined by product role, then you can find all of this and more in ‘Meaning in the Retail Madness.’

Available worldwide across all amazon platforms and popular online booksellers from Waterstones, Blackwell’s & Foyles to Barnes & Noble and The Book Depository.

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'Meaning in the Retail Madness: How to be an Essential Retailer' Out now. Available worldwide across amazon and popular online booksellers