Zara: An exploratory study of consumers´ sense making in the context of high street fashion

Nina Lisa Sø Johansen

Student thesis: Master thesis


The most valuable apparel brand, Zara, has achieved its success despite a lack of advertising. The high street fashion brand instead focuses its effort in three main areas; 1) the selection that is inspired by high end brands, 2) the stores that are located on the most important shopping streets, characterized by an exclusive look and feel, and 3) a tight stock management covering a fast supply chain, timely delivery and few available pieces. Guided by a general curiosity to understand this success from a consumer behavior perspective, the present study seeks to explore the symbolic world of Zara. Specifically, the study focuses on how positioning as an ‘affordable high-end brand’ affects and influences how consumers make sense of the brand. Through a qualitative interview study of five heavy Zara users, the study finds that Zara is perceived as a strong brand with a unique positioning that differentiates it from both high street competitors and high-end luxury brands. Because Zara consistently deliver on the experience i.e. frequently offering affordable versions of high-end products made readily available in the exclusive stores, the brand has created a self-reminding and self-enforcing cycle, that makes consumers continue to visit, shop and share their purchases. It is found that in order for them to make sense of fashion consumption, different brands have to be mixed together. Specifically, the study showed that if high end-brands are mixed with high street brands, then it is characterized as superior to the use of any brand individually. The participants characterized the ritual as being more stylish and individualized. Additionally, the study tabbed into how Zara consumption was used as a means of identity creation by matching the image of the brand with the self-image. It was found that there existed a duality between using Zara to show who they really are (the actual self), and also to enhance the self-capabilities (the extended self), or gain new (the ideal self). Depending on the context, consumption was used to express characteristics such as approachability, control, and independence. Furthermore, the study found that other’s recognition is an important as part of consumers’ sense making of the brand. Surprisingly, the consumption of Zara was not solely used as a means to create valuable links, but rather to establish a social positioning within the group. As such, it was a way to express belonging to, distance from, and positioning within ‘tribes’. The study showed some indications of the extended and ideal self being more related to distancing or intra-group positioning rather than linking, but further research is needed into the specific relationship between the self-concepts and recognition.

EducationsMSc in Brand and Communications Management, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2014
Number of pages156