I announced it here 13 months ago, but it finally happened. On October 30th, 2009 Zara Michigan Avenue opened. YAY!
I was in Jersey for work and missed the opening party (10/29) and I've been either too busy or too tired to go after work for about a week. I finally made it there last Thursday. I must admit, I've had stage fright because I love the store so much out of town that I was afraid the Chicago installation wouldn't live up to my expectations. I also read a blog review and saw some Tweets and they weren't favorable, so I sort of just gritted my teeth and dealt with it.
Presentation: The store's presentation was awesome. It looked good from the outside and inside everything was very polished. They have a lot of black, whites and grays going on right now. I don't know if that's how they feel the store should be represented overall or if that's just the colors of the season, but I reallly wish there would have been more color. I remember bright, fun colors at Zara in Spain, Miami and New York. France's Zara was pretty blah on the color palette too.
Price: The prices were reasonable. It's important to note that Zara is NOT a discount store. While the clothes are categorized as trendy, the prices are more Banana Republic and Club Monaco than H&M and Forever 21. The problem is that we're in the middle of a recession and in order for clothes to sell at a full, reasonable price, they need to be off the chain, which brings me to the style...
Style: As I walked into the store I was reminded of how traditional Spain is. In Spain, adults don't wear shorts or jeans or sweats AT ALL. Nannies, Au Pairs and grandmothers wear St. John's suits and sensible leather pumps to the parks while pushing baby strollers. As an undergrad, I wore black or gray slacks most days trying my damndest to fit in and not look so American like my classmates with their ripped jeans, Vans sneakers and Gap t-shirts.
Spainards are people who would balk at the casual nature of Americans with our mommy-fit khaki capris, Juicy Couture velvet jogging suits, Air Force Ones and super casual ballet flats.
It was only after I was reminded of the nature of Spain, that I truly appreciated the offerings at the Zara on Michigan Ave, which had a twist on all the classics (black blazer, LBD, white button-down shirt, pencil skirt, bubble skirt, women's suiting, etc), but also provides some trendy pieces.
Zara is definitely for the working professional. Their casual section was nothing to write home about. The real problem for me is that my job is casual, so i'm not dying to pay full price even for well-fitting, well-made work clothes. AND we're in the middle of a recession, so no one's willing to pay full price for anything. AND I've gotten so used to discount shopping (DSW, Target, H&M, Forever 21, Nordstrom Rack), that I don't even know how much stuff is supposed to cost in the first place because I never pay full price. They definitely have a niche market and for some reason, I just don't fit it anymore.
Lastly, on the style piece, much like Zara in France, I LOVED the shoes. Their shoe game is sick. Sick. Sick. Sick! All the true fashionistas definitely need to start here to get shoe inspiration, then you might want to move somewhere else with more reasonable prices. Booties were reasonable here, but sandals and boots were doing the most on the price tip. I would definitely stalk their sales for shoes.
Fit: Most of the clothes come in S (26) M (28) L (30) and some come in XL (32) and XS (24). Anyone who wears jeans with the waist size knows this is problem. I'm a 29 in the waist, which means I'm a large at Zara. I'ma let you right now, I'm not shopping anywhere that has my small behind categorized as a large.
I also found that the clothes are super tight. Even when I try mediums and larges I struggled to get in and out of the clothes. Now maybe I was bloated, but I'm going to need them to add some spandex, side zippers, something. Also, I know I've seen size runs (2-12) in Zaras in the states, so it's baffling to me that most of them in Chicago would only have S-M-L. Attn: ZARA: AMERICAN WOMEN ARE FAT. Change those sizes to make us feel better about ourselves (and/or to get our money, either way). mmkay. Thanks!
Needless to say I took 10 things into the dressing room with me and not one item fit properly. I was pretty disappointed, but none of the pieces were must-haves either, so I'll be ok.
Service: Last, but not least, let's talk about the customer service. They had only been open 7 days when I went in there, so they do deserve a break, but they need some serious training for the sales associates. Of the 10 or so people I interacted with, I'll say 3 were helpful and knowledgeable. The other 7 were either shy, overwhelmed or uninformed. Everyone was VERY nice, but if I'm in a store where I could POTENTIALLY spend $250 + Chicago tax (highest in the country) on some boots, I'm going to need to get some top-notch customer service.
Now, the biggest customer service problem I had was in the dressing room. I took the maximum 6 things in the room and they held 4 for me. The associate in the dressing room didn't know which 4 were mine and I had to saunter out of the dressing room in socks and an ill-fitting dresss to point them out. Actually, another customer's clothes got taken back on the floor without her trying them on. Unnacceptable. This is a communication problem that's an easy solve. Even Forever 21 knows which clothes are mine and you can get a shirt in there for $2.50...
The other problem was associates not knowing the merchandise, which can probably be attributed to the fact that the store just opened. I can be understanding, but I just need them to be more confident and say "Hey, I'm not sure, but let's find out together." Rather than sort of shrugging and pointing me in what MIGHT be the right direction.
Being the awesome customer and brand advocate that I am, I took the time to talk to the manager about the customer service problems that I encountered. It wouldn't make sense to talk to her about pricing or merchandise because even as a manager there's only so much she can do. She genuinely appreciated my feedback and I'm pretty sure anyone who hasn't been to Zara yet, won't have the same problems I had with the dressing room or shy associates. (See how I help y'all out? LOL!)
Anyway, overall, I give it a C- for now, but I'm not giving up on it and I encourage everyone to stop by and make your own determinations. I sincerely hope it'll be a B by Christmas (or just after). If it goes down from here, I'll be crushed like a kid who overheard a grownup conversation saying the tooth fairy really doesn't exist.
P.S. I really hope I win the new blog layout from kay, because my blogs seem so long in this format. I swear, I'm not saying THAT much.