A Zara Employee Shares Her Shopping Secrets

Photo: Angel Navarrete/Getty Images.
From heading straight to the men’s section to memorizing the company’s delivery schedule, every dedicated shopper seems to have their own tips and tricks for scoring the best goods — especially when most stores are jam-packed with crowds; tables are lost beneath piles of messy, unfolded clothes; and sizes are limited. Suddenly, the joy that comes from finding something special fades, and stepping into your favorite shop starts to feel more like you’re in an Alexander Wang free-for-all.

I know firsthand how much of a nightmare it can be — I’ve experienced it all as a Zara sales assistant in one of London’s busiest locations. But navigating the lower ground floor, arms overflowing with clothes, while also fielding questions from customers (“Do you know where I can find another shirt like this?" or "There’s makeup all over this one”) has taught me how to buy my heart’s desire without panic, worry, or fuss. Here's how you can, too.
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Photo: Courtesy of Zara.
Know What Information To Look Up Online
Before heading out to pick up that [insert hot trend here], there are two crucial steps you must take:

1. Check the in-store availability: Some items may only be available online or in one location, or will sell out completely. Always do a quick scan before leaving the house.

2. Take down the reference number: Located in the product details on the website, the model number will unlock a ton of useful information in-store (more on this later). And, if you decide ordering online is the way to go, you'll save yourself some scrolling by popping the number right into the search bar.

3. If it looks familiar, it might because someone else has already designed it: Zara has gotten into a lot of trouble recently for knocking off indie designers including Brother Vellies, Tuesday Bassen, and Sporty & Rich. Whether you choose to support the company or boycott them is your decision, but big retailers ripping off small-time artists is never a good look. Do a quick search online if you see something you like on Zara, and the specific design seems like something you've seen before. Then, leave it on the rack.
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Photo: Courtesy of Zara.
Always Go First Thing In The Morning
As much as we try to keep everything under control, it can only take a few minutes for a new wave of customers to destroy a pristine section. Hangers that were carefully spaced out are now on the floor; shoes that once stood neatly in a line according to size have been knocked down, and the stack of perfectly folded shirts has been pushed aside to create an impromptu seating area for bored children, friends, and partners.

That's why, a morning shopping trip is the best way to actually see the clothes — and avoid the maddening crowds and mess.
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Photo: Courtesy of Zara.
Know The Collections & The Store's Organization
Shop floors can be divided by type of clothing (dresses, shoes, lingerie, etc.), popular styles, specialty (petite and tall), and brand. Once you know how your favorite fast fashion brand organizes its pieces, you can breeze by everything you don’t need or want.

Hardcore Zara fans will know that its offerings are broken up into three collections: "Woman" (trendy but classic, more expensive and better quality), "Basic" (your staple wardrobe items with a twist; also where a lot of office-appropriate clothing can be found), and "Trafaluc" (cheaper, skews younger, much quirkier in style; also known as “TRF”).

The stores are organized in a similar fashion: The "Woman" collection is closer to the entrance, "Basic" is in the middle, and "Trafaluc" in the back. Zara knitwear is spread out all over the shop floor, and Zara collection products are usually found in "Basic" and "Woman." There’s no dedicated section for shoes and bags, and styles are usually located in their corresponding section, so look down for footwear, and check the tables and shelves above the displays for handbags. During sales season, items are typically grouped together by section, kind, and then price.
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Photo: Courtesy of Zara.
Have The Reference Number Handy
I once had a customer ask where she could find "the shirt with patches." I asked her if she could describe the item a little more, as I knew there were four similar models on the floor, but she insisted that Zara only carried the one shirt of its kind. This is just one of the many times I screamed internally and wished I had a reference number.

A reference number (or product number) can tell a sales assistant just about everything: if an item is in-store; if it’s on the shop floor or stock room; how many of a certain size we have; if it’s available online or in another shop, and much more. Having a reference number can save us a trip to the stock room, you a fruitless wander around the shop, and everyone a lot of time.

So the next time you see an item that you’re unsure of, take of a photo of the price tag, not just the item itself. The reference number is usually located above the barcode and on the white care instruction tags sewn into the clothes. You can ask a sales assistant to look it up during your next visit, or you can do it yourself online.

Just be aware that the system we use may not always be right. It doesn’t account for unreported stolen items, missing left shoes, or white shirts that other customers have wiped their faces all over while trying on.
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Photo: Courtesy of Zara.
Know When To Opt For Store Pick-up Vs. Home Delivery
Store pick-up is a marvelous thing — no missed deliveries, and it’s often free. Standard home delivery is also free when you spend a certain amount of money online. So, if you plan to buy everything online during sales season, put it all in your basket and hit that home delivery option. If you don’t, prepare to offer friends or loved ones a free drink/meal/favor in exchange for the extra muscle you’ll need to bring it all home.
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Photo: Courtesy of Zara.
Have Patience
Fast fashion is just that: fast. But sometimes, not everything happens so quickly. Store pick-up orders don’t always come in right away. It takes about two to three working days for an order to arrive to the shop, and even longer during sales season; plus, Zara.com technically has 30 days to deliver a parcel to you.

And please, have a little patience when we head to the stock room. We’re often looking for more than one item: the item you so desperately want and need, and requests from a colleague for pieces other customers so desperately want and need. It’s all about that #teamwork.
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Photo: Courtesy of Zara.
Keep Your Receipts
Here’s how to get an exchange or refund done without any problems:
1. Come within 30 days of your original purchase.
2. Have the receipt.

That little piece of paper will save you, the cashiers, and the rest of the shop floor a lot of grief when managers stay firm on the policy (no refund or exchange without the receipt). I’ve seen customers lose their cool so badly that security has had to escort them out the door.
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