to shop / why zara is better in spain

I’m not a big Zara shopper. It’s an avenue in the wrong direction from my office and that is enough for me not to frequent it. Let’s not mention that it is only a block from my gym. I also rationalize that if I don’t go, I won’t buy (but don’t expect me to apply this rationale across the board). My friend also pointed out that most NYC Zara stores are a disaster to shop – tourist traffic, messy, and store-handled yuckiness – so she usually only shops there when she’s out of town in, e.g. SF.

This may change once Zara adds e-commerce (which is later this year, hopefully). While Zara quality is often disappointing, they do such a good job of nailing trends at a reasonable price. Hard to resist especially with the vibrant spring color palettes. My recent haul:


Image source: Zara.com

In March, I vacationed in Barcelona. Zara’s headquartered in Spain. Stores were littered throughout the city, tempting us at every turn. My girlfriend and I decided to focus on non-shopping activities for most of the trip. Little did we know that the last full day, which we reserved for shopping, was a local Catalonian public holiday! Everything was closed!

The Barcelona airport Zara was a saving grace, as we were flying out before stores opened the following day and airport shops open earlier. We had an intense hour of speed shopping before we had to board our flights. Prices were great, even without the VAT tax refund*. In comparison with the Zara stores in downtown Barcelona, the airport inventory wasn’t too shabby. There was also a Massimo Dutti (also owned by Inditex, which they really need to bring to the US!) in the airport, where I got a silk scarf I’d been eyeing all over Barcelona.

When I came back, I decided to do some research on just how much cheaper Zara is in Spain. Some examples (as of exchange rates today):

  • Nude polka-dot silk top or mao collar cream blouse // 39.95 euros (USD $58) vs. USD $79.90 // Markup ~38%.
  • Orange leather belt // 19.95 euros (USD $29) vs. USD $39.90 // Markup ~38%.
  • Poppy red ballet flats // 29.95 euros (USD $43) vs. USD $49.90 // Markup ~16%.
  • Wedge sandals // 35.95 euros (USD $52) vs. USD $69.90 // Markup ~35%.

Prices outside of Spain within the EU are higher and on par with US prices! E.g. the orange leather belt is 25.95 euros and the wedge sandals are 49.95 euros in Germany. Also, it was interesting how they use the same price tag within the EU. The price tag on top was for Spain and Portugal. The bottom price tag were for the other countries. I’m sure Massimo Dutti is the same. Now I understand why my friend in London was waiting to go to Barcelona to buy a sweater…

Spain/Portugal price tag vs EU price tag

As for inventory, I visited the Zara near my office right after my trip. They had similar items in both stores. I saw everything I bought in Barcelona in the NYC store. It’s also easy to do comparisons of inventory/prices on the individual countries’ Zara websites, although I noticed timing isn’t synchronized.

All the more reason to shop in Spain?

*Unfortunately, in order to get a VAT tax refund at the airport shops past security, you need to exit, go to customs, and re-enter security. Since we were in such a rush, that was a no-go. I am also confused why they can’t refund you with a boarding pass. Is it because there are EU-bound flights within the same terminal? When I was in Copenhagen, the Illums Bolighus boutique took the full VAT tax refund off, not the third-party processor’s VAT tax refund amount. Every bit helps. Also worth noting is that BCN customs inspects goods you’re claiming a refund for, especially if high-end. I rarely see this happen and only had one “bad” experience at CPH.

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7 comments
  1. Love the polkadot tee!

    I. cannot. WAIT. for them to be online. I don’t go shopping -in real life- very often and it would be nice to be able to nab certain items I’ve seen on the website. Uniqlo online though, that’s what I realllllllly want…

    • irene said:

      I heard from a very reliable source that it will happen some time this year for Zara :) Uniqlo is also slated to go live this year as well! I don’t shop often in real life at all!

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