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It can be charming. It can be very, very funny. TikTok can feel, to an American audience, a bit like a greatest hits compilation, featuring only the most engaging elements and experiences of its predecessors. This is true, to a point. But TikTok — known as Douyin in China, where its parent company is based — must also be understood as one of the most popular of many short-video-sharing apps in that country.

Under the hood, TikTok is a fundamentally different app than American users have used before. Users can and do use it like any other social app. But the various aesthetic and functional similarities to Vine or Snapchat or Instagram belie a core difference: TikTok is more machine than man. And it has some messages for us.

Consider the trajectory of what we think of as the major social apps. Twitter gained popularity as a tool for following people and being followed by other people and expanded from there. Twitter watched what its users did with its original concept and formalized the conversational behaviors they invented. See: Retweets. See again: hashtags. Only then, and after going public, did it start to become more assertive. It made more recommendations. Opaque machine intelligence encroached on the original system. Some users might feel affronted by these assertive new automatic features, which are clearly designed to increase interaction.

One might reasonably worry that this trend serves the lowest demands of a brutal attention economy that is revealing tech companies as cynical time-mongers and turning us into mindless drones. These changes have also tended to work, at least on those terms. It never runs out of material. It is constantly learning from you and, over time, builds a presumably complex but opaque model of what you tend to watch, and shows you more of that, or things like that, or things related to that, or, honestly, who knows, but it seems to work.

Its mode of creation is unusual, too. You can make stuff for your friends, or in response to your friends, sure. But users looking for something to post about are immediately recruited into group challenges, or hashtags, or shown popular songs. The bar is low. The stakes are low.

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On most social networks the first step to showing your content to a lot of people is grinding to build an audience, or having lots of friends, or being incredibly beautiful or wealthy or idle and willing to display that, or getting lucky or striking viral gold. TikTok instead encourages users to jump from audience to audience, trend to trend, creating something like simulated temporary friend groups, who get together to do friend-group things: to share an inside joke; to riff on a song; to talk idly and aimlessly about whatever is in front of you.

Feedback is instant and frequently abundant; virality has a stiff tailwind. Stimulation is constant. The pool of content is enormous.

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Most of it is meaningless. Some of it becomes popular, and some is great, and some gets to be both. And it did. Older social apps are continuously evolving, too.

TikTok though is the towering stick falling far and fast, not caring to wait to evolve through a wriggling, cumbersome social phase, but instead asking: Why not just start showing people things and see what they do about it? Its design teams regularly visit university campuses; nightclubs and other venues to observe what young fashion leaders are wearing.

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In its headquarters, the design team uses flat-screen monitors linked by webcam to offices in Shanghai, Tokyo and New York the leading cities for fashion trends , which act as trend spotters. Specialist teams receive constant feedback on the decisions its customers are making at every Zara store, which continuously inspires the Zara creative team. After products are designed, they take around 10 to 15 days to reach the stores.

All clothing items are processed through the distribution center in Spain, where new items are inspected, sorted, tagged, and loaded into trucks. In most cases, clothing items are delivered to stores within 48 hours. This vertical integration allows Zara to retain control over areas like dyeing and processing and have fabric-processing capacity available on-demand to provide the correct fabrics for new styles according to customer preferences. It also eliminates the need for warehouses and helps reduce the impact of demand fluctuations.

Zara produces over million items and launches around 12, new designs annually, so the efficiency of the supply chain is critical to ensure that this constant refreshment of store level collections goes off smoothly and efficiently. Frequency of customer insights collection: Trend information flows daily into a database at head office, which is used by designers to create new lines and modify existing ones.

Standardization of product information: Zara warehouses have standardised product information with common definitions, allowing quick and accurate preparation of designs with clear manufacturing instructions. Product information and inventory management: By effectively managing thousands of fabric, trim and design specifications and their physical inventory, Zara is capable of designing a garment with available stock of required raw materials. Procurement strategy: Around two-thirds of fabrics are undyed and are purchased before designs are finalized so as to obtain savings through demand aggregation.

The more fashionable and riskier items which are around half of its merchandise are manufactured at a dozen company-owned factories in Spain Galicia , northern Portugal and Turkey. Clothes with longer shelf life i. Even when manufacturing in Europe, Zara manages to keep its costs down by outsourcing the assembly workshops and leveraging the informal economy of mothers and grandmothers. Optical reading devices sort out and distribute more than 60, items of clothing an hour. In addition to these supply chain efficiencies, Zara can also modify existing items in as little as two weeks.

Shortening the product life cycle means greater success in meeting consumer preferences. If a design does not sell well within a week, it is withdrawn from shops, further orders are canceled and a new design is pursued. Zara closely monitors changes in customer preferences towards fashion. It has a range of basic designs that are carried over from year to year, but some in-vogue, high fashion, inspired by latest trends items can stay on the shelves for less than four weeks, which encourages Zara fans to make repeat visits.

An average high-street store in Spain expects customers to visit thrice a year, but for Zara, the expectation is that customers should visit around 17 times in a year. In reality, Zara is also helping in giving birth to new trends through its stores or even helping in extending the longevity of some seasonal styles by offering affordable lines. Sustainability has been a hot topic in business for the last decade and is now quickly becoming a must-have hygiene factor for companies that want to resonate with and win the loyalty of its global customers.

For Inditex, this means having a commitment to people and the environment. Commitment to people: I nditex ensures that its employees have a shared vision of value built on sustainability through professional development, equality and diversity and volunteering. It also ensure that its suppliers have fundamental rights at work and by initiating continuous improvement programs for them. Inditex also spends over USD 49 million annually on social and community programmes and initiatives. Commitment to environment: Being in a business where it taps on natural resources to create its products, Inditex makes efforts to ensure that the environmental impact of its business complies with UNSDGs United Nations Sustainable Developmental Goals.

Inditex takes wide-ranging measures to protect biodiversity, reduce our consumption of water, energy and other resources, avoid waste, and combat climate change. For example, it has outlined a Global Water Management Strategy, specifically committing to zero discharge of hazardous chemicals.

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It also has a waste reduction programme through which customers can drop off their used clothing, footwear and accessories at collection points in stores in eight markets. Zara has a very entrepreneurial culture, and employs lots of young talent who quickly climb through the ranks of the company. The brand has no fear in giving responsibility to young people and the culture encourages risk-taking as long as learning happens and fast implementation the mantra of fashion.

The variable component amounts to up to half of the total compensation — making store level employees heavily incentive-driven. The organizational structure is also flat with only a few managerial layers.

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Customers are the most important source of information for Zara, but like any other fashion brand, Zara also employs trend analysts, customer insights experts, and retains some of the best talents in the fashion world. The creative team of Zara comprises of over professionals. For example, while many companies struggle with long lead times in discussions and decision making, Zara gets around this challenge by getting various business functions to sit together at the headquarters and also by encouraging a culture through structures and processes where people continuously talk to each other.

The sales and marketing teams who receive trend feedback talk regularly with designers and merchandisers. The production scheduling is also closely coordinated so that there is no time wasted on approvals. The design team structure is very flat and focuses on careful interpretation of catwalk trends that are suitable for the mass market — the Zara customer. The design and product development teams, who are based in Spain, work closely to produce 1, new styles every month.

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  4. Zara has no chief designer. All its designers are given unparalleled independence in approving products and campaigns, based on daily data feeds indicating which styles are popular. Due to the unwavering focus on the customer, the entire business model is designed in such a way that the pattern of needs for the finished goods dictate the terms of the production process to follow, instead of having the raw materials determine the nature of the production process — something that is very rare in multinational companies of similar scale.

    Zara has used almost a zero advertising and endorsement policy throughout its entire existence, preferring to invest a percentage of its revenues in opening new stores instead. It spends a meagre 0. This is indeed the mark of a truly successful brand where customers appreciate and desire the brand, which is over and above product level benefits but strongly driven by the brand experience.

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    Instead of advertising, Zara uses its store location and store displays as key elements of its marketing strategy. By choosing to be in the most prominent locations in a city, Zara ensures very high customer traffic for its stores. Its window displays, which showcase the most outstanding pieces in the collection, are also a powerful communication tool designed by a specialized team. A lot of time and effort is spent designing the window displays to be artistic and attention grabbing. To tap into the emerging e-commerce trend, Zara launched its online boutique in September More recently in March , the brand launched online in Australia and New Zealand.

    As a fast fashion retailer, Zara is definitely aware of the power of e-commerce and has built up a successful online presence and high quality customer experience. Mobile commerce: Zara woke up late to the potential of mobile commerce and needs to catch up fast with competitors. Different forms of market analysis strongly point towards a scenario wherein spends on mobile commerce will overtake desktop based ecommerce in the next 3 years. Price is not an advantage anymore: Offering the latest fashion lines at affordable prices continues to be a strategic advantage for Zara, but cannot continue to be the only one.