After the adrenaline surge I felt during my shopping appointment in Penneys on Monday evening, I visited two more stores yesterday.
Just ahead of a downpour, I made my way to Cork's Mahon Point shopping centre after work, having nabbed appointments for two shops: sister stores Zara and Stradivarius.
I was interested to see how their systems compare, particularly as they seem to have more available appointment slots compared to the much-sought-after Penneys appointments.
There was a small queue for Zara when I arrived, with around 10 people ahead of me. On its website, I couldn’t find how many are being allowed in-store but, at a guess, I would say there were about 25 people in total across its two floors.
The queue seems to form in five or 10 minutes ahead of the appointment time and the general mood was calm but eager. My 30-year-old self did have a mini mid-life crisis when I overheard some girls behind me discussing whether they should keep on home economics after their Junior Cert. I always thought of Zara as a go-to place for workwear or to pick up a nice gúna for a wedding as well as for its selection of good quality but affordable basics. When did it become cool with the TikTok generation? Am I accidentally cool? Or is it ‘cheugy’ to say cool now? I’ll consult with a teen anon.
Once my palpitations abated, I noticed the security guard coming along the line. He checked names against his list and again on the way through the doors when we were asked to show our email booking confirmation. It was quite fluid, with just a brief pause for everyone at the hand sanitising station en route.
Immediately inside the store, I was struck by the walls of colour before me. Colour is most certainly the new black in our post-lockdown world. It was an instant mood booster and I fully appreciate the positive spin fashion has taken, although I still have some grá for an easy monochrome look.
There was lots of stock in-store, though the shelves did appear untidy. Crumpled clothes were tossed on top of the folded piles, making rummaging for my size feel unappealing so I only glanced at the surface of those areas. Perhaps I missed a bargain but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.
I spotted a pair of trousers on a table that I had seen time and time again on TikTok (I keep getting officewear suggestions in my For You Page, despite the fact that I used to wear jeans to work when we were in the office). I didn’t buy them online when shops were closed as, like most of us know, it can be really hard to guess your size when shopping online and I didn’t want the hassle of sorting out online returns.
I’m glad I hesitated. What I would consider my size seemed tiny and even the larger sizes looked like they would be a challenge to tie.
The women’s section wasn’t exactly busy but it was clear that was where most of the shoppers were concentrated. There was plenty of room to move around and nowhere felt busy. Upstairs, the men’s section and childrenswear were empty, bar staff. Both areas were well-stocked and the children’s clothes, in particular, were very cute: lots of sunny yellows and adorable dungarees.
I picked up a couple of plain basic t-shirts and spent the longest time queueing for the tills. Three tills were open and three people were in the queue ahead of me but they just seemed to move at a glacial pace. Even before the pandemic, I noticed that at Zara checking out was never swift.
Bag in hand, I left with time to spare for my visit to nearby Stradivarius.
Unlike Zara, there was no queue when I turned up outside Stradivarius five minutes early. It was quiet inside the smaller shop so a staff member checked my appointment details and let me in a few minutes early. I think that half a dozen shoppers, at most, were in the store during my appointment time.
The shelves here were much more appealing. They were all nicely tidied and arranged, making it much easier to see the different styles and sizes available.
Much like its sister store, Stradivarius’s buyers were clearly influenced by feelgood colours. While Zara’s offerings were sweet, walking around Stradivarius was like visiting a sweet factory, with wonderful colours and patterns in every corner.
While I didn’t have to negotiate my way around other customers, one issue I had was the space between shelves. This is something I’d noticed here long before the pandemic too: the shelves are so close together it can sometimes be a tight squeeze to get through.
I picked up some great quality basic tops here that didn’t break the bank and my till experience was painless. Only one customer was ahead of me before my items were swiped and bagged, my card tapped, and I was out the door of the shopping centre and into the rain.
Two positive and safe shopping experiences. Appointments appear to be fully booked for the shops I visited but you can check their websites for your local shop's availability.
While neither provided the rush of Penneys, they were enjoyable experiences and both shops had a broad selection of clothes available.