How Zalando localises the business across Europe

Ten years ago Zalando did not exist. But since 2008, the eCommerce start-up has scaled from a basement business in Berlin to 10,000 employees selling fashion into 15 countries across Europe.

And according to Dalbir Bains, VP of womenswear at Zalando, the company's success has been down to localising the business in each region. She calls this “advanced localisation”.

“Every one of our markets is evolving at a very different pace, be that the customer requirements, transition from off to online, different degrees of fashionabiity, relationship discounting – it all varies from market to market,” she explained.

But one of the e-tailer’s biggest strengths is it has a team of people dedicated to learning each market’s nuances.

“It’s difficult to stay on top of 15 markets,” Bains said at the BRC’s International Retailing conference in London last week. “But with local teams, you can know when a new sneaker trend is relevant in one country – we make sure we’re not missing out on what’s happening in each country.”

Zalando – which now sees 160 million visits to its website each month, along with 18 million active customers who spent a total of €3 billion in 2015 – also targets its marketing campaigns to individual countries.

Bains described how Zalando was concerned that a Topshop campaign with Cara Delevingne would not work in all 15 markets as a single global campaign. The e-tailer decided to tailor the campaign to each country by filming Delevingne attempting to pronounce small towns and villages of the country in question, playing on the fact Zalando is available in so many markets.

“Up to this point we had worked on a local basis, and we had grown in every country organically, so it was a step-change to launch a global campaign,” explained Bains. “So we took a global asset and took her to a village – we had lots of fun and it set us on a path to ensure all future marketing campaigns had a localised spin to them.”

Bains also said how customer expectations vary wildly across the 15 markets, with German shoppers treating online as their personal changing room, invoicing and returning anything, while Italians find it offensive to return.

“We had to point out that it’s OK to return something,” she laughed. “In a way it was crazy, as we already suffer from high returns, to do an advert encouraging returns. But it helped in Italy.”

Bains also said Italians are wary to shop online at all, so Zalando changed its payment terms to cash on delivery, which enhanced the experience for Italian customers.

Meanwhile, in Austria, customers are generally offline shoppers who are uninterested in eCommerce. So in an attempt to convert them, Zalando launched a sports campaign with social influencers and a series of offline events, including activity classes introducing them to the brand and encouraging them to purchase from the e-tailer.

Last year, Zalando launched an online personal shopping service, called Zalon, which according to Bains is doing very well. Customers in Germany and Switzerland can have a Zalando sales person call them at an appropriate time to talk through styles and concerns. Then they receive a box with about 10-12 items, totalling around €2,000. Customers try on and send back what they do not want, only paying for what they keep.

“The Zalon service is working really really well and allowing us to interact, communicate and not be a faceless organisation, and really learn from what our customers want.”