Striking the global/local balance

When it comes to understanding the European consumer, very few retailers have stronger credentials than Zalando. The Germany-based ecommerce platform operates in 15 different countries, bringing hundreds of clothing and lifestyle brands to fashion-forward shoppers.

With technology hubs in Dublin and Helsinki, and 1,000 employees working purely on the digital engineering side of the business, Zalando is a trailblazer for blending science and insight to personalise shopper experiences.

Retail Connections caught up with Dalbir Bains, VP womenswear at Zalando, earlier this year to hear her best practice for running an international business with a distinctly local presence.

“We want to feel very personalised and relevant in all of our markets,” is Bains’ mantra, and the number of initiatives Zalando has launched to enable this relevance is impressive.

In order to offer advanced localisation, Zalando has an individual market team in each of its 14 regions, feeding back information on regional trends, cultural events and other ‘need to know’ insights to the central strategic time.

At the same time, Zalando is tailoring its marketing strategies within each region, to provide brands with a consistent identity that still feels personal to shoppers in each of its regions. Zalando’s work with Cara Delevigne when it started stocking Topshop is a prime example; the supermodel filmed a tongue-in-cheek video trying to pronounce foreign place names. The social media community erupted in response.

A similar campaign for Ivy Park followed, in which Zalando used geolocation messaging to make Beyonce’s sportswear brand represent shoppers’ nearest local parkers, supported by local messaging from influential fashion bloggers.

“We cannot expect our customers to embrace online in the same way in all of our markets,” Bains explained. “We need to look at the roadblocks are in every single country.”

Overcoming international barriers to purchase can often mean focusing on targeted initiatives across the Zalando’s key locations. It ran a concentrated campaign around the benefits of returning items within Italy for example, to overcome consumers’ anxieties on sending things back.

In fact, Zalando has taken the idea of returns to a new level, creating Zalon, a personal shopping service in which customers are sent items based on a telephone call with a personal shopping expert to discuss their style and budget. Recipients sift through the goodies, try them on, and send back anything they don’t want.

“It’s allowing us to interact and communicate, not be a faceless organisation, and really understand what our customer wants,” advised Bains.

This idea of personalisation is not limited to the customer, either. Zalando’s main purpose is to help brands develop and grow their identity, and the ecommerce platform’s ‘brandshop’ pages enable these brands to change the look and feel of the layout according to the country they are being viewed in.

With only a short amount of time available, Bains merely scratched the surface on the bottomless topic of digital personalisation. However, it’s clear that, when it comes to tailoring experiences by geography, Zalando is right out in front.

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