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  • Lisa Henry

Personalising the shopping experience, Zalando's challenge

Founded in 2008, the online retailer Zalando has embarked on a significant strategic shift in recent years. Prioritising quality over quantity, but above all focusing on a personalised customer experience, are now the brand's watchwords. In line with this strategy, the e-tailer has recently invested in a number of projects, which are currently in the trial phase.

While many fashion brands are concentrating on the offer, Zalando is making a point of working on the technological aspect of its site. For Laura Toledano, Managing Director of Zalando France, this is an essential part of what defines the DNA of this "big company with a start-up spirit". Its watchword: personalisation.

A personal shopper based on AI

With this in mind, the e-tailer invested in generative AI very early on. Zalando is currently testing the integration of GPT chat into its e-commerce site. The idea is for the artificial intelligence model to be a genuine "personal shopper" for customers, with the ability to suggest products tailored to specific problems. For example, a customer might ask something like "I'm getting married in Barcelona in October, with a church ceremony and dinner on the beach. The shopping assistant will then suggest items, taking into account the weather in that region at that time of year, as well as the comfort needs of the customer, who will be dining with his feet in the sand.

It all started with one problem: making life easier for consumers. According to Tian Su, VP personalisation and recommendation: "The reflex of a consumer today is to ask this kind of question in the form of a Google search, and then grope around. With the conversational form, the request is more fluid and the adapted product proposals save time."

Not only does this save time and simplify things for the brand, it also means greater personalisation, an essential ingredient in a good customer experience. Currently undergoing training, the GPT Chat assistant will eventually be able to record customer preferences and refine its suggestions.

Currently in beta testing in Germany, Austria, and the UK, this tool should be available in France by the end of the year.

Limiting order returns: a major challenge

Since simplification and personalisation are the sources of inspiration for Zalando's tech projects, the online retailer has decided to tackle the issue of size. According to Stacia Carr, VP "size & fit", the transition from made-to-measure clothing, sewn by a relative or tailor, to industrial production has resulted in cuts that are not always adapted to all bodies: "The clothes produced for the majority of people base their cut on "general" body models. Brands study the average build of people by gender and region of the world, but this still only creates very generalised size categories." As a result, Zalando has a 50% returns rate on its orders, a third of which is linked to size.

To alleviate this problem, Stacia Carr has been working for seven years on developing a personalised measurement solution. The customer takes a photo of themselves from the front and from the side in close-fitting clothing, and the tool uses these two shots to define their measurements. Waist circumference, length of arms and legs, etc. Zalando notes that the return rate for items for which size advice is provided is less than 10%.

In addition to this tool, it is possible to create an avatar based on your height and weight, which allows virtual fittings. At present, the two solutions are not linked, but the Berlin-based company is working on the idea of offering avatars created from measurements taken with the photo tool.

Own brands as an incubator for innovative ideas

While personalisation and technology are key areas of focus for the e-tailer, it is not forgetting the product offering. On the occasion of the release of the latest collections from Zalando's own brands, Sara Diez, VP Own Brand and Product Sourcing, said that the company uses these brands as incubators for ideas: "This laboratory allows us to test innovative solutions for the textile environment, particularly in terms of inclusivity and sustainability." With this in mind, in 2022 Zalando began designing a fashion collection adapted for people with disabilities. These products are designed so that a motor problem does not prevent people from dressing themselves, while offering ranges that follow trends "so that a disabled person does not have to wear only jogging suits or invest huge sums of money in adapted pieces", comments Sara Diez.

While private labels are a way of testing and learning, the Zalando website does not keep the results of its tests to itself. In fact, the brand's aim is to communicate with its partners, so that they can benefit from Zalando's expertise and in the hope that they will produce their own inclusive collections.

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