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“A digital, scalable outfit recommendation tool”. How leading online fashion retailer Zalando is driving efficiency and growth through AI & ML

Written by Tue 15 Oct 2019

Melissa Weston is Marketing Lead, UK & Ireland, for leading fashion eCommerce firm Zalando SE. She sat down with Sam Tidmarsh over coffee to discuss the power of AI and ML algorithms in tailoring the online customer experience

So tell me about you. Where did your career start?

During university I was part of the Oxford Entrepreneurs society, which sent me to the MIT global startup workshop in South Africa and gave me an incredible network. I gained a deep interest in China during this time and straight out of university I worked at an investment bank in Shanghai doing M&A. Following this I worked as an intern at the House of Commons and then worked as an English teacher in Spain whilst learning Spanish for two years at the University of Salamanca. 

What did you do next?

Only after this did I begin my marketing career, but the lessons I learnt during this time were invaluable. I then began working at a startup backed by Telefonica at their incubation hub called Wayra. I became their Head of Marketing relatively quickly and began speaking at conferences and really developing my network with super interesting creative people. I was only in my early twenties at the time and felt like I needed a more concrete foundation in marketing, so I worked at some of the best media agencies in London for the next 5 years, on clients such as adidas, Reebok, VF Corporation, amongst others. Following this, Zalando reached out and asked me to interview in Berlin. I hadn’t really considered leaving London before, but when I came to the office and saw the culture here, I knew it would be a good fit for me and I felt like it would be an incredible challenge to grow the Zalando brand in such a competitive market as the UK.

What did you learn most during your time at the agencies?

Media planning, media buying and being able to measure success. These are the foundations of what I learnt in my agency life, and these are the things that I’ve taken into my new day-to-day role. 

So things are going well at Zalando?

Things are going really well. The launch of Zalando in Ireland was a success and we are looking at growing market share in both the UK and Ireland. We’re the market leader in many of our European markets, but not yet the UK and Ireland – so that’s why it’s such a great challenge for me.

What do you think is the leading force behind this growth?

I think we’ve got a really great offering. We use very clever technology to personalize our website.The way we use artificial intelligence is incredible.

Tell me a little about that?

With more than 400,000 product choices and almost 2,000 brands – in a market dominated by mobile, it is essential that each of our 28 million customers gets an individual user experience. That is why Zalando is bringing personalisation to the next level. Yet, we also want our customers to be inspired and to discover something unexpected. We aim to be our customers’ fashion companion, advising and inspiring them at the same time. We want to grow our customer’s fashion confidence starting from their personal fashion comfort zone enriching it with several exciting excursions to explore new trends, brands, and products. 

We do this in the following ways: 

  • Algorithmic Fashion Companion (AFC): A digital, scalable outfit recommendation tool, based on machine learning and AI, providing customers with unlimited outfit suggestions. 
  • Sizing: We want to ensure that our customers get the right fit, the first time. By offering size advice to our customers, we can minimize their concerns when it comes to trying out new items from the broad assortment. We can provide accurate size recommendations with machine learning algorithms that are based on customer return information and with the help from fitting models and 3D scanning. 

That’s an incredibly personalised experience!

Absolutely. Even on the homepage, compositional relevance is sorting the content entities according to the customer’s browsing behaviour, preferences and purchase history. What gets shown in these content entities is further personalised according to the customer’s taste.

It means you waste less time. You know, I don’t know if you do it, but I know many of my friends will go on to any of the online shopping platforms and spend hours looking through clothes. This is about a much more efficient shopping process.

Of course, this requires a lot of data. In order to analyse the big data needed for personalisation, Zalando opened a Tech hub in Dublin in April 2015. The aim is to develop fashion insights and secure an even more advanced level of personalisation. 

Are these efficiencies driving growth?

We hope to drive more two-way conversations with our customers, in order to understand them better and also to serve them with a more personalized selection that is relevant to them. This is label agnostic goal, so it doesn’t focus on specific brands, but more on consumer choice. 

The next chapter for us is to become ‘The Starting Point For Fashion’ and double our audience in the next three-to-five years. We believe that our platform strategy is key in achieving this. Ultimately, customers want the best assortment and enabling strong partnerships with brands will get us there. In turn, we provide brands access to European consumers. Looking at the customer side, we are striving for deep customer relationships and believe that it’s time for a made-to-measure customer experience.

Written by Tue 15 Oct 2019


AI Big Data marketing ml Personalisation
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