Melissa Weston is marketing lead UK & Ireland for the fashion e-commerce Zalando. She talks to WARC about the company’s marketing strategy and its tech investments, and how it plans to be a starting point for fashion.

Describe your role.

My job is to manage the marketing across the UK and Irish markets for Zalando. This involves creating the strategy, planning the campaigns, and managing the budget. I am lucky to have a great team to support me and also some great agencies.

The role covers a lot. For example, we recently did a collaboration with the London Queer Fashion Week, held at the V&A Childhood museum, where Zalando had an influencer area and we were working with the community to communicate our new claim ‘Free to Be’.

We were lucky enough to work with the non-binary influencer Rain Dove, who was walking the catwalk at this event and also is one of the key representatives in our latest campaign.

Other times will be more focussed on brainstorming with my team in Berlin, liaising with various other teams from creative to finance, to twice weekly meetings with the marketing leads from each of the 17 other markets Zalando operates in.

…and your biggest challenges right now?

A major focus for Zalando is to let our customers personalise their experience. We have 28 million active customers across Europe, and we want to offer them 28 million versions of Zalando.

As a customer, you can choose from over 400,000 articles from over 2,000 different brands. We want to make it convenient and inspirational to shop at Zalando, and we are now working on taking the user experience to the next level through artificial intelligence and machine learning.

This is a journey that will never be completed, and that’s a big challenge. We see that customer demand is constantly changing, as are the technical possibilities. This means that we always have to be at the forefront of the latest technical solutions throughout the customer journey.

For me, one of the biggest challenges at the moment is raising awareness of the brand in competitive markets such as the UK and Ireland. However, we have some great campaigns and it’s a blessing to be still able to manage the business like a start-up, taking various risks and opportunities when they arise.

What role does strategy play in helping to meet those challenges?

Strategy is very important in order to keep us focused on the long-term plan and to give us vision on what is working for us long-term.

The European fashion market is undergoing radical changes thanks to digitalisation and the ever-increasing expectations of customers. New technology has made it possible to connect all actors in the fashion ecosystem: customers, brands, offline retailers, manufacturers, stylists, influencers and logistics companies, to name but a few. In order to ensure future growth and to drive our platform strategy forward, we have had to adapt to this change.

It was therefore a natural step for us to review our strategy and update it to fully focus on one clear goal: to become The Starting Point For Fashion. We are convinced that a platform-based business model is the best way for us to both focus on growth and continue to drive digitalisation in the industry.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned this year?

My biggest lesson I have learnt this year is related to people management. When you are running a team, there are often many different personalities within that team who would like to be managed in different ways.

At Zalando we operate a 360 degree feedback culture, so feedback is frequent and expected to be actioned. This is really helpful when addressing issues that you or your team might be facing as it enables plans to be put into place to help everyone develop and learn from their peers also.

How do you expect your category to develop into next year?

The UK is one of the largest fashion markets in Europe (£56bn), with online fashion worth over £12.8bn in 2019 (23% of total fashion). Given its size, it is highly competitive with both global and local players present. I am hoping to grow our market share in both the UK and Ireland over the next few years and to become a household name.

After our successful launch in Ireland last year, I am looking forward to working with more local talent and building new relationships within the market to support our future activations.

What tech are you investing in or scaling up?

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 minimise 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 help from fitting models and 3D scanning.

  • Homepage: Compositional relevance is sorting the content entities on the home page 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.

  • Big Data & Personalisation (Dublin Tech Hub): In order to analyse the big data needed for personalisation, a tech hub was opened in Dublin in April 2015. One aim for the Tech Hub is to develop fashion insights and secure an advanced level of personalisation.

Which skills are you looking to hire into your team?

At Zalando, we are constantly searching for people who are able to think like an owner, taking full responsibility within their roles, while at the same time being real team players. In my team, we are always looking for people who are excited about the online retail space and are inquisitive as to what comes next. I think that it is really important for the next generation of marketers to be confident in gaining insights from data and research to be able to identify patterns to be able to discern future trends.

Melissa will be speaking at the Festival of Marketing which takes place on the 10th and 11th of October, at Tobacco Dock, London.