Wired UK about Zalando’s Robert Gentz at the Wired Retail conference:
Invited by an investor to look into business opportunities in China, Gentz developed a “completely different kind of system” in which commerce can operate.
“I was shown a Chinese webshop, and it was totally different to the kind of thing you get in Europe,” he said.
“I realised that in order to be successful, you have to make your own platform, and focus only on this platform”.
One can only guess what Gentz is referring to exactly but both Alibaba’s Taobao and Tmall and Tencent’s WeChat (the mobile messenger gone full-on platform) are platforms owned by companies with own agendas; and there is hardly any e-commerce business in China outside these platforms. One well known example for what this can mean for companies wanting to conduct business on these platforms is what happened to Uber this summer: “In Uber’s Quest to Win Over China, Tencent Blocks the Way”, Bloomberg wrote.
China’s internet is the mobile internet. In this regard it is like looking into the future of Europe which is in the process of going from desktop internet to mobile internet. This includes risks and opportunities.
“The platforms in China were so connected,” Gentz said. “So they’re already able to deliver consumer experiences that are far beyond what we get in Europe.” (..)
A company can’t do this alone, says Gentz, but an ecosystem can. It involves stylists, access to a local inventory, delivery services and more.
“If the brands are connected to consumers, if offline and online is connected, an ecosystem can provide better consumer experiences,” he said.
Becoming a platform, a destination, is both an offensive and defensive move for Zalando: The company can do far more as a platform. And its fate is in its own hands. Which would not be the case to the same extent by being a player on someone else’s platform, be it WeChat or Amazon.
More details on Zalando’s platform ambitions can be found here: Zalando: “We Want To Become An Open Fashion Platform”
TheJournal.ie, which talked to Philipp Erler, Zalando’s head of technology, has some more background and context:
One of the company’s goals, he says, has been to drag the fashion industry as a whole into the 21st century.
“We are still buying some brands via fax machines in 2015 … the whole industry is not very forward.”
With that in mind Zalando has been teaming up with some global brands by feeding them a stream of data about how their customers are shopping. (..)
Zalando has also enlisted a team of fashion experts to make personal recommendations, a service launched in Germany in May under the ‘Zalon’ banner. The company now plans to roll out the same offering to other regions.
Stylists assemble a “personal box” of recommendations from the company’s catalogue for shoppers, while the fashion retailer’s software also makes its own judgements by crunching the data gleaned from all its sales. (..)
“Whenever we recruit in continental Europe everyone knows our brand, we are huge there, we are the market leader,” Erler said.
To summarize, a one-sentence-description of Zalando’s current strategy might be this:
Zalando wants to become the WeChat of fashion.