Zalando Research Is Shaping the Future of Online Fashion

A few days ago Zalando presented the Zalando Research Lab to the public. Reiner Kraft, VP Engineering of Search & Personalization at Zalando, at the Zalando tech blog:

We’ve recently launched Zalando Research – an endeavour to place Zalando at the forefront of cutting-edge research, to complement our already strong foothold on technology.

Why are we doing this? We already boast great researchers at Zalando Tech, so we want to give them an outlet where they can be better organised and aligned. We also want to have a greater impact in the tech research community, especially in the fields of data science, machine learning, and artificial intelligence (AI). We want to carve out an academic standpoint for Zalando Tech.

One of the main threads here at Early Moves are the fundamental changes coming to e-commerce through the current technological evolution. These changes will increase the overall potential tremendiously but they will also make a lot of business decisions much harder.

It used to be that the high level technology to use (websites, within a browser) and the platform to optimize for (Google, SEO) were not decisions that had to be made, they were just a given. With the rise of new systems on different levels of the stack -marketplaces, social networks, mobile, voice, machine learning- this is slowly but surely fundamentally changing.

To be successful in this changing, complex world, it makes a lot of sense to do active research and let one’s own researchers and developers take part in bigger communities where they can learn and also help shape the things to come.

One appreciated side-effect of this is that this also helps in attracting talent as well.

Kraft:

Our goal, with Zalando Research, is to have an official mandate for our talented research scientists to work from. We’ll be providing clear role separation between research scientist in the lab, and research engineers within our Delivery Teams. Creating an environment with a common charter will allow the right people to focus on papers, patents, and actively contribute to teams in order to have product impact.

There is also an interview with the people behind the research lab (Reiner Kraft and Roland Vollgraf, Research Lead at Zalando) at “All About Z”, Zalando’s recently launched online magazine about the company itself:

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is one of the hottest topics dominating the news right now. From self-driving cars to Google’s AlphaGo, AI is everywhere. As its relevance and importance grows, so too does the need for companies like Zalando to be at the cutting edge of emerging research and trends. We sat down with two of our leading researches to talk about AI’s transition from science fiction to reality.

That sounds pretty far off from selling fashion online, doesn’t it?

That’s why it is research. Getting smart(er) about the environment you operate in will enable increasing strategic returns as our world grows more complex.

From the interview:

What is the ultimate goal of Zalando Research?

Reiner: (…) How can we combine the sought-after qualities of the online shopping experience with these personal touches? We can use AI to revolutionize this process, so that, years from now, you’ll be buying fashion in a completely different way.

Roland: We are working on making it possible for machines to understand what fashion is, what the intrinsic concept of fashion or a certain style is. Once this happens, we can allow computers to be our fashion advisors, much like shop assistants in a brick-and-mortar store.

What else will Zalando Research be focusing on?

Reiner: AI is a big, overarching topic for us. AR and VR are related areas, so our focus will definitely be a combination of different disciplines.

Roland: As researchers in the lab, our focus will be on publishing for the scientific community, but at the same time, providing greater impact for Zalando products.

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