24. Balance IT. with Victoria Schmierer on Pre-owned fashion at Zalando

"I had a wonderful conversation with Victoria about the importance of aligning your work with your personal beliefs. And Victoria is doing just that! She started her career in Zalando as an intern and managed to find her way to the projects which were most impactful and exciting for her. First, Zalon, then the Wardrobe/Zircle app, and finally implementing Pre-Owned fashion market by market. You will find out all about how this was planned out in terms of supply chain, quality checks, logistics, and what are the plans for this initiative for the nearest future." Agata Solecka, Host.

Topics:

How long have you been with Zalando (you’ve had quite the journey with them, as you’ve worked with Zalon by Zalando as well)?

Where did the idea of pre-owned fashion at Zalando come from?

How long have you been working on this project?

I know that in some countries Pre-Owned fashion at Zalando has already been launched. E.g. Zalando.pl it’s already available for a few months, I think? Is this new availability receiving a warm reception?

Can you tell me more about the process of sourcing the pre-owned clothes? I am assuming this is quite a complex process to manage?

I know from our short first conversation, that you have also been working on Zalando Zircle. Can you tell our listeners more about this initiative.

For many, buying used clothes is still something that they would perceive as a rather odd/risky approach to buying clothes. How do you plan on changing this mindset? (Do you have any marketing campaigns in store?)

Who have you partnered with to be able to implement this solution from a technical perspective? 

How difficult was it to implement the sales of pre-owned clothes online from a technical and logistic perspective. Did this new sales channel bring any innovations to Zalando?

Zalando is a huge trend-setter for the fashion industry. Do you plan on using this position to continue promoting environmentally conscious choices among your consumers?

Why is this topic important for you personally?

Which of the sustainability topics do you think will be the most important or the biggest focus in your opinion in 2021? Why?

Transcript:

Agata Solecka: [00:00:53] Hi, Victoria.

Victoria Schmierer: [00:01:27] Hi everyone.

Agata Solecka: [00:01:28] Before we get to the whole point of our conversation, which is of course, introducing sustainability into business, I wanted to first ask you to maybe just do a short introduction of yourself. Tell us who you are and what exactly is it that you do currently at Zalando?

Victoria Schmierer: [00:01:49] I'm Victoria. And I'm a Business Development and Product Manager at Zalando. After working there now for the past three years I have recently been involved in a very exciting projects, like Zalando Zircle, which I guess we will get more into later in the conversation. And I'm also a trainer for mental health topics and business. So those are my two kind of biggest passions and yeah, Im happy to share that about this today.

Agata Solecka: [00:02:17] Awesome. Okay. So maybe let's start with Zircle in that case, because I'm assuming that was your first big project with Zalando.

Victoria Schmierer: [00:02:25] Yes. Yes and no. So my journey has been quite interesting. Originally I started at Zalando as an intern while I was still studying at the London College of Fashion.

And I remember we had this really great opportunity to pause our studies after the second year to do some work experience. And I chose to do that. And in the beginning, I didn't even think back, you know, about going back to Germany. I knew I wanted to stay in London and then they really encouraged us at our University to go to like big British retailers, such as like Marks and Spencer  or House of Fraser.

And I remember applying for some of those and none of them really sparked my enthusiasm. And then somehow I found out at a yeah, it was a career stage University, and I found out about Zalando and of course I knew about Zalando, but I don't know. It just had never really come to my mind to do my placement there. Yet I dunno, something just clicked.

I talked with the person from Zalando that was promoting the company and I decided to give Germany another chance and then I kind of moved back to Berlin and moved first of all, into Buying. So this was kind of my first touch point. It's a Zalando internship and Buing is in the underwear nightwear department.

It was really interesting. And so I really saw many parts of the company. Like I, I remember like once spending two weeks in our sample closet, just basically checking through all the different samples of like 2000 different bras and panties, night gowns and realizing, wow. I think Buying is not for me.

So from that I kind of moved on to the personal styling company of Zalon. So I think you asked me about kind of impact and projects I worked on that were yeah. Impactful. So it's alone. I would say definitely was also definitely a very impactful part of my Zalando journey. It was still quite a startup when I joined.

So it got started internally and it wasn't initiative to kind of support customers and finding personalized outfit solutions. So I stayed with salon for two years and doing a lot of things, development in different areas, mostly in operations. So. This is also when I had like my first product experience, trying to find out like what are like the most frequent customer problems along the customer journey? How can we solve them?

Agata Solecka: [00:05:01] Can I stop you for a second? Sorry. But maybe not all of our listeners are actually aware of what Zalon is so can you tell us a little bit about that?

Victoria Schmierer: [00:05:10] So Zalon is a personal styling service.  So they have I don't know how many freelancers are working for them at this point, but hundreds of stylists who work as freelancers, basically. And you can sign up through the website and fill out a questionnaire about your fashion preferences, essentially your sizes. And then they have a kind of a matchmaking similar to online dating where you're being matched made by an algorithm it's kind of applying the same concept to fashion and then matching you up with a stylist that is in line with your personal style preferences. And that stylist then puts together outfits for you.

Agata Solecka: [00:05:53] Yeah. Okay. That's a really cool, that's a really cool initiative. Okay. So you said that you joined when Zaylon was still kind of a startup. So tell me more about that.

Victoria Schmierer: [00:06:04] I think, I mean, they were two years old or so they existed for two years when I started and I'm really happy that I got my start at Zalando at Zalon because I think by that time Zalando itself was already very big and very corporate. So doing an internship there, I think would have felt very different, but at Zalon, you know, the hierarchy is very flat. And I remember starting there the first day I immediately got my first project assigned, you know, it was very much like a environment where they just needed all the help they could get.

And there was so much to be done so much to be built. And luckily I had a really great lead at Zalon who also put a lot of trust in me from the beginning. And I mean, you have to imagine, like I joined as a kind of 20 year old or 21 by the time I had finished my studies. And. The fact that she put so much trust in me at an early stage, meant a lot to me.

And she was actually also the person who got me to join my recent role into the new team. Yeah. So that's what I really learned that first of all, I think the people you work with have a huge impact on your career. Also your, your motivation and and it's really useful too, when you get started, I think in your work life to join an environment where yeah.

You can learn and you can really also try out a lot of things and people are really pushing you. Yeah. That's what I appreciated about Zalon.

Agata Solecka: [00:07:38] Okay, so you are working at Zalon and it's going pretty well. The idea is really expanding. The team is growing. And when does the idea of pre-owned fashion actually pop into your mind? How does that start?

Victoria Schmierer: [00:07:54] Yeah, that's a great question. So I would say in the beginning the idea of, of pre-owned fashion was kind of unrelated to my role at Zalando because I had always been really, really a fan of shopping, vintage clothing. Like I remember visiting my first vintage shop in back in my hometown in the South when I was I don't know, like eight years old or so. And I'm still friends with the shop owner. She still has a little shop, so that was always a part of my life. I honestly never really thought it was possible when I first joined Zaland that at some point I would be working for pre-owned fashion at Zalando

And again it was at Zalon that I first found out abut the plans of building this app.I had this lead and she had already been on this project from earlier on. And I remember one day we like had a little like a lunch date and she said, Hey, I really want you to have a chat with you. Let me tell you what we're wanting to build. Yeah. And I remember her telling me about their plans and I just thought, wow, that is so exciting. Like, I really want to be a part of this. And yeah. And then I made the decision to join this team. It was definitely a hard decision for me because especially the company culture at salon was excellent.

But the time where I made that decision for a change of teams was also the time where I started learning more about positive psychology. By now I'm doing trainings for businesses on positive psychology, but at the time I was kind of in the middle of my positive psychology training and a big part of that was to yeah do things that are meaningful to you that bring you joy, that bring you a sense of purpose. And I think that's what really attracted me to joining this team that was working on the pre-owned fashion project because I was really keen on joining something that could potentially have a really big impact on the fashion industry?

Agata Solecka: [00:10:04] Yes. Yes, absolutely. I agree. So tell me, how long have you now been in the Zalando pre-owned project?

Victoria Schmierer: [00:10:14] Not that long, actually. So a bit over a year.

Agata Solecka: [00:10:04]  Okay. And can you tell us where you're already live? Because I know that not in all of the Zalando locations, you've actually launched the pre-owned category yet, right?

Victoria Schmierer: [00:10:14]  So we launched on Zalando with the pre-owned category back in autumn and we had kind of successive go-livee approach. So I believe we started in Spain and then kind of expanded into market after market. And at the moment we are alive in Germany and Spain in France, the Netherlands and Poland of course!

Agata Solecka: [00:11:00] Haha, that's right! I actually checked that and I must admit the presentation of the clothes is really impeccable. And it really doesn't differ that much from the regular new clothing that you're sort of used to on Zalando. So tell me a bit more about the logistics of this project, because I can assume this is huge from a technical perspective, from a business model perspective, sales perspective, marketing, everything. Tell me about.

Victoria Schmierer: [00:11:29] Yeah, it is definitely a very big, big project and initiative now. I didn't work that much on getting pre-owned live on Zalando. I was kind of a bit of a supporting function when it came to building up the customer care side of things.

But I did have many, many colleagues who worked. For months and months and months on getting it live on. Like one of my colleagues and actually this lead that I already talked a lot about back from Zalon. She was the person who came up with the entire supply chain for pre-owned and to better understand this you, you need to know that Solando already had an app called Wardrobe.

Now they relaunched with the name Zircle, but it used to be called Wardrobe. And within that app users could sell to other users. So it was a C2C marketplace for pre-owned fashion. And they could also sell that clothing directly to, sorry. No, let me correct myself. Yeah. Not selling, but trade in their clothes to Zalando.

So I'm making that differentiation because this app still exists. It's quite Zalon Circle now. And you can trade and clothing to Zalando and then in return you receive a gift card. This was already live a few years back. So we already had that part of the supply chain basically in place for getting clothing from people through this app.

And. Already also accumulated quite some stock through this app. And at some point, basically the team was, was thinking, well, I mean, it's an unknown, we're very good at selling things. Why don't we actually sell the things that people trade ins for the Zircle? At the time it was called the Wardrobe app.

So this is where the first part of the supply chain let's say was established. The part that then was built by my very talented operations mastermind colleagues was the pad where. They actually established a quality check process in the warehouse where we check every single garment and we make sure that there's no defects.

So maybe you already saw that based on the images that you saw in the pre-owned category that we really have a very high standard in terms of the quality of the clothing that we accept from customers and that we then also resell through Zalando and through to Zircle.

Yeah. So this whole process of course required like a lot of work and a lot of training of all our warehouse employees to kind of know what to look for what like establishing you know, criteria for what we accept, what we don't accept.

And then also establishing a process for yeah. Collecting data about these, these products and shooting images of the product, so that be, can eventually list them on Zalando.

Agata Solecka: Is there a country where this initiative is most popular at the moment?

Victoria Schmierer:  Since we've launched, it's been really, really well received, I would say in all six markets, and I think it's such a great sign that like even customers onto Zalando who have sometimes don't even have a prior experiences with buying secondhand clothing are looking now into this new category. And that was also kind of our goal to offer a nice entry point for people who perhaps haven't tried it before and offer it at the convenience of the regular Zalando experience, you know, without any risk, because if you buy on secrecy marketplaces, I have before. It's cool because you can, you can chat to the person you want to buy from. Sometimes you can even negotiate on trial, but oftentimes you can't return the item. For instance, you also cannot be sure that the quality that is being described on the platform is like that in real life. And we kind of try to look at all of the usual pain points that people have when they buy a secondhand clothing. And try to smooth them over so that people can purchase as we call it "Pre-owned" that's also why we decided to make the name slightly different to kind of signal that. It really is something different in terms of the service we offer and the quantity that we are.

Agata Solecka: [00:15:55] So are you saying that you can actually return the pre-owned clothes too?

Victoria Schmierer:  Yeah, so you can re you can absolutely return the, the pre-owned fashion that you buy. So the convenience aspects you have when you shop at the normal Zalando categories you have the exact same ones for pre-owned, so you can return up to 100 days. And returns are free. So it's very convenient and customers love that because like I said, you know, we had some user interviews at the beginning of the year when I was starting to build the circle online shops. Which we can talk about a bit more in a bit, but when we started building those, we interviewed some very heavy pre-owned shoppers who had been shopping on some of our competitor sites to try and understand what's important to them.

And I remember some of them telling me. I will only shop show thing that costs less than 30 Euros, because then even if the quality is not as I wanted it to be, even if it doesn't fit, you know, it's not such a big loss because you cannot return on these platforms. And this is the cool thing that now people also go into perhaps more high quality brands at a higher price point for prion because they know, okay.

If it doesn't fit. I can still return it.

Agata Solecka: [00:15:55]  It's not so much of a risk. Right. Okay. So we're talking about consumer habits, actually changing those consumer habits. And people actually maybe fighting their own fear a little bit, trying new things. So let's talk about that mindset. So is Zalando planning any additional marketing campaigns because I'm assuming, although, like you said, pre-owned fashion is doing great at the moment. It's probably still a very new thing for many customers, many consumers. And for a lot of people, they still might feel reluctant and feel like, hmm, maybe, maybe this is not really for me.

Victoria Schmierer: [00:17:53] Yes, definitely. I mean, the launches we did earlier last, not earlier last year, but in ultimate last year what kind of soft launches?

So there were no like huge campaigns going on at that time. But there's more to come for sure. And one, one example I can give is the Nordics. So Zalando is taking live the so-called online shops kind of as an entry level offering. For pre-owned fashion in the Nordics and the coming weeks.

So you're getting a super recent UCA. And so the Zircle Nordics initiative, we actually will send out a standalone new status for instance, where we also kind of explain a bit more about this initiative. And I think it's all about kind of pointing out, you know this is an opportunity for you to give this a try. But with no risk. We can guarantee you that the quality will be really good. So nothing, like you know from maybe those smelly secondhand shops that we've had in our youth. But actually yeah getting it delivered to your home and getting a really good quality for a really good price as well.

Agata Solecka: [00:19:05] Pretty awesome. So you're not really pushing this idea. It's more of a pull from consumers. Right? Do you feel like this is sort of representative of bigger changes to come? Are you, are you experiencing that at Zalando?

Victoria Schmierer: [00:19:19] . Yes, absolutely. I mean, one of the reasons why we, we got started with pre-owned was because we just thought that, you know, that the trend in the market, I saw it myself. This is why I wanted to be part of the team because I, even in my circles of friends, I noticed that, you know, they were buying more and lot pre-owned and are really into it and are also questioning their own fashion purchasing habits. I think I read somewhere it was like a study that told that by 2029 the pre-owned industry will be bigger than the fast fashion industry. And like reading such things is really exciting me. Because it means that there's definitely more people like me. Who questioned that there? Yeah, their consumption patterns and who wants to also be part of the story of in the end gifting items, a new life.