Success Crafted

The Rise and Success of Zalando: Disrupting the European E-commerce Market

Zalando’s History and Growth: From Unfashionable Idea to Multimillion-Dollar Empire

When David Schneider and Robert Gentz founded Zalando in 2008, few people would have imagined that an online shoe retailer based in Berlin would one day become one of Europe’s most successful e-commerce companies. Yet, over the past decade, Zalando has grown from a small startup with a few employees working in a warehouse office to a multinational corporation with more than 14,000 employees and sales of over 10 billion euros in 2020.

In this article, we will explore the factors that contributed to Zalando’s early success and rapid expansion, as well as the challenges and lessons learned along the way.

Founding and Early Years

When Schneider and Gentz started Zalando, they faced significant challenges. The idea of selling shoes online was still considered unfashionable in Germany, and many investors were skeptical about the viability of their business model.

Nevertheless, the founders were convinced that they could create a successful online shoe retailer by leveraging the power of localized marketing and multiple cultures. They decided to launch country-specific websites for different European markets, such as France, Italy, Spain, and Austria, and tailor their advertising campaigns to local customers.

This approach proved to be a game-changer for Zalando. The company’s ads, featuring catchy slogans and humorous videos, started to gain traction across Europe, and the number of customers grew exponentially.

Zalando also offered free delivery and a 100-day return guarantee, which made it easier for customers to shop online without worrying about the risks of buying shoes that might not fit or feel comfortable.

Unique Approach and Rapid Growth

Zalando’s localized approach and customer-friendly policies helped the company to establish a strong foothold in the European e-commerce market. By 2011, the company had expanded its product range to include clothing, accessories, and beauty products, and had become one of Germany’s fastest-growing startups.

The same year, Zalando raised 50 million euros in funding from investors, including the Swedish investment firm, Kinnevik. Over the next few years, Zalando continued to invest heavily in its marketing and logistics infrastructure, expanding its operations to new countries and launching mobile apps for iOS and Android.

The company’s focus on customer satisfaction and convenience helped to distinguish it from other e-commerce players in Europe, and contributed to its continued growth.

Challenges and Lessons Learned

As Zalando grew larger and more successful, it also faced new challenges. The company’s marketing campaigns, once praised for their humor and creativity, began to draw criticism from some customers and industry experts.

In the Netherlands, for example, some viewers found Zalando’s advertisements too irritating and complained to the Advertising Standards Authority. In response, Zalando had to revise its marketing strategies and adopt a more tailored approach in different markets.

Another challenge that Zalando faced was its expansion into new product categories and markets. While the company had established a strong position in the online fashion and shoe retail markets, it found it harder to compete in luxury and classic fashion segments.

To address this issue, Zalando launched a Connected Retail solution in 2019, allowing brick-and-mortar fashion stores to sell their products on the Zalando platform. This partnership strategy helped Zalando to attract more high-end fashion brands and expand its reach to new customer segments.

In addition to its partnership strategy, Zalando also acquired several fashion brands, such as Emeza and Kiomi, and invested more in its logistics infrastructure. The company also refocused its operations on the Zalando brand and discontinued some of its other ventures, such as Zalando Lounge and Zalando Beauty, to streamline its business model.


Zalando’s history and growth offer valuable insights into the challenges and opportunities of e-commerce in Europe. By leveraging local knowledge, customer satisfaction, and convenience, Zalando was able to create a successful business model that disrupted the traditional retail industry.

However, as Zalando expanded, it also faced new challenges and had to adjust its strategies accordingly. Through partnerships and acquisitions, as well as a focus on its core business, Zalando has continued to grow and evolve, and is poised to remain a dominant player in the European e-commerce market for years to come.

Current Strategies and Success:

Customer-Focused Initiatives and

Financial Achievements

In recent years, Zalando has continued to innovate and grow, driven by a relentless focus on customer satisfaction and convenience. The company’s success can be attributed to a range of factors, including its investment in localized marketing, free delivery, and returns policies, Zalando Lounge, and special deals for members.

At the same time, Zalando has achieved significant financial milestones, such as a public listing and impressive revenue growth. In this section, we will explore these two themes in more detail.

Customer-Focused Initiatives

Zalando has always been known for its commitment to customer satisfaction and convenience, and this has remained a core focus for the company in recent years. One of the key initiatives that Zalando has pursued is its free delivery and returns policy.

Shipping costs are a major barrier to online shopping, but Zalando has made it easy for customers to order and return products without paying any extra fees. Another initiative that has helped Zalando to stand out is its Zalando Lounge program.

This program provides members with access to special deals and limited-time offers on a range of products. Members can join for free and receive personalized alerts and recommendations based on their preferences and shopping history.

Zalando has also invested heavily in localized marketing, tailoring its approach to different markets and customer segments. This has helped the company to build a strong brand presence across Europe and to reach more customers in new markets.

Financial Achievements

The success of Zalando’s customer-focused initiatives is reflected in the company’s impressive financial achievements in recent years. In 2014, Zalando became the first German company to be listed on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, raising over 600 million euros in its initial public offering.

Since then, the company’s stock price has continued to climb, making it one of the most valuable e-commerce companies in Europe. Zalando’s revenue has also grown at a remarkable rate.

In 2020, the company reported sales of over 10 billion euros, up from just 2.1 billion euros in 2013. This growth is due in part to Zalando’s expansion into new markets and product categories, such as beauty and home products.

It is also a reflection of the company’s continued investment in its logistics and infrastructure, which has helped to improve its supply chain efficiency and reduce delivery times.

Top 10 Competitors

While Zalando continues to dominate the European e-commerce market, it faces stiff competition from a range of other companies, each of which has its own unique strengths and weaknesses. In this section, we will take a closer look at Zalando’s top 10 competitors, exploring their business models, strengths, and challenges.

1. H&M

H&M is one of the largest fashion retailers in the world, with over 5,000 stores in 74 countries.

The company is known for its fast fashion approach, offering low-priced, trend-driven products that appeal to a wide range of customers. H&M has also invested heavily in sustainability, introducing a “Conscious” collection and awarding customers “Conscious points” for recycling old clothes.

H&M’s international growth has been impressive, but the company faces the challenge of staying relevant in an increasingly competitive market. As fast fashion comes under scrutiny for its environmental impact, H&M will need to find new ways to appeal to customers who are looking for more sustainable and ethical fashion choices.

2. About You

About You is a German e-commerce company that specializes in personalized fashion.

The company uses data-driven personalization to recommend products to customers based on their preferences and shopping history. About You has also invested heavily in influencer marketing, partnering with influencers to create personalized product collections.

About You’s personalized service is a key differentiator in the crowded e-commerce market, but the company faces challenges in scaling its model and maintaining profit margins. It also competes with a range of other personalized fashion startups, such as Stitch Fix and Trunk Club.


ASOS is a UK-based e-commerce company that targets young fashion customers.

The company is known for its fast fashion approach, offering a wide range of products at affordable prices. ASOS has also invested in personalization, using data to recommend products to customers and optimize its inventory management.

ASOS faces the challenge of staying relevant in a fast-changing market, as well as reducing its environmental impact. The company has faced criticism for its reliance on trend-driven fashion and its large shipping footprint.

4. Zara (Inditex)

Zara is a Spanish fashion retailer that is part of the larger Inditex corporation.

The company is known for its quick production and selling cycles, allowing it to respond rapidly to changing fashion trends. Zara also owns its entire supply chain, giving it greater control over its manufacturing and logistics operations.

Zara’s strong supply chain has helped it to stay competitive in a crowded market, but the company faces challenges in responding to consumer demands for more sustainable and ethical fashion. 5.


SHEIN is a Chinese e-commerce company that specializes in ultra-fast fashion. The company has grown rapidly in recent years, thanks to its low prices and fast production cycles.

However, SHEIN has also faced controversy over its labor practices and environmental impact. SHEIN’s growth and valuation have been impressive, but the company must address its sustainability and ethical challenges to ensure long-term success.

6. Peek & Cloppenburg

Peek & Cloppenburg is a German department store chain that also operates an e-commerce platform.

The company has a long-standing reputation for quality fashion products and prides itself on outsourcing production to local manufacturers. Peek & Cloppenburg competes with a range of other department stores and e-commerce players, but it has a loyal customer base and strong brand reputation.

7. Amazon

Amazon is a global e-commerce giant and one of Zalando’s main competitors in Europe.

The company has a customer-focused approach and a vast selection of products, but it faces criticism for its market dominance and lack of luxury brands. Amazon’s scale and logistics infrastructure give it a significant advantage in the e-commerce market, but the company must balance its growth with concerns over its impact on small businesses and the environment.


NEXT is a UK-based fashion retailer that targets customers in the 20-40 age range.

The company has a long-standing reputation for quality products and a focus on customer service. NEXT also emphasizes the importance of under-promising and over-delivering, which has helped to build a loyal customer base.

NEXT faces challenges in keeping pace with changing customer demands and staying competitive in a crowded market. 9.


bonprix is a German e-commerce company that specializes in fast fashion. The company sells its products through catalogs as well as online and has a focus on lower-priced products.

bonprix faces challenges in responding to changing customer demands and staying competitive in a crowded market with larger e-commerce players. 10.


Boozt is a Nordic e-commerce company that focuses on curated premium brands. The company uses automation and technology to improve its logistics and supply chain operations and has a strong presence in the Nordic e-commerce market.

Boozt faces challenges in scaling its model beyond the Nordic market, as well as competing with larger e-commerce players with more extensive product ranges. Zalando’s journey from a small online shoe retailer to a multimillion-dollar empire highlights the power of localized marketing, customer-focused initiatives, and continuous innovation.

The company’s unique approach, including free delivery and returns policies, Zalando Lounge, and personalized marketing, has contributed to its rapid growth and financial success. However, Zalando has also faced challenges, such as criticism and competition from other e-commerce giants.

By refocusing its strategies, forming partnerships, and expanding into new markets, Zalando has maintained its position as a dominant player in the European e-commerce market. This article underscores the importance of customer satisfaction and adaptability in the ever-evolving world of online retail.

As Zalando continues to thrive, it serves as a reminder that understanding and meeting customer needs are crucial for long-term success in the highly competitive e-commerce industry.

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