Zalando has gone from start-up to retail titan in under a decade and is now partnering with smaller businesses – why aren’t more retailers following suit?

What’s fascinating me this month is Zalando’s dedicated platform to integrate start-ups offering solutions and functionalities to personalise the customer’s shopping experience and to boost inspiration.

Zalando was started nine years ago. The fact it is already able to partner with start-ups demonstrates just how successful it has been at executing in that time; it really is a remarkable feat and deserves much credit – it is now one of the largest retailers in Europe.

The question is, why aren’t more big corporates following in a similar path?

“It’s always amazing to see what they don’t have ‘any budget’ for. ‘Can you come speak to the executive team about how you build mobile product? We don’t have any budget.’”

Surely, the hard part for big corporates is getting the smart, young, bright start-up ideas into their way of thinking; often they end up being ‘disrupted’ when, instead, they could either partner early on, or indeed acquire these companies that could clearly add so much to the bottom line.

I’ve been approached numerous times by big corporates with a number of suggestions.

It’s always amazing to see what they don’t have ‘any budget’ for. “Can you come speak to the executive team about how you build mobile product? We don’t have any budget.”

“Would you be interested to partner with us on this marketing campaign? We couldn’t really promote you and we don’t have any budget.”

“Would you be interested in x or y? By the way…” Yeah, you guessed it.

Win-win

The reality is that the approach Zalando is taking puts its money where its mouth is and will encourage innovation inside the company, and hopefully create meaningful revenue opportunities for the start-ups thinking of new ways to solve problems, creating a win-win situation that ends with a better customer experience.

I wonder how M&S or Arcadia Group or House of Fraser would benefit from thinking of partnering with start-ups, whether that’s from a dedicated programme or simply from making it easier to work with them.

Whether the Zalando approach will prove to be fruitful or not, it’s fair to say it respect its start-up roots and is at least open to trying something new.

It would be great to see our home-grown retailers doing the same thing – I mean really doing it – rather than planning to or talking about doing it, don’t you think?