Copywriting for Emotion

With users in 15 countries, we cater to a variety of shopping behaviours and needs.

photo of Adrien Renahy
Adrien Renahy

Onsite Lead

photo of Carlos Viciana
Carlos Viciana

Onsite Manager

Posted on Oct 14, 2016

With users in 15 European countries, from the southwest of Spain to the northeast of Norway, we have to cater to a variety of shopping behaviours and needs. At Onsite Management, we strive to localise our international websites and apps to build an experience that our users can trust and relate to, culturally.

Localisation spans an array of projects and processes, such as understanding the local users performing qualitative and quantitative research, or optimizing elements such as navigation or internal search, which help us achieve our business goals.

We have been giving special attention to the way we speak to our users through our interfaces. The aim was to swap our functional approach (“Your bag is empty”) for a more “human” and engaging style (“There’s nothing in your bag right now but it doesn’t have to stay that way”).

Understanding the status quo

At Zalando, many people are involved in the process of writing copy. We knew we had to be inclusive from the start if we wanted the project to succeed.

First, we interviewed various people involved in the process of crafting copy at Zalando, from Copywriters to Product Managers to Onsite Managers. As a result, we were able to identify three main areas for improvement: Lack of context when translating, more standardised communication, and clearer responsibilities.

Finding solutions

We invited a number of our fellow employees to collaborate with us in a room stocked with post-its, sharpies, and coffee. To address the three improvement areas, we agreed that we had to focus on two paths: Refining internal processes and increasing the quality of the interface copy. It was great to see people who had worked together for a long time finally meet in person!

Implementing solutions

Among the many ideas which came from the workshop, we introduced new templates, regular knowledge sharing meetings, and new guidelines that were made accessible to everyone in the company. We organised them as a pyramid:


  • The “voice” is the base, personality of Zalando – once defined, it rarely changes.
  • The “tone” depends on the situation the users are in, for example making an apology or finding the right size.
  • "Web elements" are concerned with how we write amazing buttons or headlines, they are the same across markets and situation.
  • “Country specifics” contain details relevant for one language, for example always use “voucher” instead of “coupon” when writing in English.

Helping users

We had laid the basis for improvements but still had to make a real impact for users. We chose to start working on the copy of all the error messages because they appear in the most critical moments, and we wanted to maximise our impact: We have 784 different messages in 11 languages!

We categorised them according to the section where they appear, such as the cart or login page, and prioritized them according to the amount of times they were shown. We were finally ready to craft new copy.

The team planned what we called “weekly translation waves”. For each wave we asked ourselves:

  • How is the user feeling in this situation?
  • What should be the purpose of this message?
  • What are the important elements the user needs to know at this moment?
  • How can we be more informative whilst keeping it short?

After each wave, we came out with a few different versions of each error message. We performed a series of user tests to make sure the new versions had the right effect on users. At the same time, we gathered learnings to improve the versions before testing them again. Ultimately, the whole research project turned into a set of easy copywriting guidelines for this specific situation.

As a result, we now sound a little nicer and friendlier to our users who run into trouble. And that was only the beginning! Since then, we’ve followed a similar process to improve other parts of the website, such as the Help section or the process to return articles. We’ve also worked on ways to communicate the guidelines more broadly within the company (for example, we created posters).

If you’d like to get in touch about any of our localisation work, you can find us on Twitter @CarlosViciana and @AdrienR.

Want to optimise the Zalando experience for a specific market? Do you love to run qualitative and quantitative tests to find out what works best for target customers? We’re always looking for smart people to join us!

We're hiring! Do you like working in an ever evolving organization such as Zalando? Consider joining our teams as a Frontend Engineer!

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