Inside Zulily: Data Scientists, Engineers and Machine Learning

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By Published On: April 18, 20190 Comments

International marketplace Zulily tells us what it takes to create a personalised experience for every shopper and why 92% of purchases come from repeat customers.

Zulily launched in Seattle, Washington in 2010. It began life as a flash sales site targeted towards the ‘savvy mums’ demographic. Flash-forward nine years and it’s now an international marketplace. It launches a new store every day, featuring thousands of products in over 100 time-limited sales. Products span everything from women and men’s apparel to footwear, home decor, beauty and wellness and even pets.

“At Zulily, we are all about curating an entertaining shopping experience for our millions of customers around the world, customising each shopper’s experience so it is relevant, engaging, and ultimately, fun. We are proud of our ability to provide an incredible experience to customers, with mobile at the forefront,” says Howard Wu, Director of International Business at Zulily. In fact, a staggering 73 percent of orders came from mobile in the 2018 financial year.

Wu tells Power Retail that for the company, everything is driven by technology. “Our technology team, comprised of data scientists, engineers and machine learning experts, help innovate our ever-changing customer experience. We are unique in the industry in that we build most of our software in-house, supporting every part of the business, from empowering over 500 buyers who work closely with over 15,000 vendor partners to grow their businesses using a proprietary vendor portal, to building our own warehouse management systems to control our 2.2 million square feet of fulfilment centres within the United States.”

When Zulily was founded, e-commerce was mostly focused on intent-based shopping platforms. Mark Vadon and Darrell Cavens, the Zulily co-founders, saw an opportunity to create a different kind of shopping destination, that closely resembled the ‘browse and buy’ experience. Its model has allowed the company to stay agile, utilising its internal teams and proprietary systems to to power the daily business.

Zulily runs on a membership model: customers register their email address with Zulily either by signing up on the website or by downloading the Zulily app. “From there, our mission is to serve our customer by listening; our goal is to send her the right message, on the right platform and at the right time,” Wu explains. “Through our member model, we are able to utilise machine learning and data science to create personalised customer experiences – launching millions of versions of our site/app every day.”

Wu tells us that 92 percent of orders are from repeat customers. Engagement is strong, with customers interacting through the app, push notifications, email, Facebook Messenger, Instagram and Facebook Live. The company also utilises Twitter, Pinterest and YouTube. “Zulily is focused on building relationships with customers,” Wu tells us. “Given our customers tune in to these channels for daily inspiration and discovery, similar to how we try and curate our Zulily shopping experience, we leverage these platforms to foster one on one connections with our customers for increased engagement, education and fun. On every channel we utilise the power of storytelling.” In 2018 Zulily released over 570 Facebook Live videos.

Zulily has three different shipping methods: traditional shipping, where the vendor sends the product to Zulily’s fulfilment centres and then to the customer; drop-shipping, where the vendor sends purchases directly to the customer; and Triple Z, where Zulily acts as the 3PL provider for vendor partners.

“Our customers know it may take a little longer to receive their items, but the money they are saving is worth the wait. We are continually improving our warehouse management system to increase our efficiency, in order to deliver the perfect order to each and every customer,” Wu explains.

Currently, Zulily is available in seven countries –United States, Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Ireland, Mexico, Singapore and the United Kingdom but expansion is always on the cards. “Every day we have the opportunity to innovate our daily experience, and future forward, we will continue to create new ways to engage our millions of shoppers through delivering excellent customer experiences, sourcing new products from around the globe, and tapping into new platforms that can help tell our story and highlight our differentiated approach to retail,” Wu tells us.

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