Snackable Shopping: Zulily Looks Beyond the Flash Sale

Many moms know Zulily as a pioneer of the online flash sale. The decade-old brand recently announced a shift in emphasis towards overall value and customer experience. So, we explored what such a pivot looks like when a brand has been so closely associated with a specific e-commerce model with Denise Jaeschke, VP of Integrated Customer Marketing. Denise has past experience on the marketing teams of both legacy brands like Starbucks and Kraft as well as a digital native like RealSelf. You can listen to the entire podcast at this link.

MediaPost: Traditionally, what have been the most reliable marketing channels for acquiring customers and what does your media look like? 

Denise Jaeschke: Traditionally, we had been doing a lot of TV, both CTV and linear TV, [relying] heavily on social channels, the Facebooks of the world. Of course, it's kind of a wide-reaching channel, and the affiliate channels are actually pretty successful for us as well. We partner with over seven hundred influencers and other affiliate partners to bring that traffic to Zulily.  



MP: Can you give us sort of a thumbnail of the main changes that you are executing?

DJ: One of the key pivots that we are doing is that we're not only just offering flash deals or kind of our exclusive data deals. We’re pivoting to having everyday value for the customer. We are partnering with some of our key brands to be able to offer inventory that's available to her on a daily basis. When she's going through Zulily, she'll be able to find things that no longer disappear in 72 hours. So, she'll be able to come here for more of the everyday staples. In the past, and this will continue to be part of us, we've been focused very much on the sense of discovery and anticipation - I wonder what I can find today. But we're actually optimizing some of our search so that she can look and seek for things that she might be looking for. But it remains pretty curated so that she’s not overwhelmed with this kind of never-ending list.

MP: Like all the D2Cs, you all are very data-driven, and you don't do anything unless you've got some good charts and spreadsheets to justify it. What customer insights were driving this? 

DJ: We started really with just consumer conversations. Tell us more about your perception of Zulily. If you have not shopped with Zulily, why? Some of the questions are: how are you shopping, how do you make choices between all the different retailers? What are those experiences that are overwhelming to you? Then, of course, follow that with quantitative studies.

MP: What sort of answers did you get to those questions?

DJ: One of the key things was that they love everything that Zulily has to offer. They thought it was really fun, they loved the curation, but they couldn't come every single day. They would be way more loyal if they actually could find some of those deals that they've come to know Zulily for on a daily basis.  

MP: How are you going to use the new website and structure to feed new marketing? What sort of messaging are you going to use?

DJ: Our positioning overall is that Zulily is an online superstore for a mom. At Zulily we believe that she can come and have fun shopping without breaking [the] bank. It's a fun experience where she can forget a little bit about her to-do list and the endless scrolling, and really have fun shopping and discovering those daily deals as well as those brands that she trusts. It opens up a lot of new marketing channels for us, things like SEO. We couldn't tap into it before because our stores would be closing pretty quickly. So that's a new channel that we can finally leverage. It also creates efficiencies in some of our other marketing channels like social because some of those feeds don't need to be updated daily, like we've had in the past. Even on our email channels and our own channels, what we found is that some of our customers weren't checking their email or their push notifications every day. So, by the time they actually see the deal, the deal will be gone. Now we're able to mix some of those things, so that she's able to find those everyday values as well as her favorite brands on a daily basis. We've always done influencer and affiliate partnerships. That's something that we'll continue to double down on. We're starting to explore way more on TikTok, which wasn't a channel that we had tapped into in the past and creating more mom videos within it. We've been testing the water with livestream shopping. I would say that's still pretty nascent for us. We could learn a lot from our partners and parents at HSN and QVC.

MP: How do you manage your influencers? Who staffs that, and what's the nature of the communication?

DJ: We have two teams. We have a team that's focused on affiliate marketing and obviously that has a lot of influencers as part of that network. That's an internal team we call a Zoo-squad, and they're managing those relationships. They have newsletters for them on site and offers and/or new promotions and new content for them to share. So that one is easier to measure in a way because there is a direct correlation with sales. Obviously, we set up different contracts, royalties, and different commission base with that network of influencers. We also have brand influencers. So, it's a little bit less tied to how many units we're selling. Those are obviously a lot harder to measure, but we think that there's an equity associated with some of them, and that partnership really goes a long way for us [with them] speaking about our product without necessarily pushing a particular item.

MP: It sounds like you have a pretty evolved method for managing influencer communities. 

DJ: We really doubled down on them because of our demographics we want to attract. That mom, she's on TikTok, she's on Instagram, she's on all those channels. There's a team of eight or ten people where that's their daily job, finding who fits our brands, reaching out to them, working, in some instances, with influencer and affiliate networks as well. So, it's not just a one-on-one outreach, but also working with the networks. We have affiliates that create and curate events at Zulily, which we love doing. So, we allow them to say, hey, here's some of the events that are coming, and we allow them to curate an event that is just curated by them. Then we promote that event, and that particular affiliate or influencer also promotes their event. We love it, and they love it, and it is just like a really fun overall experience. But it does require a partnership and constant communication and good management, and kind of like a back and forth to understand how do we make it work better? It is really a daily investment. 

MP: Does this new structure or this new focus change the marketing mix, and moving forward, do you see significant changes in where you're going to be placing your media money?

DJ: Absolutely, like I mentioned before, we had done traditional TV, CTV, and a lot of performance marketing as well. I mean, we're an e-commerce retailer, and we're always focused on the data and how do we measure. So, we've been super reliant on performance marketing. But now that we have sort of a brand reinvention, we're re-addressing and re-inviting a lot of those moms to come back and or stay with Zulily. We'll definitely continue to use TV, CTV. We’ll continue to invest in affiliates. We really love the affiliates, and influencer partnerships understand where we can partner more. We've kind of started dipping our toes in co-creations of some kind with some of the influencers, and I think that really opens up our ability to the efficiencies that we get from SEO, which is brand new for us. We have been super reliant on social, particularly Facebook, but we're also starting to diversify that, and ensuring that we're investing in some of the new and growing social platforms as well as audio. 

MP: What can you tell us about what you're seeing among your customers in changing behaviors, usage, and spend as we may be going into recession?

DJ: What we're hearing a lot from the moms we talked to is that shopping was fun, it was that pastime [they] loved. But now, when [they] have to shop for [their] whole family and check everything off that list and find something for everybody, it's just hard, and [she’s] exhausted and tired from it. So, what we've heard from them is that they feel this pressure. They're just trying to find value, they're trying to find convenience, and just more of those curated experiences overall.

MP: You said they're not finding shopping fun anymore, so how is Zulily responding to that?

DJ: We're going to make it fun again for her. That's what we've been known for, we think that fun is part of the deal. That's the way we talk about it. You're going to get deals but you're going to have a lot of fun finding them. That discovery of, hey, what might be new today, a lot of curation on our site, a lot of personalization. We think that it's a destination where you don't come with all that pressure, but you actually get a snackable kind of shopping experience.

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