Many retailers are concerned about the short 2019 holiday shopping season, but Zulily is going in with some built-in advantages. The retailer’s customers tend to start their holiday shopping early in any case, and Zulily’s mobile-first approach will be a good fit for a season when mobile is expected to dominate. Zulily also plans to address shopper price perceptions with new, site and in-app price comparison tools.
The retailer also has beefed up its leadership with the appointment of Chief Merchant John Lohnas. He brings more than 20 years of retail experience to the job — including nine years at Amazon, most recently as leader of the Apparel division in Europe.
“From my experiences from Amazon, they are really fantastic at being a transactional retailer, but the idea at Zulily is that we've got hundreds of buyers that are scouring the earth to identify and present to our customers unique finds that are highly curated and highly personalized,” said Lohnas in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “I think it's such an important differentiator and engages with our customers in such a unique way. I still get excited every day when I think about what we're building here.”
A Shorter Holiday Season Is Nothing To Fear — Just Start Earlier
The 2019 holiday season will be nearly a week shorter than in 2018 — with 27 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, compared to 33 last year — but Zulily isn’t fretting. The company plans to make up for the lost time by building early momentum in November and carrying it over to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, in part by encouraging Zulily customers’ existing preference for early-season shopping, according to Lohnas.
The other big takeaway for the coming season is that mobile is expected to dominate: 70% of visits and 52% of orders will come from mobile devices, according to Salesforce. This is already common behavior for Zulily shoppers year-round, and the retailer is taking steps to improve the device-based shopping experience, including through video.
"Today, 74% of our traffic actually comes through mobile devices, so we are absolutely focused on ensuring that we're optimized for mobile,” said Lohnas. “Everything that we build, we build on mobile first. One area that we know that customers are very much engaging on mobile is the use of video. We believe that that is an opportunity to engage our customers in a way that they're already engaging on social platforms, and it will add a kind of social excitement to their shopping experience on Zulily as well.”
Transparency And Convenience Help Zulily Compete On Price
One of the major challenges faced by any retailer that isn’t Walmart or Amazon is the perception that those two retail giants will always win on price. Zulily found that it was able to beat these companies on price 97% of the time, but getting this message out to the public can be difficult. The retailer is launching two features that will run through Dec. 19 to overcome this hurdle:
- Site and In-App Competitor Price Comparison: Product pages where a UPC code can be matched to Amazon or Walmart will show the price for the same item on those sites; and
- Best Price Promise: On those occasions where one of those competitors is offering a lower price than Zulily’s, the retailer will match the competitor’s price.
The most important elements of this strategy are transparency and convenience, according to Lohnas. The initiatives will educate shoppers about how Zulily compares to two of the country’s biggest retailers without adding any additional steps to the checkout process.
"The solution was transparency on our site,” said Lohnas. “It was very important where we have these exact matches on products. It’s one thing to try to build that trust with customers, and another thing to show the exact competitor price on the page. Yes, there are third parties that you can visit that will show you comparative prices, but there is friction for customers who have to leave a site and go look for them. I think that that is why this is such a powerful initiative.”
The improvements Zulily is making will also extend beyond the holiday season. The retailer is updating its front page to help shoppers find what they’re looking for based on categories, a move designed to reduce friction across the shopping journey. Additionally, Lohnas will oversee the brand’s ongoing efforts to find new and unique items for its regular customers.
“We are ultimately a long-tail business, meaning we've got a very long, broad offering on our site,” said Lohnas. “What we’ve become known for and what our customers expect from us is to find those unique items. We have a team in China that finds some of these items, and we've got buyers here in Seattle that spend a significant amount of their time in the market finding these items. That’s really what we're tasked with: how do we make sure that we continue this tradition, find the right items for our customers and as a company expand our reach.”