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7 Ecommerce Lessons From Zulily

Selling women’s and children’s clothes and home décor via flash sales, and targeting moms as its primary customers, ecommerce site Zulily has skyrocketed to more than $1 billion in annual sales in less than four years. The Wall Street Journal and Fast Company recently examined Zulily’s business model and why it works despite all odds. Here are seven ecommerce lessons you can learn from Zulily’s success.

  1. Something new: Using a “flash sale” model, the site features new products all the time, creating a feeling of excitement and discovery on the part of consumers. Try: Spotlighting different products on your home page each day and cycling through various photos.
  2. Sense of urgency: Sales last a maximum of three days, impelling customers to act fast or miss out. The sense of scarcity helps spur shoppers to buy things they otherwise might not. Try: Running short-term specials on one item.
  3. Unique items: Zulily’s product mix focuses on unusual, high-end products that can’t be found everywhere else. Try: Finding unique sources of product, such as local artisans or craftspeople overseas.
  4. Slow shipping times: Despite the current brouhaha about one-day or same-day shipping, Zulily’s success proves that customers are willing to wait for products they really want if they can also get a great deal. The average shipping time for the company’s products is two to three weeks (yes, weeks!). Try: I don’t mean to say you should strive for slow shipping (many customers get frustrated by Zulily’s slow delivery). But by finding something else of value to offer, you won’t have to rely as much on shipping speed (or worry about keeping up with Amazon).
  5. Impulse buys: Zulily craftily mixes consumable products (kids’ clothes, which kids constantly grow out of and need to have replenished) with less-urgent products such as cute toys, accessories for moms and household décor. So a mom who needs new shoes for her son might also spy a decorative pillow for the family room or a scarf for herself and decide to throw that little treat in the shopping cart, too. Try: Serve up impulse products at checkout. If someone buys dog food from your ecommerce site, how about suggesting a dog toy, dog collar or dog bed?
  6. Just-in-time inventory: Zulily doesn’t order product from suppliers until a sale ends, so it knows exactly how much to buy and never ends up with overstock. The company doesn’t accept returns, either—so there’s no overstock to deal with. Try: See how drop-shipping can help your business save inventory and warehousing costs.
  7. Custom photography: Nearly all of Zulily’s product shots are taken in house, as opposed to using stock photos supplied by the sellers. This creates a more luxurious look for both the company’s daily email and its website. Less like clicking through an ecommerce site, more like browsing a beautifully photographed catalog, it’s no wonder that customers spend an average of nearly 10 minutes on the site each time they visit. Try: Paying a photographer (or grooming someone in-house) to take pictures at least of the products you show on the home page.


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