Q&A: How Zulily's 'Thrill Fest' Preps Back-to-School Shopping Season with Deals, Sweepstakes

Q&A: How Zulily's 'Thrill Fest' Preps Back-to-School Shopping Season with Deals, Sweepstakes

The back-to-school shopping season is shifting from late- to midsummer, driven largely by events like Amazon Prime Day. Leveraging this change, online retailer Zulily is employing a mobile-focused strategy that pushes consumers to purchase all summer long.

We spoke with Kevin Saliba, senior vice president of marketing at Zulily, about the company's back-to-school strategies, as well as its Zulily Thrill Fest—an amped-up version of its typical 72-hour sales model, featuring better bargains and app-only sweepstakes.

When do you typically start your back-to-school marketing efforts?

Our business model allows us to defy seasonality, and back-to-school is no exception. We hold minimal inventory and work with thousands of vendor partners to curate our daily assortment, including back-to-school collections. The low-inventory model allows us to be agile and on-trend earlier and closer to the season. While we begin planning for back-to-school hardlines in January and February and apparel in February and March, our customers will first begin to see back-to-school events in mid-June. And we have a dedicated back-to-school page running through August, with new sales, brands and products launching daily.

Have Prime Day promotions changed how you think about the back-to-school season?

The influx of summer sales across the retail industry hasn’t necessarily impacted the way we approach back-to-school, but the trend has reinforced our commitment to continually evolve the customer experience.

When launching our back-to-school sales, we can launch curated collections based on when we predict shoppers will want to discover those items, all powered by our in-house data. For us, specific back-to-school sales can start as early as June.

What impact does Zulily Thrill Fest have on the back-to-school shopping season?

Through qualitative research and onsite behaviors, we know customers enjoy shopping our daily deals, but only for a small timeframe—72 hours. This urgency for curated experiences gives our shoppers a sense of thrill and fun. We decided to launch Zulily Thrill Fest in mid-June to capitalize on the excitement of summer, while reminding customers that this is a great time to prep for the upcoming back-to-school and gifting season.

How did you market Zulily Thrill Fest this year?

For our second annual Thrill Fest, we focused our marketing efforts across our social channels (Facebook, Instagram and YouTube), in addition to email and push notifications, and engaging pops of color and animation across our campaign creative.

This year, we also featured an App-Only Sweepstakes, as 74% of Zulily orders come from a mobile device [as of Q1 2019]. By encouraging specific behaviors with our mobile shopping experience, we were able to drive app downloads and overall engagement on this accessible and entertaining platform.

When comparing Tuesday of the week prior to Thrill Fest [June 6] with the first day of the event [June 18], the percentage of our app installs were up significantly and “favoriting a brand” on our app—an action where customers can click the “heart” icon next to a brand to be reminded of upcoming sales featuring said brand—was up 68%. This positive week-over-week increase could be attributable to the App-Only Sweepstakes that required customers to download our app and favorite a brand before they were eligible to win specific prizes.