The art and science of personalization at Zulily

Bindu Thota is obsessed with building better customer experiences. As the vice president of technology at online retailer Zulily, she uses technology to enable a shopping experience that is seamless and just plain fun. But not only is the experience of shopping at Zulily easy and entertaining — it’s also uniquely curated for every single one of its millions of customers, with 9,000 new products and over 100 sales launching every day.

Bindu Thota of Zulily records a podcast
Bindu Thota (right) records with co-hosts Bill Thorne (left) and Katherine Cullen (center).

Zulily approaches shopping as an opportunity to entertain and delight. “When a customer comes, we try to make it easy for them to relate to us,” Thota says. “It’s almost like a conversation. We’re engaging with our customers.” From a carefully curated product selection and beautiful imagery to thoughtful videos and social media interactions, “at the end of the day, it’s all about telling our story to our customers,” she says.

Accomplishing all of that, for every single customer, is no small feat; it requires a complex suite of technology and processes that are constantly improved through endless iterations. And that means Zulily isn’t just a retailer — it’s a technology company: The websites, mobile applications, personalization, workflows and warehouse management systems are all built in-house, and they’re constantly being reconfigured to test new ways of engaging shoppers. “Customers change all the time,” Thota says. “What works today might not work tomorrow. It might not work to the same extent. To keep it fresh, we’re constantly innovating and constantly experimenting and testing.”

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Zulily has a lot of customer data — price points, product categories, sizes, trends — and Thota says the company uses a mix of “art and science” to build stories around that information. Artificial intelligence technology automates product recommendations, but people come in to craft a compelling experience. “That is what makes the magic, and it’s the curation. What goes well with what? What images should we do? How do we present it? How do we tell that? How do we craft a story?” she says. “All of this has to come together to tell the story.”

Listen to the episode to learn more about Zulily’s unique business model, how artificial intelligence and machine learning are integral to the process, and what Thota sees the experience looking like in the future.

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