Zulily’s Brian Doherty on the future of retail: “More retailers will move to a “discovery shopping” model”

Chaya Weiner
Sep 10 · 6 min read

More retailers will move to a “discovery shopping” model. At Zulily, we’re seeing that more shoppers are open to finding the next best thing they didn’t even know they wanted or needed. Shoppers want to stand out and express themselves and use their retail choices to assert their identity. We know consumers are yearning for the discovery model — moving beyond traditional brick and mortar and transactional ecommerce, and it’s exciting for brands because they can truly build engaged relationships with customers at scale.

As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brian Doherty, manager of ad sales at Zulily. Zulily is the online retailer in Seattle that launches a new store every day, with ~100 sales that span thousands of products — all at brag-worthy prices. Brian has over 25 years of experience in helping brands build relationships with customers. He has been at online retailer Zulily since 2014, and currently leads a team that works with both global and boutique brands across the industries of CPG, wellness, travel and more to reach millions of customers. By working with partners to create omnichannel programs that engage, inspire and entertain Zulily’s discovery-driven shoppers, Brian and his empower brands to test new product and scale marketing efforts using technology. Outside of Zulily, Brian enjoys spending time outdoors: you can find him in the Seattle area cycling, fly fishing and playing soccer.


Thank you for joining us! Can you share 5 examples of how retail companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers like to shop?

It’s my belief all retail is moving towards increasingly personalized shopping experiences. From my point of view, there are five key ways retailers are evolving to bring that personalized shopping experience to life:

· The industry will return to a more old-fashioned era of retail when shopkeepers knew customers at the individual level.

Those shopkeepers knew your favorite items and given their expertise of both your taste and the current trends in the market, would make suggestions based on what you liked, and anticipated important milestones for you and your family.

With today’s technology and ability to apply machine learning and data science to any part of the shopping experience — will continue to be the norm. Applying machine learning and data science to all parts of the shopping experience will increase to improve personalization.

· More retailers will move to a “discovery shopping” model.

At Zulily, we’re seeing that more shoppers are open to finding the next best thing they didn’t even know they wanted or needed. Shoppers want to stand out and express themselves and use their retail choices to assert their identity.

We know consumers are yearning for the discovery model — moving beyond traditional brick and mortar and transactional ecommerce, and it’s exciting for brands because they can truly build engaged relationships with customers at scale.

· Retailers will need to deliver more value than ever before, while simultaneously providing an excellent mobile experience.

Consumers, more than ever before, are holding companies to higher bars when it comes to value. At Zulily, we see customers respond positively to incredible deals — but, that doesn’t mean they want a discounted shopping experience. In my work with clients, we see that high-quality content such as mobile-friendly video, quizzes, imagery, etc. that engages and entertains, paired with amazing deals — is an effective way to build relationships with customers.

· There will be opportunity for both legacy and up-and-coming brands to connect with customers via “try at home” programs.

Though more consumers are shopping online, it doesn’t mean they aren’t open to trying things in real life. In fact, sampling programs and other “try at home” experiences where a shopper can comfortably taste, smell, or experience a product from their home can be an incredibly effective and controlled way to build awareness, reduce perceived shopper risk and build trust.

At Zulily, we work with a variety of brands that use sampling to test and try new product and branding to great results — and it’s a tactic that shouldn’t be written off in today’s mobile-shopping-driven world.

· Shoppers will expect their feedback to be addressed immediately.

Ultimately, we work with clients to test and scale their efforts with mobile-savvy customers — all of whom are open to discovering new brands and products.

But, those same customers also expect their feedback to be heard. In fact, we regularly solicit customer feedback quizzes/ surveys from a real-time shopper audience, and brands do incorporate their findings and insights into their product development cycles.

Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I spent many years in media and ultimately advising small and medium-sized businesses on direct response principles so they could acquire and keep customers… when the opportunity to open a media pathway for brands to efficiently reach a highly targeted audience of primary household shoppers came up, I couldn’t say no.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Focused Nimbleness — at Zulily we’re willing to test and scale… but not all tests work the way you’d expect or hope and we’re able to turn on a dime when needed to scale up or down. For example, we worked with a client over several tests of varying size and investment — but, in a year of working together, we found that the one that yielded the best results was the simplest campaign that accomplished two goals: the company had excess inventory it needed to move, and an upcoming rebrand; the sample program was a huge hit among customers. By utilizing that soon-to-be-rebranded product into a sample program, we displayed Focused Nimbleness: the ability to leverage what could be perceived as a setback into an opportunity.

Are you working on any exciting projects now?

We’re always working on something new but in this case, we’re creating more customization and targeting and frankly, I feel we’re carving out a new category in retailer-as-media… to explain, we have very focused traffic (head of household shopping for their family) that visits our site every day. What’s interesting is that they come with little-to-no intent to purchase (because we launch thousands of new products every day, there’s always something new to discover) and because the customer is already in “discovery mode” we’ve found that they are open to not just discovering a new sweater for themselves or something for their children but very open to meeting new brands that aren’t necessarily selling product on our app, whether it’s insurance, travel, home care or grocery items. We work to make sure our advertising partners enhance customers’ visit rather than what traditional advertising can create: distraction and noise.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

I’ve been fortunate in my career that there have been many who’ve helped me along the way, from managers to clients, and one of the things I enjoy about Zulily is that I get the opportunity to work with some quite brilliant people and learn from them, whether they’re teaching me directly or through observing them in action.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

· LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/briantdoherty1/

· Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/zulily

· Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/zulily/

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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About the author:

Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.

Chaya Weiner

Written by

Director of branding & photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator, helping leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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