Lori Twomey has spent more than 25 years deeply submersed in the retail industry. As the SVP and Chief Merchant of ecommerce shopping platform Zulily, it’s part of Twomey’s job to launch a new store every day. On top of that, she must ensure these stores constantly deliver value to their shoppers. 2019 marks a decade that Lori Twomey has been with Zulily, and an instrumental force in overseeing the platform’s store launches.
How does she do it? I spoke to Twomey about the secret weapons — which include creative storytelling, her retail background and a focus on building a better customer experience — that allow the platform to keep growing and thriving with shoppers.
Deborah Sweeney: What did your career look like before you joined Zulily in 2009?
Lori Twomey: I studied Fashion Merchandising and Business and held multiple jobs within the retail industry. Most recently before Zulily, I was the President of Charming Direct/Crosstown Traders and spent 16 years with Eddie Bauer in merchandising, product development and new business development. Moving to Tucson and becoming the President of a company made me realize just how much I enjoyed discovering and sharing with the world great new products. It’s amazing what you can accomplish by running incredible merchandising teams!
My career path has led me to what I do today. Being at Zulily is invigorating, inspiring and a new challenge every day — one that I wake up looking forward to. When our cofounder and CEO Darrell Cavens asked me to join the team before the site launched in January 2010, I was thrilled to join the founding team and fuel my passion for retail while building something special and new.
Sweeney: What does it mean to have a “Chief Merchant” job title?
Twomey: For more than 25 years, I’ve been focused on retail from building merchandising, product development and new business development teams, to leading a retail company and driving strategy and new category development. Having broad retail experience leading different functions has enabled me to grow our Zulily team as quickly as we have alongside our customer. We’ve gone from just one original buyer and photographer to a now 500+ buying team and a 350+ creative studio team.
At the core of my role as Chief Merchant is to lead our team to launch a new store every day and ensure they constantly deliver value to our shoppers. From the unique product they browse, to the brag-worthy prices that propel them to purchase and the custom creative that pulls them in to tap and discover something they never knew they needed. Leading our talented Merchandising and Creative Studio teams provides a daily challenge of newness, which is really a highlight for me. Zulily was special from the beginning because it was different than any other retail environment I’ve worked in. When we went live, we believed we were changing the way people shop. We struck a chord, growing quickly to where we are today: reaching millions of customers around the world.
Twomey: Retail has been at an inflection point for the past few years. Industry-wide, we’re continuing to see innovators challenge the traditional models we’ve become accustomed to since the days of solely brick and mortar.
The biggest change I’ve seen in the industry is how mobile has completely changed shopping. Consumers are busy, on-the-go and seeking a fun, accessible shopping platform that can provide the inspiration and entrainment they receive on social media platforms. Our team aims to create a shopping experience that highlights specific products and brands, drawing from the highly visual nature of social platforms through the power of creative storytelling. Customers can immediately see how a product would visually fit into their lifestyle and they feel compelled and inspired to purchase with just a few taps.
Creative storytelling has always been the bedrock of our platform since we’re an ecommerce company. However, in today’s mobile-driven world, we have evolved to work closely across merchandise, marketing and tech teams to create a seamless, entertaining and personalized shopping experience. Together, we’re serving up the right product, on the right channel, with the right message, so current and prospective customers are receiving the most tailored and entertaining experience possible. We launch millions of versions of our site/app daily and thousands of custom ads across a variety of platforms built with our proprietary machine learning personalization models.
Though our heightened investment in mobile directly benefits our customers, our vendor partners benefit as well. They turn to our marketplace as a tool to reach millions of consumers globally, gather and apply actionable real-time sales data, utilize our creative teams to make their brand “pop” on a smaller screen and to learn from our relevant and engaged audience.
Twomey: We’re always looking to improve our shopping experience for both current and prospective customers. As ecommerce evolved and we focus on reaching more shoppers around the world, we wanted to modernize our brand’s look to better serve our customers as we entered the next phase of Zulily’s evolution as a company. With an evolved, refreshed brand – focused on a fun shopping experience – we can tell our story and differentiate ourselves further in the marketplace.
Our brand personality has also evolved along with the breadth and depth of the product we serve up daily. We want to set a tone and tenor where we are playful, energized, confident – and most of all, inclusive. Zulily is all about embodying the “thrill of the find,” where our customers shop a new store every day at brag worthy prices. We have an incredible opportunity in our next phase as a brand to bring to life Zulily’s core specialty. My team of 500+ buyers and 350+ creatives do this every day, by globally sourcing unique and special products, producing in-house custom creative and launching curated sales to our millions of customers, making each brand we feature a “hero for the day” – including apparel from petite to plus, home décor, beauty, consumables, DIY and even pets.
Twomey: Every decision at Zulily is guided by our customer, and it’s helped us foster long relationships with them, as demonstrated by our 92% repeat customer order rate (as of FY18). Our continual customer experience launches, from debuting new brands to our own brand refresh, are how we stay committed to continually building a better customer experience. We are a culture of test and try, and this has been baked into each team’s goals from the very beginning.
Our first-ever brand refresh will allow shoppers to experience our brand in two main ways. First, a new logo. Second, a new color palette. As part of the usual Zulily experience, the team is also working on new customer-facing features that will make Zulily an even more fun place to shop, from easy-to-use sizing charts, a modernized approach to photography and more ways to learn more about the thousands of vendors that sell products from a variety of categories. All of these thoughtful and focused initiatives will allow the work of both our buyers and creatives to pop off the screen, and make our thousands of products, and 15,000+ vendor partners truly shine in an accessible and fun way to our shoppers.
From a merchandising perspective specifically, we will continue to partner with our women’s apparel vendors – something we have done over the past few years – to enhance their size assortments to be inclusive of every body, including exclusive brands just for plus, and extended size runs for women of all shapes and sizes.
Across Merchandising and Marketing, we are continuing to design and tailor our experience to the platform where our customers are shopping most – and for Zulily, this has always been mobile. Therefore, our brand refresh, including a full reskin of our highly-rated app, was methodically designed with mobile shopping in mind since 73% of orders placed on Zulily are via a mobile device (as of Q418).
Sweeney: Refreshed logo and brand under its belt, what’s next on Zulily’s agenda for business growth?
Twomey: 2019 has already been a big year for Zulily! In January we announced our first foray into team sports by engaging in a multi-year contract as the Official Jersey Sponsor for our Western Washington men women’s professional soccer teams: Sounders FC and Reign FC. In February, we revealed our refreshed logo and colors to bring Zulily’s distinct fun shopping personality to life, in a historic first since our brand launched nine years ago.
As a company that delivered $1.8B in revenue in 2018, we will continue to focus on how we partner with our 15,000+ vendor partners to showcase their brands in a way that sparks the customer imagination and compels them to act on a daily basis. We want to create and drive innovative ways to connect with our customers via mobile and video while providing them with meaningful content that resonates and demonstrates value.
We need to challenge ourselves to continue to change the way people shop. I’m excited to see how my incredible team tackles this challenge each day – from the product they source, to the custom creative they produce, to the way we partner with our 3,500 colleagues across the organization – to deliver an exceptional and entertaining customer experience to more shoppers around the world.