How Zulily Balances Friction And Security To Make eCommerce Sticky

Customers are known for craving engaging, seamless online shopping, but merchants are rarely — if ever — able to provide fully frictionless experiences, especially if they want to simultaneously keep out fraudsters. The measures merchants impose to verify customers and detect bad actors can often force legitimate users to go through more steps before they can check out. Retailers therefore have to determine the number of speed bumps their customers are willing to put up with as well as the special features they can offer to encourage shoppers to overlook these minor inconveniences. 

Mom-focused eCommerce site Zulily, which offers clothing, toys, footwear and home goods, puts a friction point at the beginning of the customer relationship that the brand believes can help with both marketing and security. Customers are required to sign up for free membership accounts before they can browse individual products, explained Kiran Akkineni, chief marketing officer and senior vice president of marketing for Zulily. 

“[Having] sign-in so early in the experience is a friction that may be different from what a lot of customers are used to,” Akkineni said in a recent PYMNTS interview. 

This approach may seem counterintuitive, but Akkineni explained that it allows the eTailer to gather personalized customer insights from the start that help boost shopper engagement and improve security. 

Fighting fraud 

Zulily’s business model focuses on promoting products through different daily sales. The company prompts first-time site visitors to create accounts before they are able to browse specific items, which enables the eTailer to start learning which kinds of products interest each shopper, Akkineni said. The decision to require sign-ups from the get-go was largely a customer engagement and marketing one, but the choice may allow for tighter security capabilities as well. This approach accelerates the time normally required for a brand to compile a robust customer profile, and an eTailer that has deep knowledge about customers’ typical behaviors is better equipped to investigate suspected account takeovers (ATOs) by comparing recent activities against normal patterns. 

“We collect your email right at the very beginning. That allows us to get a more longitudinal view of you as a customer and allows us to learn very quickly what’s more interesting to you,” Akkineni said. “If we suspect a risk, we have a lot more longitudinal data that we can look at to use in an investigation for our customers. We’re interested to know, ‘Hey, look, this is generally how someone may be visiting the site, via frequency, via email [and] where they’re visiting from,’ so on and so forth. That is something that can be used [in security efforts], depending on the specific issue or the resolution.” 

eCommerce businesses must also constantly monitor for threats and should have well-staffed teams that can reach out to customers to alert them of any potential problems, Akkineni said. 

“We keep some fairly secure monitoring services in place so that we are aware of things that seem off at a slightly more macro lens,” he said. 

Security is often not a solo act either, and many eTailers like Zulily rely on trusted third parties to help them verify payments and perform other related tasks.

Making shopping sticky 

Shoppers will not flock to sites solely on the merits of eTailers’ security, however. Consumers also demand interesting and convenient shopping. Encouraging customers to put up with frictions means making the overall experience worthwhile. Zulily tackles this and encourages sign-ups by letting website visitors have a glimpse of the kinds of brands and deals that are available, even if they must onboard to be able to view individual products. The company also creates product selections that are relevant to its target audience to win strong interest. 

Customers who decide to provide their emails may also be easier to retain. The retailer can reach out to these consumers with emailed prompts suggesting they complete their purchases, should they put items into their carts but ultimately not check out, for example. 

“Although there’s a friction of sign-in, we can then manage that relationship in a much more longitudinal manner than other sites where, if [customers] abandon carts, you’re out of luck [and] you don’t have any way to get back in touch with them,” Akkineni said. 

Consumers’ demand for eCommerce has been skyrocketing during the pandemic as they spend more time at home, and merchants seeking to stand out from the crowd need to provide the convenience and safety that customers expect. Strategies that prepare businesses to more quickly detect potential fraud and provide more personalized shopping and security may prove key to winning sales and keeping customers coming back. 

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