Homegrown Tech Drives zulily’s Fulfillment Speed

“Rather than integrating we are innovating,” says Richard Tilley, VP of operations planning & network optimization, Qurate Retail Group.

Every day, online retailer zulily aims to create engaging shopping experiences by launching more than 9,000 styles through approximately 100 new sales, while holding minimal inventory. In order to offer customers unique items, zulily works with more than 15,000 vendors to curate a diverse selection of products, ranging from apparel to home to beauty to CPGs.

“This unique model allows us to be nimble while at scale: constantly testing and trying new things to deliver a great customer experience,” says Richard Tilley, VP of operations planning & network optimization, Qurate Retail Group, which consists of eight retail brands, including HSN, QVC, and zulily. 

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Because of this, operational efficiency and automation in zulily’s fulfillment centers is a key factor in its strategy and decision making.  To continually sustain and grow zulily’s $1.6B-plus business, the retailer has developed a home-grown data and tech-powered supply chain and fulfillment network, including its own warehouse management software (WMS).  

“Every software tool used by fulfillment center associates, from receiving to stowing, picking to packing, are all applications the zulily tech team has written, with real-time insights from our fulfillment team,” says Tilley. 
“Our technology stack provides for a rapid cadence of improvement and collaboration.”

Since the applications are written by the zulily team, the company can alter or update them within moments to flex with business needs. 

“Overall, having more control and a constant feedback loop between our fulfillment and technology teams allows our fulfillment team to be more effective and efficient in their jobs,” says Tilley. 

In 2017, for example, there were more than 2,000 deployments of zulily’s WMS. 

“While this may be normal for any technology company, it’s extremely unique for the world of supply chain and fulfillment,” says Tilley. “Rather than integrating we are innovating.

“Creating and continuously improving proprietary software could be seen as a challenge given the time and investment the practice can take; however, it was the right thing to do to ensure consistency and a great experience.” 

Another way zulily is different, from a shipping perspective, is that it is able to cross-dock, making shipping decisions at point of ship versus point of order for both inbound and outbound packages, explains Tilley.

This is a benefit to operations and speed of delivery. For example, once a shopper places an order, in 25-30 minutes zulily can have it ready to ship out directly to the customer.

“This makes us unique, flexible and dynamic in our delivery methods compared to other traditional retailers, who are structured around point of order. As we are receiving product from our vendors, if we have customers who ordered a single unit of product, instead of stowing those units in inventory and then later picking them to be packaged, we will send the units directly to our shipping area and pack them for shipment to our customers. By cross-docking product directly to our outbound shipping area we reduce the handling in our fulfillment center and get the product to our customers faster.” 

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