Spotify this: How Zulily targets shoppers with hyper-personalized offers

The online retailer turns squads of developers, data scientists and product managers loose to build machine learning software and other critical business capabilities.

mobile shopping personalization / personal data
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Zulily has run surprise sales of clothing and merchandise since 2010, boldly operating in the shadow of Amazon.com. While most retailers fear the ecommerce kraken, whose tentacles seemingly know no bounds, Zulily consistently lures consumers with tailored offers generated by machine learning (ML) software.   

Zulily CIO Luke Friang says the keys to successful hyper-personalization include a collaborative development model, which emphasizes building software in feature-focused squads, and a just-in-time supply chain. Zulily takes its inspiration from Spotify's squad model of agile development.

Meet the squad mod

Although not technically an enterprise agile framework, the Spotify model leverages many of the best practices of one: self-organizing, cross-functional, and co-located squads working closely to build business capabilities.

The Spotify model is an alternative to the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) embraced by many large companies. Some companies implement a hybrid framework model of SAFe and Spotify or other alternatives, according to Gartner, which says that one-third of large organizations will use multiple frameworks for scaling agile by 2022.

Luke Friang, CIO, Zulily Zulily

Zulily CIO Luke Friang

At Zulily, squads are organized by functions that include data scientists, ML engineers, iOS and Android developers and product managers. There are Zulily squads for marketing, which drive mobile push notifications, email and ads; website browsing, including the "front page" of the app and reviews; purchasing for payments; and backend, which handle site reliability engineering, DevOps and other tasks, Friang says.

The supply chain squad ensures goods make their way to the customer, a unique challenge for a company that, owing to a minimal inventory business model, prides itself on executing quickly as sales are processed.

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