Flexing their industry knowledge and research abilities to engage and inspire online customers, students in WSU’s Department of Apparel, Merchandising, Design, and Textiles faced real-world challenges with retailer Zulily this spring.
In AMDT’s annual capstone showcase, six teams of senior merchandising students competed to pitch winning ideas that draw customers to new shopping experiences launched by the Seattle-based online retailer. Growing skills in communication and creativity over the semester, students set out to deliver novel experiences that fuse technology like big data and AI with social conversations, influencers, and exclusive deals.
“We worked together and talked with the company while networking and pitching our ideas,” said Madi McKim, member of the first prize-winning team. “You learn what works and what doesn’t.”
Judging each entry, Zulily company representatives offered their comments and critiques to the students during virtual presentations held at the end of WSU’s spring 2023 semester.
“Students who come through our capstone course gain a stronger understanding of how their acquired knowledge is applied in a real industry setting,” said Jihyeong Son, assistant professor and course instructor. “For success, they need to demonstrate the practicality of their idea for Zulily’s objectives and take market dynamics and company resources into consideration. The experience is highly beneficial in preparing them for professional work.”
“Zulily and Me,” a big data-informed online forum where shoppers could share their experiences with friends and peers, won first prize for teammates Angelique Attalah, Katie Franz, Kasey Jennings, Hector Lopez-Sanchez, McKim, and Layne Padelford. The concept revamped the company’s forum spaces to foster increased interaction among consumers, connecting them through shared interests, and encouraging their exploration of everyday and exclusive deals, and virtual brands.
In second place, Estella Darrow, Caitlin Dillow, Ava Rambo, Maggie Rash, Sophia Sadis, and Rachel Terriff envisioned the Zulily Launch Pad, a personalized storefront that incorporates several shopping experiences while linking to TikTok creators. In third place, seniors Sammie Box, Alyssa Brenden, Ryan Duong, Jody Kennedy, Chloe Kourtis, Kelsey McGowen, and Hunter Schueller presented their idea, “Uniquely Zu,” exploring a questionnaire, optional profile creation, and discount incentive for participating consumers.
Voted by all students in the class, Olivia Lewis, Weronika Wojdyla, Morgan Narby, Maddie Scanlan, Sara Waiprakone, Darien Rivera, Ally Steigmann won the Peer Choice Award. Their concept, “A Face for Zulily: Offline Exposure,” envisioned a pop-up shop and influencer spokesperson to connect with consumers, test new markets and products, and create community.
First place team members won $50 gift cards; second place won $30. Third and people’s choice teams won bragging rights.
Zulily mentors included several AMDT graduate and undergraduate alumni, among them product manager Lauren Dalton, buyer Jessica Görbitz, and assistant buyers Rebecca Anderson and Jessica Ganak, who launched the case study, offered virtual office hours, and helped judge entries.
Through their winning entries, students revealed their grasp of how search engine optimization can improve customer service, how big data can gain insights into customer behavior, and how effective use of social media grows engagement and sales, Son said.
“They showed that they possess a broad understanding of omni-channel retailing and integration of technology such as artificial intelligence, which together provide a seamless experience for both retailers and consumers,” she said. “I’m proud of how they’ve worked together to highlight what they’ve learned and what they can do.”