Zulily: Amazing Customer Service or Brilliant Publicity Stunt?

Discount online retailer Zulily is making waves for what appears to be either an amazing customer service move or a brilliant publicity stunt.

Customer Kelly Blue Kinkel ordered a new winter coat from Zulily several weeks ago, but when she attempted to return it, she discovered the company has a no-refund policy (only store credit). Lucky for her though, the customer service representative she spoke to told her he would bend the rules and refund her money. The twist? He asked her to donate her coat to charity instead of shipping it back.

Related: Top 5 customer service marketing campaigns of 2015

Naturally, the Internet has gone gaga over this story with heartfelt responses to Kinkel’s Facebook post about her experience saying things like “Wow!! Never heard anything like that!!! So inspiring!!!” Yup, her post has reeled in over 75,000 likes to date. And Zulily has received coverage from several major media outlets.


The bigger question about this cute story is whether we should praise Zulily’s customer service team for their kind behavior or their PR marketing team for a well-planned stunt? Or both? Either way, it appears Zulily is onto something.

We know based on numerous surveys that one happy customer on average tells nine other people about their experience. And that for every unhappy customer there are 26 customers who are equally dissatisfied and don’t voice their concerns. Those stats might explain why a five percent increase in a business’s customer retention rate can lead to a 95 percent increase in profits.

And when it comes to customer support, displaying empathy has proven to be more important than being speedy.


This all goes to show that Zulily’s customer satisfaction strategy has been meticulously crafted to guarantee happy customers will return, and consequently, share their company experiences on social media.

But is Zulily’s story going viral representative of amazing marketing or stellar customer service?

Related: 3 customer service tips to turn return customers into repeat customers

The truth is the line between customer service and marketing is becoming thinner as more people engage publicly with companies on social media. What one might assume is a private conversation between a customer service representative and customer, may no longer hold true. As customers are ecstatic or enraged by their company experiences, they make them public on social media allowing the whole world to weight in, and in Zulily’s case, the company gets international media coverage.

Yet the same company exposure holds true if it’s a bad customer experience. For example, last summer a United Airline’s passenger had his guitar broken during a flight and went on to write a YouTube song called “United Breaks Guitars”. That video was smashingly popular, garnering over 15 million views depicting United Airlines as a company that does not care about people’s belongings.

Moral of the story? Act like every customer service interaction is much bigger than a one-on-one conversation, and instead an opportunity to communicate to a much larger audience.

Shereen Dindar
Shereen Dindar was a Content Manager at QuickTapSurvey in 2015 and 2016. Have a story idea? Email us at marketing@quicktapsurvey.com