The competition in e-commerce has become fiercer as the pandemic drives shoppers online. At the same time, customers have grown to expect better experiences. According to help desk software vendor HiverHQ, 32% of consumers want customer service to be both more responsive and empathetic. Being a service software vendor, HiverHQ isn't exactly a neutral party, but it's one data point among many that operations -- particularly customer retention -- are more difficult now compared to the start of the pandemic.
To address the challenge, Svetlana Hollerer, Markus Linder and Martin Schliefnig co-founded Zoovu, a platform for managing "product discovery" experiences across digital channels like apps and websites. Zoovu aims to help increase the visibility of brands online by offering insights into buyer behavior, product performance and current trends. Zoovu also structures product content and enriches it with "conversational language" to power search engines, product configurators, "assistants" and more.
"Our AI platform helps people discover information online to make better decisions so businesses can improve sales and increase long-term customer satisfaction," CEO Rob Mullen said. "Zoovu aligns the deep insights and quantifiable results that it provides to its customer base to the operational objectives of an enterprise."
Zoovu was founded two years before the pandemic began, in 2018. But Mullen argues that the platform in many ways anticipated the digital transformations countless companies have undergone starting in 2020. "Now that consumers are more comfortable than ever shopping online, their expectations are that the e-commerce experience should be as good or better than the traditional in-store experience," he told TechCrunch in an email interview. "Buyers are also embracing self-service, so businesses need to ensure they provide the right tools to help customers effectively find products they need to ultimately close sales."
A product configuration tool created using Zoovu's product suite. Image Credits: Zoovu
One of Zoovu's tools normalizes inconsistent and incomplete product data, drawing on an algorithm trained on a data set of 17,000 product categories and more than 50,000 product features. Another tool enables clients to build, design, deploy and manage assistants, search engines, product recommenders and product configurators.
Zoovu powers the Microsoft Surface configurator on the Microsoft Store as well as a "gift assistant" on the Nespresso website that helps shoppers find a machine, accessories, pods or even a combination of the three. Another Zoovu customer, DirecTV, used the platform to create a tool for putting together cable and internet bundles.
Beyond underpinning customers flows, Zoovu can track and analyze interaction patterns on websites, helping visualize how buyers engage and encounter friction points. Using this information, the platform can automatically adjust different flows, including configurators, in real time to optimize for conversions and other business objectives.
"A data-driven executive can track and analyze the impact that Zoovu’s product has on metrics like sales, conversion rate, insight on search terms, average order value, pricing preferences, cart abandonment and returns. These metrics increase operational efficiency through automated enrichment and Zoovu’s learning algorithms, which reduces manual effort, enhances marketing and SEO strategies, and influences," Mullen said.
Zoovu competes on many different fronts, but the company sees Coveo, Lucidworks and Algolia as its chief rivals. Algolia, which offers a "search-as-a-service" product, last July raised $150 million at a $2.25 billion post-money valuation. Coveo and Lucidworks have similarly raised tens of millions to expand their AI-based enterprise search and personalization solutions.
Zoovu also goes head to head with startups like Constructor and Klevu in the growing marketing and merchandising automation market. Klevu applies AI to help e-commerce merchants deliver search experiences powered by customers’ behaviors. Similarly, Constructor’s AI-powered software aims to address the challenges with discovery tools including search, autosuggest, browse, recommendations and collections by aggregating data and learning from shoppers’ search queries.
Gartner predicted that at least 60% of organizations would start using AI for digital commerce by 2020. Not every company is so eager, however. RMG reports that 12% of senior merchants have “no plans” to adopt AI as of 2021 due to a lack of expertise to manage a pilot, high costs, unorganized data and a lack of understanding about the benefits of AI.
KitchenAid used Zoovu to create a configuration tool on its website. Image Credits: KitchenAid
But Zoovu received a huge vote of confidence today with the closure of a $169 million funding round led by FTV Capital, which brings the company's total raised to more than $200 million. While Mullen demurred when asked about revenue, he said that Zoovu saw 85% growth in 2020 followed by 70% growth in 2021.
Zoovu now has over 2,500 customers and that over 10 million people interact with the platform daily. It's generating over $25 billion in annual sales for its customers, Mullen claims.
"Zoovu continued to see growth during the pandemic and brought on big customers, such as GE and BSH, as consumers and buyers turned to online purchasing. We also expanded into the business-to-business space with our assistants guiding decision-making and discovery online," Mullen said. "Efficiency and margin improvement is always top of mind for every organization -- that will never go away no matter the market environment. Zoovu remains relevant through slowdowns or periods of downturn because it looks to improve cost and productivity for companies and their partners and customers through AI, in turn, driving strong return on investment and improving the bottom line."
With the new cash, Zoovu plans to build out its go-to-market strategy and team while bolstering product development efforts. Boston-based Zoovu -- which has offices in London and Berlin -- currently employs 210 people.