For Business

Merchant spotlight: ZUGU

An iPad case pioneer taps the power of reviews to improve its products and grow its brand.

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In 2010, Tim Angel sold everything he owned and headed to China to place his bets on an idea for a functional, yet aesthetically pleasing, iPad cover—the first “smart case” in a new industry at the time. Despite launching in tandem with the first-generation iPad, selling through resellers in an unfamiliar market nearly sent ZUGU into bankruptcy. But a strategic pivot to sell on helped the company bounce back in 2013. The shift in strategy was so successful that, by 2020, the company surpassed 1 million cases sold and 75,000 Amazon Reviews.

In the past few years, however, the team has focused more on building a brand beyond Amazon, creating content and investing in advertising to help boost traffic and conversions. As part of this shift, ZUGU added Buy with Prime to many of its top-selling products and activated Reviews from Amazon to give Prime members both the shopping experience and the social proof that they expect. Since launching Buy with Prime in January 2023, ZUGU has sold more than 2,300 cases through this checkout option, representing 25% of total website sales.

A unique business case

Prior to selling everything and flying to China, Tim was actually fired from his job and suddenly found himself in a position of deciding what to do next with his life. Coming from an entrepreneurial blood line, Tim always wanted to start his own business. At the time, Apple had just announced the release of the first iPad and he saw an opportunity in the iPad accessories market, which was nonexistent beyond the standard charger and a simple case Apple provided.

He sold everything he owned and, with $5,000 to his name, bought a one-way flight to China “to bring this product to life” he says. He didn’t have a plan, just an idea. “I bought a plane ticket and was going to figure it out.” Tim contacted and visited several factories before eventually finding one that was a good fit. They kicked off production, and then he headed back to the US to start spreading the word.

Despite having a manufacturer onboard and the first shipment of cases arriving just a couple of months later, Tim had a hard time selling his idea to investors and resellers because he was an early arrival to a new industry. In fact, excluding the $70,000 that his best friend’s dad lent him and a few AAA loans—all of which were promptly paid back—ZUGU has never had any investors. From the beginning, Tim has strived to keep costs down by maintaining a lean team and tapping opportunities to outsource.

Exactly one year after the original idea was born, ZUGU debuted at its first tradeshow, Macworld, where it secured the unofficial title as the first “smart case.” It wasn’t until 2013 that Apple released its Smart Cover.

As Apple was just entering the smart case market that year, ZUGU was making a major pivot to avoid bankruptcy as a result of selling through resellers—most of which then resold the cases on “We decided to change our entire approach and go directly to Amazon ourselves,” Tim explains. “We started growing slowly on the marketplace and continued to improve the product based on customer reviews on Amazon. After a few years, we got to an average five-star rating, and then we were able to scale the business up bigger with advertising.”

By 2020, ZUGU had sold more than 1 million cases and its customers had shared more than 75,000 five-star Amazon Reviews.

Expanding beyond

Despite the massive success the company was seeing on, Tim wanted to grow the brand beyond Amazon, on its own ecommerce site. “We focused on Amazon for so long that we were only ‘famous’ on Amazon,” Tim says, “so we’ve been trying to expand on our own website for the past few years and really focus on growing our brand recognition off of Amazon.”

ZUGU continues to invest in advertising to drive shoppers to its ecommerce site, but Tim admits that it has been difficult to track whether ZUGU’s advertising dollars off of Amazon have been effective.

In early 2023, ZUGU added Buy with Prime as a checkout option for some of its cases, allowing Prime members to use their Prime shopping benefits directly on the brand’s site. Now that Prime members can get fast, free delivery and easy returns on, Tim has an easier time justifying the advertising spend off of Amazon because when people make a purchase on the company website using Buy with Prime its trackable.

After launching Buy with Prime, orders started coming through right away and ZUGU surpassed 1,000 Buy with Prime orders within the first few months. Buy with Prime orders now represent about 25% of total site orders.

Conscious of the customer base ZUGU has built on and how much Prime members love the Prime shopping experience, “we’re striving to give our shoppers a similar experience when they shop on our site using Buy with Prime,” Tim says. “So it doesn’t get any better than this—the ability to offer fast, free delivery while still expanding our brand’s community [beyond Amazon] is truly the best of both worlds.”


The power of reviews

In addition to adding Buy with Prime to 100% of its products, ZUGU has also activated Reviews from Amazon on those products, which lets the brand tap into the volume and authenticity of customer reviews from its product listings on Shoppers can see reviews of ZUGU cases from Amazon directly on the brand site’s product pages, providing the social proof that shoppers seek and helping boost brand credibility.

Research has shown that the simple existence of reviews on product pages makes a difference. In fact, research from Northwestern University found that the purchase likelihood for a product with five reviews is 270% greater than the purchase likelihood of a product with no reviews.

Although Reviews from Amazon has only been active on ZUGU’s Buy with Prime products for a few months, the team is no stranger to the power of authentic customer reviews. They’ve depended on customer feedback from the very beginning to continue improving ZUGU’s cases and give customers what they want.

“We’ve always been focused on constantly improving the product, but customer reviews help us improve even more,” Tim says, acknowledging the cyclical nature of reviews. “As we strive to improve our products, a lot of times it squeezes our margins. So we may be making less profit, but we’re ultimately making the customer happy. That’s really what we’re focused on, and I believe that’s the way to maintain a five-star average rating.”

Today, ZUGU has sold more than 2 million cases and has more than 87% five-star reviews on—that its shoppers can now read directly on its ecommerce site for products that offer Buy with Prime.

Building a brand for the future

It’s too early to know how Buy with Prime will impact ZUGU’s goals of boosting ecommerce site traffic and conversions, but Tim and the team are excited about being able to focus on building the brand beyond while giving Prime members the shopping experience they love.

“Amazon is big for us, but we’re not a household name yet, so right now we’re focused on the branding and name recognition on channels outside of Amazon,” Tim says. “We’re trying to create a lot of content to spread the word, using social media, email, and ads, to help raise brand awareness. When someone thinks of iPad accessories, we want them to immediately think ‘ZUGU is where I need to go’.”

Learn more about Buy with Prime and Reviews from Amazon.

Lindsay Holloway