As of two weeks ago I had never ordered anything from Zappos.com; shoe sizes can vary so widely from brand and brand and with one of my feet half a size bigger than the other, even the promise of free shipping both ways wasn’t enough to tempt me.
But then I encountered my first rainy day in New York, which of course caught me unawares on my way home from work (re: NYC precipitation, as a rule of thumb, the day I take my umbrella out of my purse is the day it will waterfall from the sky).
Realizing I needed rainboots, I decided to give Zappos a shot. I figured out of the universe of footwear, rainboots are pretty accommodating of selection error as they don’t have to fit perfectly to serve their purpose (I had tolerated four years of clunky Target rainboots after all).
So I perused customer reviews and watched videos of Zappos models Amanda and April highlighting the main features of each boot, eventually settling on the Kamik Heidi in black.
Fast forward a few days: They came, they fit, happy Lulu.
Fast forward a few more days: My favorite pair of flip-flops, Turkish Havianas that were a present from a friend’s trip to Brazil, broke. At first I thought my only option would be to order them directly from the Havianas website, so I was glad to find that Zappos also carried them.
Minutes after submitting my order I received this wonderful little email:
When the Havianas arrived, I noticed a line on my receipt that read “Packed with care by: Dwayne P.” A small touch, but it helped me conjure an image of the fulfillment employee who had put together my order. I counted myself a converted customer.
Funnily enough, the topic of Zappos came up during training a few days later. For our final project we had to conduct a valuation of Netflix; one of the analyses we ran looked at the economics of a potential acquisition of Netflix by Amazon.
During the project debriefing, a VP from the Menlo Park office recommended that we watch this video to get a sense for Amazon’s acquisition philosophy. Jeff Bezos’ speech to Zappos employees, whom Amazon had just acquired, is insightful, inspiring, and peppered with amusing anecdotes from the early days of Amazon’s founding.
Near the end of his talk, Bezos hones in on what he sees as the source of the natural compatibility between the two companies: their shared obsession over making sure the customer experience is always improving.
I’ve personally felt the benefits of Zappos’ customer-centric strategy. And above and beyond a business model that delivers convenience, value, and huge product selection, Amazon is well-known for its outstanding customer service.
As just one example of many, a friend of mine once called in to report that she hadn’t received an order of textbooks totaling almost $400. Amazon immediately reshipped the books to her for free even though it turned out the original shipment was simply delayed and ended up arriving two days later.
In the midst of recent attention lavished on tech darlings like LinkedIn and Groupon, it can be easy to forget that large, unaddressed inefficiencies still abound in traditional markets like retail, health care, and energy.
Amazon and Zappos are not flashy businesses. Their success stems from an unrelenting focus on the customer’s perspective that drives every decision, big or small. It’s a cultural philosophy companies of all stripes would be smart to emulate.