Marketing Strategies

Brands we love: Zappos

Zappos has always cultivated a “nice guy” reputation in the cutthroat world of retail.1 Started in 1999 by Nick Swinmurn, the company began as “Shoesite,” an online shoe store. Former CEO Tony Hsieh, who tragically passed away last year shortly after retiring from the company, joined early on in the company’s startup days with a vision for building an online retailer that put customer experience at the forefront. From 1999 to 2000, Zappos earned 1.6 million in gross sales. By 2009, Amazon acquired Zappos in an all-stock deal worth 1.2 billion dollars.2 How did a small online shoe store turn itself into a powerful company worthy of over a billion dollars? By centering customer service, creating a healthy company culture, and embracing innovative social media marketing strategies.

1. Creating a customer-centric culture

As an online shoe store, Zappos knew that the customer experience would be different. Unlike buying shoes in a brick-and-mortar location, shoppers could not try the shoes on before purchasing, and the product might not fit the way the customer expected. To address this difference, Zappos offered free shipping and easy returns, as well as loading up on well-trained customer support representatives. While some retailers view returns as a drain on revenue, Zappos built returns into their profit-loss model3, ensuring they could keep customers happy while maintaining a healthy bottom line.

Zappos placed such an emphasis on customer service that all new employees, from secretaries to senior executives, spend six weeks at the company call center. Four weeks at the center are dedicated to training, and the last two weeks are spent answering customer calls. This shows all employees how seriously they take customer service.

Zappos takes the saying, “the customer is always right,” to the extreme. In fact, every single customer service rep is tasked with “WOW”-ing at least one customer a day.4 For example, when a customer was on vacation and wanted an out-of-stock pair of shoes, Zappos bought the shoes from a nearby brick-and-mortar shoe store and had an employee deliver the shoes directly to the customer’s hotel.5 Another exceptional service example went viral when a customer, the best man at a wedding, was left shoeless after a UPS SNAFU. Zappos overnighted another pair of shoes and refunded the customer for causing him to panic.6

2. Prioritizing workforce happiness

Zappos ranked 23rd on the Fortune magazine’s list of “100 Best Companies to Work For” in 2009, 15th in 2010, sixth in 2011, dropping slightly to 11th in 2012. Zappos receives so many applications, the brand only hires 1% of applicants. Employees remain engaged and satisfied with their work environment through frequently socializing, which provides crucial team bonding. In addition to company happy hours, the Zappos team volunteers to give back to the community together.

Zappos also builds personal and professional growth. Supervisors encourage stretch assignments to help employees develop new skillsets and potentially uncover hidden talents. For example, one employee who was empowered to build her public speaking skills eventually became a presenter at conferences. She said her newfound confidence helped her in both her personal and professional life.

3. Using social media to put a ‘human face’ on the company

One of Zappos’ core values is, “Build Open and Honest Relationships with Communication.”7 To do that, the brand encourages employees to maintain an active social media presence. Zappos runs several company accounts on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram (with different Instagram accounts to reflect their customers’ varied interests). For example, there’s a Zappos for kids, a charity account, an athletic account, a company culture page, and one aimed at discussing rights for those who are differently-abled.

Zappos recently added an Instagram account called BAAE (Black Awareness and Empowerment), dedicated to representation, education, leadership, and business development. The Instagram page celebrates the brand’s black employees and shows customers their commitment to social justice.

Natasia Langfelder
Content Marketing Manager

As Content Marketing Manager, Natasia is responsible for helping strategize, produce and execute Data Axle's content. With a passion for writing and an enthusiasm for data management and technology, Natasia creates content that is designed to deliver nuggets of wisdom to help brands and individuals elevate their data governance policies. A native New Yorker, when Natasia is not at work she can be found enjoying New York’s food scene, at one of NYC’s many museums, or at one of the city’s many parks with her two teacup yorkies.