Zappos has had no shortage of coverage these days, and I just found out why.
An e-commerce website that launched in 1999 with next to no sales. This year they are projected to do over 1 billion in sales. Any e-commerce site owner simply needs to take a look at the company to see how its done.
Personally I *hate* shopping for shoes. Mostly becuase I tend to wear a pair of Converse till they are literally falling apart. This is when they are at their prime actually, like the fillet minion of foot comfort. Having to find and break in a new pair is always a pain. I also wear a size 12, (crude jokes allowed in the comments below :P) so it can be difficult to even find shoes in stock.
So after hearing so much about these guys I finally gave it a shot last week. The ordering process was beyond simple, within minutes I was done. Two nice new pairs of chucks on the way. All the emails received from the web site are helpful and personal in nature.
Since the company is very social media savvy they have a presence on several services including Twitter. Here they have 4000 followers, or friends, I mean customers, or maybe fans? Honestly in this case it can be hard to tell. Regardless I’m now one of them, there I can make a direct connection with the staff and even Tony Hsieh, the companies CEO. I thanked them with an @ message and received a direct message reply from Tony himself. To consumers who are used to dealing with huge faceless companies, this is huge.
Shortly after that I received an email notice that my order was upgraded to faster overnight shipping (at no charge). The email was amazingly well crafted in this case too. I’m not sure if this was because of my contact with them on Twitter or just something they do for new customers. Ether way, an incredibly unique way to reward customers.
Now I really wanted to get my hands on the order. As it turns out UPS dropped the ball and mis routed the package for some reason. I complained on Twitter, not so much at Zappos but UPS. Again I get an email from the company apologizing the delay and including a coupon for my next order. Here was an issue, by no means their fault and they went out of their way to right it. Really just amazing.
Other Completely Crazy Things Zappos Does
- Free Shipping Both Ways: Online shoppers are notorious for what is called “abandoned shopping carts”. This is when they add items to their cart but sometime during the checkout process they leave the site. Often this occurs at the order summary when shipping and taxes are shown. Offering free shipping is tough to do in some cases but a great gimmick to keep customers coming back.
- 365 Day Return Policy: Almost unheard of in the retail business, especially online retail. With free shipping on returns within a year this alleviates customers fear of not liking the fit/style. I imagine even if the customer is unhappy with the product, few actually go through the return process. People are busy and lazy, however having that reassurance they could return them is very valuable.
- Loyalty Business Model: Their level of service and customer engagement creates evangelists. Even in the Twitter echo chamber this is highly effective. I hate to coin it but lets call it “Scobles Law”. Get the right people to talk about your product and it can reach thousands more. In my case I’ll tell 5-10 people in my close online and offline circle. Based on common marketing returns about 1-2 of those people will actually make a purchase on the site. Word of mouth marketing done very well. Some people might even write an “over the top” praising via blog post. :)
Customers Are the Worst Part of Any Business
Ok thats being a little dramatic, but its not completely untrue. Customers, clients, prospects they really can be a huge pain the ass. They are difficult to work, even harder to please and sometimes just out right unreasonable. You either don’t have not enough of them or wayyyy too many to deal with. I’ve run a e-commerce site for a few years so I have some experience with these types of customers. We have about 5-10 orders per day and 100K in annual sales. Even on a smaller scale the customers can make it hell sometimes. Dealing with them positively and going out of your way every time isn’t easy. Thankfully my wife has taken over that part of the business because I just didn’t have the time or patience for it. Handling that customer relationship from start to finish is probably one of the most important pieces of successful e-commerce sites.
So as a happy and new shovangelist my work here is done. I encourage you to give them a try yourself and share your thoughts below in the comments.