This morning I ordered another pair of Cole Haan Nike Air sandals from Zappos. This is after returning 7 pairs that I ordered and shipped back, with free shipping round trip. It's not that I like to run after my UPS guy or haul boxes to the Post Office; years ago I sprained one of my ankles and subsequently one side of my foot is more swollen on the top. The tops of my feet are also have very sensitive and the skin very thin, so most sandals create a lot of raw, blisters and other problems, rendering wearing most sandals impossible. I also walk a lot, so cushioning is also important. Thanks to Zappos I've found both a Think sandal and this current model and can now "free my feet" when it's very hot out.
I've heard from many of the Zappos customer service people that they are a customer service company that happens to sells shoes. They use this as their tag line as well. Unlike many stores that purport to provide excellent customer service, Zappos actually delivers. I've shopped with them for many, many years. When I first bought shoes from them I seemed to be the only person among my friends that did. Now I often go to my local Jewel and chat about our best shoe deals with one of the employees there, who also walks a lot and stands on her feet. In our little shoe huddles, comfort is queen. She is a new Zappos customer, and enthusiastically raved about their shipping policies and customer service. To me, there is nothing more exciting in the area of customer service and retail than to find other customer evangelists.
I recently came across an article about the CEO of Zappos in a 2006 edition of Inc. Magazine. In three years they attained a growth rate of 948%. Phenomenal you say for a shoe store??? I agree, but even more impressive than their growth is the awareness that CEO Tony Hsieh has of what drives customers to return again and again to a company.
This is the crux of what makes a successful on-line shopping experience:
We all sat around one day talking about what we wanted the Zappos brand to represent. We decided to be about providing the best service; we said, "We're a service company that just happens to sell shoes." But in order for that to happen, we had to control the entire customer experience. We expanded the warehouse to 77,000 square feet and stopped having manufacturers ship directly to customers. It was a scary time--drop shipping was 25 percent of revenue, and we gave it up all at once.
For anyone who hasn't shopped at Zappos, it's a Class One online experience. Their website is easy to navigate, and their search parameters actually return relevant and useful results. As with Amazon.com, there is a way for customers to provide input that others can read and there is also an option to be told when a shoe that is out in the size that you want is back in stock. Because shoe sizes, widths and arch support varies not only from brand to brand but across styles, the customer input facility is a valuable tool in making purchasing decisions. Their photos also provide multiple views of the shoes, which have in the past helped me make decisions to buy or to not buy a particular shoe.
Because of Zappos, I've tried brands that I normally would not have purchased, such as my Cole Haan Nike Air slides. Personally I dislike going into shoe stores. The fumes alone have contributed to me purchasing shoes I needed to later return. With Zappos I can shop from home, wear them all day inside the house to make sure my feet aren't looking or feeling like torture victims, and make a decision based on a "try on time" that is more realistic in approximating actual use. Returns are also done online, and you can easily check to see if your return is recieved and credited, in the event that you haven't received their email notifications. Credits process from their end in a timely manner, no "60-90 day" credit excuses from Zappos, which is not what I can say about many other companies who somehow expect a customer to want to come back to them when they hold onto their money when a refund is due.
CEO Tony Hseih got it right when he said, "We interview people for culture fit. We want people who are passionate about what Zappos is about--service. I don't care if they're passionate about shoes." With online retail, service is where the store atmospherics are created, with each transaction and with each company encounter, whether online or on the phone.