Brand Spotlight: Zappos

in Branding | by David Capece

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By Tara Lane, Staff Writer

From large, multi-national companies to small mom-and-pop stores, there is a brand for virtually any kind of business and product. As the number of brands continues to grow each day, it is becoming more important than ever to find a way to stand out. Those brands that do manage to stand out among the crowd are brands we feel should be recognized.

Zappos is a unique brand among online retailers. Taking advantage of the Internet boom in the late 90s, Zappos got off the ground during the favorable conditions of the last Internet boom, managed through the subsequent crash, and has come out on top despite competition that has come and gone. After a recent acquisition by Amazon, they handled the transition with their employees and customers gracefully, and have still maintained their reputation. They’ve gained success through their company mission—to provide the best customer service possible. We’ve asked Sparxoo’s dynamic duo Creo the Creative and Ana the Analyst, along with their new friend Connie the Consumer, to share their perspective and help us highlight Zappos.com, the largest online shoe and accessories retailer, for our brand spotlight.

Creo’s views on innovation, customer insight and communications really draw him to Zappos, and Ana is surprisingly on his side after crunching her numbers. Connie pipes in as an everyday consumer and happy Zappos customer to provide her views on the company. The Internet has provided a way to bring us what we want, when we want it, and Zappos is making that easier than ever.

Creo the Creative: The media certainly has a love affair with Zappos. In particular, Zappos gets well-deserved credit for their corporate headquarters, which is well documented on blogs and news stories. They encourage a creative culture and have a whole lot of fun in the process! Brandweek.com reports that Zappos’ core values are to “create fun and a little weirdness” and “be adventurous, creative and open-minded.” I think those values really appeal to the customer as well, and also knowing that the people behind the business are fun keeps them returning again and again.

Ana the Analyst: I agree, Creo. Zappos’ founder and chairman, Nick Swinmurn, reported that 60 percent of their customers are repeat buyers, and an additional 25 percent of customers come from word-of-mouth advertising from family and friends. They must be doing something right! Those people wouldn’t keep coming back if they didn’t like it the first time, and others wouldn’t recommend Zappos if they had a bad experience.

Connie the Consumer: As a frequent Zappos customer, I really feel taken care of when I order from them, which is why I will order shoes online even though I can just go to a local shoe store instead. I’ve called customer service before, and the people I’ve spoken to are just great. The CEO says that they promote openness and honesty with customers as a way to build trust, and it really shows. The free shipping is such a plus, too. If the shoes don’t fit, I can send them back for free as well.

Ana: I’m really surprised at how they can offer free shipping without losing money, but it seems to be working for them. Zappos has been experiencing continued growth, with a reported $1 billion in sales for 2008. They even make it work without spending a lot of money on advertising, marketing and customer acquisition. I think a lot of other companies could learn from their business model.

Creo: I’m impressed by Zappos’ handle on social media and how they connect with their customers. The CEO is always on Twitter, responding to customers and truly interacting with them. In fact, he’s approaching 1.3 million followers on the service. They’ve added a Twitter feed to their Web site to follow conversations, and also have a presence on Facebook where they connect with more than 20,000 fans and show what life is like at their headquarters. In addition, the company maintains 13 fun and refreshing blogs. They really have a handle on social media and customer communication, aside from their top-notch customer service model.

Connie: There are so many online shoe retailers, but I’m always drawn to Zappos.com because they really provide everything I need, and they make it easy to find and decide on what I want. Unlike other shoe retailers, they have customer reviews for each shoe and product, so I can see others’ experiences instead of just making my decision blindly. I like to discover new options…and if I’m pleasantly surprised, I’m likely to go back again. It’s more fun than just going to the same retailer over-and-over again.

Ana: They’ve also made the brand accessible to both Gen X and Gen Y, with an easy-to-use site and added extras where they need them. They have such a wide selection that its virtually impossible to not find what you’re looking for. It’s no wonder why they have such a high customer retention rate.

Creo: Zappos has really figured out how to transfer the energy of their business to their customers in a really unique way. I’ve been to other online retailers and haven’t had the same experience that I’ve had with Zappos. I’ll definitely be shopping with them again soon.

To see what goes on at the Zappos.com corporate headquarters, and to read more about their company philosophies and customer service, check out their blog, YouTube channel, Facebook, or Twitter.