It looks like any other e-commerce site. Images of products roll over on the first page. The sections – shoes, clothing, housewares, what’s new?, women’s, men’s, etc. – will take you to collections of products that can be stuffed in an online shopping cart with the click of a button.
But what’s hiding under the Blogs button at the top of the page is a company that uses social media extensively and has reaped its benefits for years.
Founded in 1999 and now purchased in 2009 by Amazon.com for more than $1.2 billion, Zappos pulled in $1 billion in revenue that same year. The online shoe and apparel shop that recently made a deal to take over the city hall of Las Vegas as its headquarters relies heavily on repeat customers and word of mouth for its marketers. And repeat they do: 75% of the site’s customers have previously bought from the site. The company very clearly sees digital media as an integral part toward making that repeat experience happen.
While the number of people who “like” Zappos on Facebook more than 131,000) pales in comparison to the more than 1.8 million people who follow Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh on Twitter, the company uses Facebook wisely to heavily engage its customers.
On the site’s opening page is an image of the Fan of the Week along with a row of smaller images of previous fans of the week along with models wearing Zappos products.
The company’s Facebook Wall features everything from shout-outs to great customer-service experiences and queries about the odd recommendations the site is giving a customer to a gush about the Zappos Rideshop, another Facebook offering for surfers and skateboarders to purchase gear. Consumers are clearly engaged because many items on the site’s Wall feature numerous comments from around the globe.
The site also engages customers with a free photostream from Flickr. To provide unity to the images, each photo features a sticker that’s been passed along from Zappos.
Also, the site was giving away five pairs of free KangaROOs each week in June. The shoes, produced initially in 1979 and through the ‘80s are well known for the little pocket on each shoe that could fit a key or some change, are exclusively sold online by Zappos.
As for Twitter, the company has 494 of its employees tweeting, but the most important one is CEO Tony Hsieh’s. He’s got more than 1.8 million followers who find consistent messages from him saying such things as a quote from Anne Frank ("How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world"), an invitation to a livestreaming of a Zappos quarterly company meeting, or a link to a New York Times story about Boston suburbanites being asked how happy they are by census takers. You never know what you’ll find, which is the beauty of Twitter itself (as well as a shopping trip to Zappos).
Another online adventure Zappos invests some time and money into is Web TV. On the company’s blog page, which features links to numerous subject-matter-related blogs as well as a blog from CEO Hsieh and COO/CFO Chris Neilsen, there are numerous video elements available, with one particular series produced by Zappos. The show features Hsieh or his “stunt double” interviewing Zappos employees in the halls and at their desks. The whole thing feels very informal and fun and sweet and again shows you why Zappos is often voted an excellent place to work.
Of course you can likely find all of this video on the Zappos YouTube channel as well.
With a subdued beige, zappos.com does not seem to feel the need to pop out at consumers and scream about their customer service. The home page is understated but provides easy navigation to a wide variety of possible destinations since the site now carries so many different types of goods.
Don’t think the site’s history of killer customer service goes without mention on the site’s opening page. Running along the bottom of the opening page’s image are the following words: Wow! Free Returns Free 365 Day Return Policy 24/7 Customer Service Happiness. This is the beauty of Zappos: understated, easy to use, stuffed with confidence. And for good reason.
A fun feature toward the bottom of the home page is a running list of products that have recently been commented on by consumers, along with the posted comments. And just below that is the following question: “What are Zappos Family Employees Doing Right Now?” That takes the site visitor to a page that features the most recent tweets of a large number of Zappos employees: “Perfect way to end the day - a massive water fight in zappos parking lot followed by cocktails with my team!” Now you know one of the reasons Zappos is often rated one of the best places to work in America.
On that same page, links take you to public mentions of Zippos on Twitter (always a courageous move by a company since anyone can say anything online about your product), a link to employee TwitPics, a rundown of the 494 employees who are tweeting, and a sweet how-to use Twitter for the beginning social-media expert.
It does seem strange, though, that the Web site doesn’t play up this particular page much. There is a link to it on every page, but the text is small and it’s near the bottom of the page. When it is discovered, though, it is a guilty pleasure of sorts to get a window into the world of Zappos.
The brand also has a fun VIP portal for its most active customers. It not only allows those shoppers free overnight delivery. The one perk that’s the most fun is the ability to dress up an avatar in anything he or she is considering purchasing. Now that’s using the technology to engage the audience.
And because the company has been so touted for its fantastic corporate culture, it maintains a separate site to shares info on how it goes about its business, offering tours and invitations to training events so others can learn how to live and work the Zappos Way.
No matter how you slice it, though, Zappos is attempting to use the Web and social media in every way it can to try and engage its customers. And why not? That level of engagement is good for business.
Mark J. Miller writes a daily sports column for Yahoo! Sports and is a contributing writer to Crain's BtoB's Media Business magazine. His work has appeared in National Geographic Adventure, ESPN, The Washington Post, Salon.com, I.D., and Glamour, among others.
*Due to the constantly changing environment of websites, some reviews may no longer reflect the current website for this brand.