Zappos: it’s worth the ride

There’s a golf course in Livermore that is remarkably beautiful.  I tell other golfers who have not played it that they should go out and experience this course.  I jokingly tell non-golfers to go out, pay the $140 green fees, and just ride around and enjoy the scenery.  That’s how beautiful it is.  It’s a great experience from the time you pull onto the vineyard-lined property, walk into the club-house, head out to the putting greens, and finally ride onto the course itself.  Birdies and a low score for this golfer are unlikely but the course never fails to deliver on its promise of a wonderful 18-hole experience played through the vineyards, rolling hills, and natural grasslands of the scenic Livermore Valley. is the on-line shopping equivalent of the golf course I describe. Even if you don’t shop you should buy something from them just for the experience.  This morning I was reminded of the “WOW” experience the company strives for and so often achieves when I saw a Zappos box on the kitchen counter.  My wife told me that she ordered a pair of shoes yesterday evening around 6pm.  This morning around 11am UPS arrives and just like that the shoes are on my wife’s feet and she’s very happy.  That’s barely enough time to push the “easy-button” between ordering and wearing.  In the 17 hours from pressing “OK” on her computer screen an order was placed, communicated to a warehouse in Kentucky, picked, packed, put on a UPS truck, driven to the airport, placed in a container on a airplane, flown across the country, unloaded back onto a UPS truck and delivered to our front door.  In 17 hours – WOW!  Oh yeah, and free freight too.  Plus if she needs to return the shoes she can send them back – also free freight – using the handy return label provided just in case they’re the wrong size, she doesn’t like the color, or simply changed her mind in the last 17 hours.

My wife didn’t need the shoes today.  She didn’t need them tomorrow or even next week for that matter. So of course when ordering she selected standard shipping which meant that the products would arrive in four to five days.  She’s ordered from Zappos before so when the shoes arrived today she was not surprised.  Not surprised, but no less thrilled to have received them so quickly.  Zappos gets that.  They understand that the customer experience is what it’s all about and that a good experience will bring you back, and a WOW experience will make you a customer for life.  Zappos’ advertised shipping rates state that standard shipping is free and additional charges apply for anything faster.  They also clearly state that for orders received after 1pm PST you should allow one additional shipping day. Based on that if my wife selected overnight shipping she could expect to receive the shoes in two days and to be charged an additional $25.  That’s reasonable. Most other online merchants charge similar rates to expedite a shipment. But Zappos is different and that’s why in 17 hours my wife was wearing shoes that didn’t cost even an extra nickel to have them on her feet so soon.

Sure, it helps that Zappos’ massive warehouses are less than five minutes away from the UPS worldwide hub.   But that didn’t happen by luck and if it were that easy every on-line merchant would do the same thing.  Several years ago Zappos decided to stop using 3rd party suppliers to house their massive inventories and pull it all in under one roof; and more importantly under their control.  They made a strategic and financial decision to take full responsibility for the customer experience – our experience.  Their business model puts us as customers first.  And while that may not be totally unique, it is rare, and wonderfully refreshing.

A lot has been documented about Zappos and their low key Founder and CEO Tony Hsieh.  The Zappos story is about a vision that Hsieh brought to life, grew from practically nothing to $1 billion in gross merchandise sales while simultaneously making Fortune magazine’s annual “Best Companies to Work For” list.  It’s also a story about leveraging company culture and employee satisfaction to drive customer loyalty.

If you are interested in the Zappos story and how this company is changing the world while making a lot of money and creating happy employees you should read Delivering Happiness, A Path To Profits, Passion, and Purpose. It’s a fun and enlightening book for the business owner and consumer alike.  And, if you play golf you will be happy to know that Zappos sells a wide variety of golf equipment, accessories, and clothing.  But buyer beware:  if you order golf balls or a new putter don’t be surprised when it arrives the next day and a few birdies are included at no charge.


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