You Can’t Be Zappos (and why would you want to be?)

I hear it all the time.  I bet you do too.  “I want to be like Zappos”.  “We need to deliver service like Zappos”.  I wrote about this phenomenon a few weeks back.  So, being a solution guy, I didn’t want to just leave it hanging.  I wanted to come back and explain why, not only can you not be like Zappos, you don’t want to be.

My first conclusion is that anyone that has uttered one of the statements above has probably never a) stopped to think about those words and/or b) read Tony Hsieh’s book Delivering Happiness.  Go ahead.  I’ll wait…

Ok! So did you figure it out? The answer is right there in the first 100 pages.

Picture this.  You’re a private equity guy.  Some young dude walks into your office with a business plan to sell shoes on the web.  Once you stop laughing, here’s how the dialog goes next.

“You’re crazy son.  Take your $250m and just go flush it.  You’ll have a better chance at success.  Shoes are a tactile purchase.  People need to try them on.  Walk up and down the store aisle.  Ask their girlfriend how they look.  Oh, and shoes are often an impulse purchase.”

Young dude: “No wait.  I get all that.  And my business model addresses all that and takes all that risk out of the purchasing decision.  We are going to offer free next day shipping, both ways.  We’ll provide returns for up to 365 days after purchase.  And, we are going to build a contact center where our reps are going stay on the phone for 9 hours, if that’s what it takes, to give our customers the most comfortable, risk free environment in which to get their questions answered and make their decision”

You: “hum…interesting.  Let me know how that works out for you”

You see, Zappos had a problem.  And they developed a business model to address that problem.  The risk of buying shoes on line.

So, instead of trying to be like Zappos, how about try this first.  Stop.  Stop and think about your customers.  What problems do they have with your business model?  What customer issues are you trying to solve?  Then, build a customer experience strategy that addresses that.


  1. Strong title. I read your post a couple times over. Thanks for writing it because it got me thinking. What do you say to those who want to be like Zappos or Westjet Airlines or Southwest or etc. because they believe in the model of influencing a strong culture and empowering employees to reach their financial success?

    Also, not too sure why, you reference a "young dude." Are you suggesting young people are naive or swing for the fences without thought?

    Thanks again for the post, definitely got my attention.

  2. thanks for the comment. glad it was thought provoking. actually the young dude comment was referencing Tony Hsieh.

  3. Barry,

    I see it in big business all the time, a solution that has worked somewhere else being rolled out like there is no tomorrow.

    Six Sigma
    Net Promoter Score
    Performance Management

    One fad after the next

    The real question, as you rightly point out is "What is the problem you are trying to fix?"

    Once you know that you stand a chance, but solutions are no good to anybody at all without the correct problem.


  4. Caught this a bit late, but great post. So many skip right past the whole "problem" aspect and jump to solutions.

    Great advice to take, unless you're the next Henry Ford or Steve Jobs, and are able to successfully tell customers what they want. Most aren't.

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