What is special about the online shop “Zappos” is not their shoes or fashion items, it is their corporate culture and T&D that really blew my mind. A corporate culture that is so unusual and unique. Zappos was the first large online shoe retailer to introduce free shipping including returns and a 365-day return policy. It came into the market in 1999 and the name is based on the Spanish word “zapatos” which, who would have thought that, stands for shoes. Zappos is led by CEO Tony Hsieh who is known for his unique working style and training for his new workers which motivates them to do their best possible job; therefore, provides the best customer service in that industry. But how did he achieve a success like that and most importantly, why are not other companies copying his strategy to accomplish the same?
Zappos delivered through his T&D enthusiastic customers, who in turn passed on their experience to other customers. There was also a time when people from all over the world came to see this unique way of working. Employees were engaged in these tours and explained their extraordinary days at work as well as their training how they got there. But what differentiates Zappos from other retail online stores? The ultimate goal of Tony Hsieh was that work should be fun and that employees should have enormous freedom. From my point of view, this sounds like a dream job because apparently everyone can come in pajamas, decorate their desks individually and organize costume parties as well. Employees can just sing, dance and play around, if they feel the need to. They look like the happiest people in the world on pictures. Hsieh abolished almost all titles and hierarchies – decisions should be made by the group if possible. For him it is not only about the sale of shoes, but about motivation, enthusiasm, and achieving goals. Reading all this news and watching videos on YouTube about how engaged the employees are at their work, one realizes how the model “employees become co-entrepreneurs” is lived there really consistently. This is how I personally think Hsieh has achieved an amazing corporate culture, by enthusiastic employees who create highly satisfied customers and they in turn like to order there- thanks to their employees.
It really seems as if the principle “We are family” is taken seriously at Zappos in an honest and beneficial way – regardless of rank and task environment because the goal is always the same: The people at Zappos should be happy. Zappos has further professionalized and monetized the approach of modern and open corporate culture. It offers with “Zappos Insights” a consulting and training program for companies which tries to transfer the Zappos company culture through workshops, webinars, etc. in order to make them more successful. These “culture customers” of Zappos even included such well-known companies as Google. One of the central elements of the Zappos culture are the 10 so-called core values, which are as follows:
- Deliver WOW Through Service
- Embrace and Drive Change
- Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
- Be Adventurous, Creative and Open-Minded
- Pursue Growth and Learning
- Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
- Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
- Do More With Less
- Be Passionate and Determined
- Be Humble.
If that’s not enough already to fall in love with this company than here comes more. For Zappos, perfect customer service, known internally as the wow effect, is more important than sales. It seems that Zappos employees may recommend a different website to a customer or even help them buy a product elsewhere, even if Zappos itself does not have the product. I came across an article where the author wrote that Tony Hsieh phoned his employees, for testing purposes, to ask for a pizza (which Zappos of course does not have) to see if customer service would help him get a pizza – and that was the case. That is why it is so unique to me. They created a “Word of mouth” advertisement – better and more sustainable than any other advertising technique.
At Zappos, there is a full-time Life Coach, where everyone can seek support for their personal and career goals. Everyone in the company goes through the “Customer Service Training” no matter what position they occupy. As a result, everyone internalizes the customer-centric philosophy of Zappos. The hiring process at Zappos places great emphasis on making the new member of Zappos culture fit. It goes so far that Zappos offers $ 2000 at the end of a successful recruiting process. But who really wants to work at Zappos should stay there. It is amazing how many employees say that they also spend a lot of time with the Zappos family, in other words with their work colleagues. When certain sales stamps have been reached, e. g. at $ 22 million in sales in one day, all employees received a fun T-shirt reading “My company sold $ 22 million in one day and all I got was this lousy T-shirt”. However, like any other business there are some shadows to Zappos as well. In 2009 Zappos was bought by Amazon for 1. 2 billion dollars. Hsieh was not turned on by this because it was important to him that Zappos remains independent. Furthermore, little happens in the press about Zappos. What is reported mostly revolves around corporate culture or Tony Hsieh’s ambitions.
I personally see the silence as a bad sign. I would not say that a complete shutdown is in sight, but Zappos is apparently making $ 2-3 billion of sales which is certainly not world-moving for Amazon because these are today a maximum of 2% of Amazon’s total sales. Due to the fact that Zappos has always been a risk-taking enterprise, over the past year (in 2017) 29% of the staff has turned over. Here I am asking myself if their training and development was that efficient in the long run? Zappos was a role model and inspiration for shop managers in a variety of areas and product categories in the fashion industry. However, it seems that Zappos did not develop on the product side and others make significantly more sales nowadays. I believe that Zappos would win easily with sympathy and fun factor. Whether it lasts for lasting success and whether Amazon in 2-3 years will still be behind the extravagant management decisions Tony Hsieh’s is to be seen. But one is sure, through their T&D they reached happiness among their employees and happy people work more motivated, better and more effective.