There are so many reasons not to go ahead with the new customer service Zappos just introduced.

Zappos, one of the largest shoe e-tailers in the world, has always been famous for their excellent customer service. From the early days of the company, their philosophy was to ‘deliver happiness’, not just shoes. There are a number of anecdotes in my books that illustrate their mindset. A few days ago they launched this new customer service philosophy that has such far-reaching logistical implications that most companies would just decide that it is too difficult to go forward with the idea. This is what they did!

Buy 1 shoe instead of 2

As of this week customers can buy one shoe instead of two on the website or you can mix and match different sizes. This service is launched to be more inclusive towards all customer groups that would love to wear cool shoes. In a first phase, they have joined forces with six shoe brands to make this happen: Converse, Kizik New Balance, Stride Ride, BILLY Footwear, Plae and Nike. Zappos launched this new service after many requests from their own customers and they selected these specific brands based on survey results.

In terms of pricing they are using a very simple formula: if you need one shoe instead of two you pay 50% of the price; if you mix and match you only pay the price of one pair.

So many reasons not to launch this service

I love Zappos’ new service. Being nice to people in need is just heartwarming. This new service helps so many people in a great way. Everyone who reads this will appreciate this service, I’m sure of that.

But I’m also convinced that many other shoe companies had the same request in the past and while everyone knows this kind of service is the right thing to do, there are so many logistical and budgetary reasons not to do this. I can predict the questions in the meeting room. “What do we do with the other shoe?”, “What about the margin?”, “Can we afford this?”, “Our suppliers won’t give us the discount our customers are getting so I guess we’re paying for this service?”. It’s not that difficult to predict the barriers for implementation but Zappos still decided to go forward. Probably they had long discussions with the involved brands to maybe share the effort. I don’t know what happened behind the scenes, but I’m sure it took quite some time to convince the partners to get on board. After all, in the short run this service is costing someone money. Calculate the business case and the result won’t be positive.

 

Playing the long term game

More difficult to predict is the long-term impact of this kind of service. If you do the right thing for your customers I’m convinced it pays off in the long run: customer loyalty increases, your employees are proud and eventually the business case turns positive. To successfully implement such a service you need leadership that is focussed on the long-term relationship with customers. If you have that focus you can look beyond the short-term barriers. You will do what it takes to do the right thing for your customers.

 

Shouldn’t companies focus on the basic first?

Some of you may wonder if this service isn’t a bit far stretched. Some of you may say: “Shouldn’t companies focus on the basics first before they implement these more exotic services?” That remark is a very valid point. To increase your customer loyalty and happiness, the first step is to have a service level that is in line with the basic needs for every customer. And yes, let’s face reality, that is still a long road to go for many organization. Of course, Zappos has created a fantastic service level many years ago, which allows them to create new services for specific target groups, which is increasing their lead even further. And as a final note, Zappos is also really good in the marketing of their customer service. It is the pillar of their entire brand and they do an outstanding job in making it happen.

 

UPDATE: What a wonderful PR follow up by Zappos

A few days after this article was published, the friendly people from the Zappos PR team reached out to me. They were happy to read my feedback and opinion about their new service and gave me the opportunity to ask some additional questions.

Here is the additional information I received from Dana Zumbo, Business Development Manager, Zappos Adaptive:

 

How does this new service work in relationship with the suppliers? Is this a stand alone project of Zappos or are the manufacturers also involved?

“Since this is an initial test program, Zappos is doing the work with one of our own special projects teams to help execute the program. The suppliers who were a part of the initial launch were excited about the opportunity. They have also experienced the same types of requests that Zappos has heard from our customers. We will share the information with the suppliers to continue to discussion around the possibility of expanding the options for customers to buy a single shoe or two different size shoes.”

How does it work operationally? For instance, what do you do with the single shoes that are not sold?

“We will use the same strategy as we do for any other products that might be slow selling. It is too early in the test to gauge what the best-selling sizes are broken down by left and right. Once we have a longer selling period and more data around this, we will determine the best course of action.”

Is there a large market for customers with these specific needs?

“From the number of people who responded to the initial survey back in 2019, we knew this was something that we needed to explore. Since the launch, we have received a numerous amount of feedback from the surveys on our website that will help us evolve the customer experience. We are expanding our product selection based on the feedback from our customers.”

How do you decide which requests from the community to follow up and which are not achievable?

“We are always asking for feedback and listening to the needs of the community to provide the best customer service and user experience possible. Ultimately, our commitment to service and the Zappos Core Values are what guide our decision making. We’re also constantly seeking to understand what is currently available in the retail industry and from our brand partners in order to fill the gaps for what customers are asking for.”