Zappo’s Redefines Online Retail Boundaries

Lynne Kiesling

How many of you have done this? You’re puttering around on the Internet, and a shoe moment strikes: hey, wonder what Zappos has that might catch my interest. I’m in the market for, say, a pair of black ballet flats, but they can’t be too flat, and they have to have some insole structure and/or be able to accommodate an arch insert. I order three or so pairs, they arrive, I try them on, two of them get sent back to Zappo’s. Free shipping, free return shipping.

This morning NPR had a good story on how Zappo’s has grown over the past five years, and they have done so by creating a business model that has challenged our preconceptions about what people will and won’t buy online. The big kicker: the free return shipping has dramatically lowered the cost of experimentation to the consumer. Zappo’s has learned that by bearing the cost of return shipping they could dramatically increase their revenues.

I love how this knocks down the preconceptions about how people won’t buy things online that they can’t try on. Zappo’s has overcome that obstacle, and has created a phenomenon in the process; they are even branching out into clothing and accessories. Oh, and they sell great shoes with great customer service.