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It’s Cyber Monday, guys! Let’s talk about shoes.

Actually, shoes are difficult to put a marketing spin on, so instead let’s discuss online retailer, Zappos. If Zappos isn’t on your radar as a company with a great marketing strategy, we need to change that immediately. The way this company conducts business is approachable and incredibly charming, which isn’t always the case when it comes to online retailers. What sets them apart is the way they’re constantly testing new strategies, always with the customer’s best interests in mind. This type of customer marketing sets the bar high for other retailers. 

Here’s what we can learn from Zappos:

HEAR THE CUSTOMER.

It’s one thing to claim your company puts customers first, but it’s another thing to actually back that up. Part of the mission statement at Zappos reads

“Regardless of our structure, our goal is to position Zappos as the online service leader. If we can get customers to associate the Zappos brand with the absolute best service, then we can expand into other product categories beyond shoes.”

This really isn’t far off from what you’d expect to read on any online retailer’s site, but if you check out Zappos’ social media pages, there’s no doubt they are staying true to their word. You can tell a lot about a company by their Twitter @ Mentions, and everything appears to be 100% rainbows and unicorns over there.

I went looking for some angry customers by doing what anyone familiar with social media does, I searched for the unhappy emojis. Anyone hoping for some dirt on the company will be disappointed to learn everything I found indicates the Zappos team responds to all tweets quickly and thoughtfully.

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DO SOME GOOD.

There’s good and bad news here. The good news: Zappos is running a program with the Best Friends Animal Society, and they are offering to cover the adoption fee for people wishing to adopt a cat or dog. The bad news: TODAY (Cyber Monday) IS THE LAST DAY. If this is something you’re interested in, I will forgive you if you want to stop reading this post and immediately head to your local animal shelter.

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If you already have too many pets and are still with me, check out another great program, Zappos for Good. This partnership with Soles 4 Souls (100% transparency and accountability rating) allows customers to mail in their gently used shoes and clothes, which are then cleaned, repaired and sent to those in need. If having less clutter and receiving free shipping aren’t enough of an incentive, Zappos offers 10% off for every donation.

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It’s not realistic to assume every business can afford such elaborate charitable campaigns, but even on a smaller scale, it’s always inspiring to see businesses donating their time and resources to a good cause.

KEEP IT FRESH.

One of my favorite things about Zappos’ marketing strategy is that it never gets stale. If you’re a follower of the company you know they love testing new features and launching new campaigns.

For instance, we all know what it’s like to receive a lackluster gift, and last December, Zappos let us know they were feeling our pain. The first 500 people to call the Happy Returns hotline on December 26th were given the opportunity to exchange any unwanted gift for a $100 Zappos gift card. If you missed this promotion, it’s time to pour one out for the shoes you could have owned, had you traded in that hideous paisley scarf from your Aunt Mary.

If you’ve ordered from Zappos.com recently you may have noticed the box your shoes came in looked a little different, thanks to the “I’m not a Box” campaign. Zappos is encouraging people to reuse the cardboard packaging in clever ways and share their creations on social media. Earlier this year there was a competition to win yet another gift card. The challenge was simply to create something new and useful out of a Zappos shoe box that would have otherwise been thrown away or recycled. The box even included some templates and suggestions inside, for anyone not sure how to begin turning their trash into treasure.

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The biggest takeaway from studying Zappos’ marketing success, is that a human element goes a long way. People generally want to feel good about the companies they support, and one of the best ways to do that is by interacting with customers and creating fun and engaging ways to get involved.

[The second biggest takeaway from this post is that it is actually possible (although not easy) to write about marketing shoes without ever uttering the phrase “think outside the box.”]

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Roundpeg is an Indianapolis marketing strategy firm.