10 Business tips you can learn from Zappos

Tony Hsieh

Tony Hsieh from Zappos

If you haven’t heard of Zappos yet, I’m sure you’ll come across them a lot more if you keep them on your radar.  The ‘short story’ is that they started 10 years ago as an online shoe retailer and got bought by Amazon in 2009 for $1.2 billion.

Zappos is one of those unique businesses that keeps on getting mentioned by speakers, authors, bloggers for all the wonderful things they do with their marketing, culture, employee engagement, recruitment and customer service.

Their CEO Tony Hsieh is someone I admire and reading his book “Delivering Happiness” gave me an insight into how he runs his company.

Here are some of the best things I’ve learnt from Zappos.

Zappos Culture
Culture comes first.  It is the most important thing and everything follows from there.  You develop your culture by living and breathing your core values.  Culture and Core Values are the  two different sides of the same coin.

Zappos Core Values
The Zappos team have 10 core values that every one knows off by heart and lives by.  These core values embody the characteristics of Zappos’ cultural DNA. It’s what makes them unique.  Tony Hsieh has said that a competitor could copy their website, their products and their offices but they can never copy their people and their culture!

By the way Zappos has 10 core values and Bluewire has decided on five.

Zappos Culture Book

Zappos Culture Book

Every year Zappos publishes its Culture Book in which staff, vendors, partners and investors all write a few sentences answering the question;

“What does the Zappos culture means to you?”

All the responses are included word for word in the book, along with a heap of photos showcasing what it’s like to work there. It’s a reference book for Zappos which contains the DNA of its culture.

The Zappos Culture book is free for anyone who wants to order a copy.

Zappos Recruitment
It starts with your hiring.  Hire on cultural fit and technical fit.  Then provide the training. In fact Zappos offer a $2,000 cheque to new staff who have completed the training and then wish to leave the company.  This ensures everybody who stays is totally committed to Zappos.  Only 1% of people take the $2,000 cheque which is a huge testament to the Zappos culture and how much their staff love to work there!

Zappos Social Media Policy
CEO Tony Hsieh insists on a very simple social media policy for Zappos…

“Just be real and use your best judgement.”

Tony is very trusting of his staff isn’t he? And he can afford to be because he always hires on cultural fit!

Zappos on PR
Any staff member can talk to journalists and likewise the journalists are told they can speak with anyone they like within Zappos.

That said, Zappos don’t badger journalists with press releases nor do they hire PR agencies.  Looking back, Tony Hsieh reflects that if you do a great job, word will spread, people will take an interest in you and you’ll generate more publicity than you could ever hope for. Just focus on doing a remarkable job!

Zappos on Marketing
The team at Zappos blog extensively and publish amazing videos on YouTube.  All the content is produced by the staff – not a fancy advertising agency.  Loads of the staff are available on twitter or facebook and this helps accelerate Zappos’ word of mouth and referrals.

Tony Hsieh’s marketing advice is build trust, not buzz.

Zappos On Advertising
What impresses me is that Zappos’ spend zero dollars on advertising.   Instead they allocate money they ‘could spend’ on advertising and invest that into customer service.   After all happy customers tells their friends!

Zappos Customer Service
Zappos understand that word of mouth is the best source of business, so they really do ‘love’ their customers. They are always trying to nurture a lifelong relationship, not maximise each interaction.

They have a 365 day return policy and make their phone number very obvious.  Plus staff actually answer the phone, they can talk for as long as they like and they are encouraged to refer customers to competitors if Zappos don’t stock an item or have run out!

Zappos on Outsourcing
Tony learnt the hard way – never outsource your core competency!

How we’ve applied these learnings at Bluewire…
1. A year ago we were considering  a trial to outsource parts of our Help Desk, but after hearing of the issues Tony faced, we decided to keep that core function in-house.

2. We’ve lived and breathed core values for many years, so that practice has been reinforced.

3. When hiring, Bluewire has an initial job application based on core values and we do a “cultural interview” before we delve too deep into technical ability.

4. We provide a fairly thorough induction training process for new staff and the majority of our internal processes are documented on our wiki.

5. All staff are encouraged to use social media and are allowed to respond to journalists.

6. We are releasing a “Bluewire Culture & Glowers” e-book which includes feedback from staff on what Bluewire’s culture means to them.  We’ve also added ‘glowers’ which is a Bluewire-term for ‘unsolicited praise’.

What do you like best about Zappos?

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