Zappos: We Want To Be "Known As A Customer Service Company, Not A Marketing Company"

Reader Matt forwarded this email exchange he had with Zappos.com over their recent decision to stop promoting their price guarantee and free overnight shipping.

He has intended to switch to another shoe seller, but has decided to give Zappos another shot considering the email response he received.

In it, Zappos says “Regarding our decision to stop advertising and promoting free overnight shipping on Zappos, it’s actually simply just that: a decision to stop advertising and promoting it, not a decision to actually stop doing it,” and “It’s true that we would probably get more customers if we continued to market free overnight shipping as opposed to surprising customers with it, but we decided that we wanted Zappos to be known as a customer service company, not a marketing company.”

I was pretty disappointed when I read your post about the changes to zappos.com’s free overnight shipping policy. Disappointed enough that I would probably not shop there regularly anymore (I run marathons and therefore go through my fair share of running shoes). Soon after reading your post, they sent me a promotional email. I responded with the following email. Their (unexpected) response is copied after my email. The fact that they replied to my email with such an explanation will cause me to at least give them another chance considering how great their customer service has been in the past.

Zappos,

I probably will not use zappos any more. I can live without the price guarantee-even though every retailer in the world has some kind of price matching ability. But the loss of the free next day shipping has turned you in to every other online retailer that I don’t use. On to endless.com I go.

matt.

Here’s Zappos’ response:

Hello Matt,

Thank you for contacting the Zappos.com Customer Loyalty Team!

We truly appreciate that you contacted us to let us know how you feel. Regarding our decision to stop advertising and promoting free overnight shipping on Zappos, it’s actually simply just that: a decision to stop advertising and promoting it, not a decision to actually stop doing it.

This means that the vast majority of our customers will still get their orders as quickly as they have in the past. The only difference is that we made the decision to not advertise or promise it, because we found that our customers were happier when they were surprised by the fast shipping. So, if you order from us and choose the free shipping option, chances are that your order will come just as quickly as they did before!

As a side note, just like before, occasionally our warehouse may run into unexpected challenges. For example, a storm may prevent some of our employees from coming to work. If you pay for the overnight shipping option, your order will be given priority processing in our warehouse and guaranteed 1-business day shipping and handling, even during those times when we experience slight hiccups.

It’s true that we would probably get more customers if we continued to market free overnight shipping as opposed to surprising customers with it, but we decided that we wanted Zappos to be known as a customer service company, not a marketing company.

I hope this helps in explaining this recent change we’ve made at Zappos. If you have any other questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

We are constantly striving to improve our service. If there is anything more we can do for you or if we could improve your experience, please do not hesitate to let us know. We are always here for you – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. We like to think of ourselves as service company that just happens to sell… shoes, bags, clothing, and accessories. 1-800-ZAPPOS-1 (1-800-927-7671) or 702-943-7677.

Stephanie W

Customer Loyalty Representative

Zappos people are so nice it’s almost scary.

PREVIOUSLY: Zappos Zaps Price Protection Policy, Free Overnight Shipping

Comments

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  1. B says:

    So they just won’t guarantee overnight delivery? Is shipping still free, though?

  2. SkittleKicks says:

    Well, that’s spiffy then.

  3. ARP says:

    @B: That’s right, they won’t guarantee it, but there’s a good chance that you’ll still get it just as quickly. Shipping is still free. Its refreshing to see a company act this way. They’re honest, upfront, professional, etc. I’m certainly going to try them out. I hope they continue to do well. Companies like Zappos, Nordy’s, etc. deserve our praise (and business) when they do things right.

  4. hubris says:

    I kind of like Zappos more after this. Will continue to use.

  5. MissTic says:

    That’s either an excellent marketing ploy or a great recovery for being called out. Either way: BRILLIANT.

  6. UpsetPanda says:

    I still don’t understand what the big deal is with taking away overnight shipping (even though they kind of aren’t). It’s very nice, and I’d appreciate it if I were in a bind, and needed a specific pair of shoes right now….but in normal situations, what is with this instant gratification syndrome? I just waited two weeks for a pair of shoes to get here, because they were cheaper online than in a store. Big deal!

  7. redhelix says:

    Well, my father has worked in logistics for shoe companies since college and I guess Zappos is the Mecca of footwear sellers

  8. sakanz says:

    Yeah. It’s nice to see a company that actually values its customers. Too bad I don’t really have any reason to buy from them since I don’t need shoes.

  9. MDSasquatch says:

    Amazon did this around Christmas time; I ordered quite a few items and selected their free shipping option. All but one of the items I ordered arrived the next day.

    It definitely made me feel better knowing that I got “free” next-day service and probably was a deciding factor when I went online to shop.

  10. semanticantics says:

    I don’t trust them. Something is afoot.

  11. friendlynerd says:

    Yeah I’ll definitely use them at some point. I can tell you what company NOT to use: Piperlime. Screw-up after screw-up on my order. They were friendly and made it good in the long run, but jeez…if I had just used Zappos in the first place I doubt I’d have gone through so much.

  12. evilinkblot says:

    They just made me decide to check out their website for the dress shoes I’m going to buy soon

  13. arch05 says:

    Makes no sense. Why not entice customers with those offers? Sure it’s nice as a surprise, but they’re a business.

  14. Jon Parker says:

    I love the concept of Zappo’s, and I’m all about their customer service, but I can’t get over the diea of buying shoes online. I want to try them on first, dammit.

  15. maevro says:

    My mother tells me that she has placed many orders from their company and that their customer service is second to none.

  16. amoeba says:

    I shop at Zappos.com once in a while. As far as reading the consumerist almost everyday and finding out that many companies change gradually their policy, I am not surprised. In other hand, I don’t think they are the “best company of the world”, they screwed up some of my purchases and it took a while to fix it. But, they are more decent than other companies. At least better than Spiegel.

  17. trinidon2k says:

    I don’t get it. When I send a company a detailed email outlining my concerns including intentions to shop at competitors, I get the response that says “Sorry…blah blah blah”. This guy sends a short and to the point email and gets a worthy response.

  18. GearheadGeek says:

    @arch05: This way when it takes 2 days instead of 1, fewer customers will call and howl at them for not delivering their shoes before the customer closed their web browser after placing the order.

  19. Nunya B says:

    But what about the price matching?

  20. NeoteriX says:

    @arch05:

    It does make sense… at least hypothetically. I personally am not sure whether I buy into yet, but here’s how the argument plays out:

    It is true that by having lower prices, free shipping, or other “value added” promotions, you will gain more customers. However, the danger is that these new customers are of the “price-sensitive” variety and develop no brand loyalty. In other words, they will go wherever the savings are, and if it happens to be Amazon.com the next day with lower prices, Zappo will be empty handed.

    This is exactly what has happened to the airline industry with non-first/business class seating; people just buy the cheapest ticket, so it doesn’t make sense for airlines to make the trip comfortable, add snacks, food, etc. They will just end up losing money in the end if they can’t get the lowest price possible.

    However, if Zappos can reconfigure their branding so that customers come and stay on the basis of something unique from other online retailers; namely, an amazing customer experience, then those people will stick with Zappos because that kind of reputation for customers service is much, much harder to develop than it is for some company to out-price another. (e.g. Target with its fashion competing against Wal-Mart, but K-mart getting assed over because all it has are prices, no fashionable, trendy reputation.)

  21. JeffCarr says:

    I’ve never shopped there before, and didn’t intend to either, I generally wear shoes till long after anyone else would have thrown them out, and that combined with my proclivity towards not wearing them at all, makes them last 7 years or so.

    This convinced me though, my next shoes (and I currently need new ones) are coming from Zappos.

  22. LetMeGetTheManager says:

    I guess their company knows how to hit the ground running…

    (I know, it was bad)

    At least they have a strong foothold on the industry.

    (Even worse)

  23. It doesn’t add. Overnight shipping IS customer service. No one will KNOW that you have great customer service if you don’t TELL them, and then SHOW them. I don’t know anything about zappos.com. I’m a little shady about buying shoes without trying them on. But let’s think this through.

    You NEED some shoes tomorrow. Some special shoes. You search around the Internet because you’re housebound or something. Overnight shipping is clearly the SERVICE that you want. If they don’t TELL you they have it, you will not KNOW and you might buy somewhere else.

    Again, something smells funny in Denmark, or wherever Zappos is from.

  24. UpsetPanda says:

    @Jon Parker: I love shoe shopping, and delight in trying on shoes, and I can walk around and make sure they fit just right, and I still do, but I need shoes for my wedding and the selection for sandals during the winter isn’t the greatest, so I went to Zappos and Endless. Also, since their shipping is free both ways, you can return them and not lose money. Some places that charge shipping won’t refund shipping (ahem, Overstock). And I love the user reviews, they’re so helpful.

  25. dugn says:

    Not sure I agree with the lack of promoting their offerings, but compared to ShoeBuy.com, Zappos rocks!

    I’ve gladly paid $3-$5 more for shoes than at ShoeBuy.com just to avoid the inept, brainless, argumentative CSRs at ShoeBuy.com. Amazon seems to favor ShoeBuy as a provider, so watch for them when you order shoes on Amazon.com.

    Zappos is great. ShoeBuy is awful.

  26. Crymson_77 says:

    Suggestion:

    When we hear stories like this…maybe add a hyperlink in the picture to the company that has earned the props? One way for Consumerist to go “Above and Beyond” :)

  27. Juliekins says:

    @semanticantics: I see what you did there. ;)

  28. wesrubix says:

    To hold customer service above marketing proves Zappos has evolved to be one of the best companies out there.

  29. zero_o says:

    I think what they are saying is that if they advertise 1 day delivery and you don’t get it in one day (due to logistics reasons, people not working etc) you are not going to be happy. If they don’t advertise that you will get it in one day and you do get it in one day than you will be a happy customer. By removing the advertising for the 1 day delivery but keeping the guise of customer centric, they have a win-win, people will be pleasantly surprised when they get the shoes in one day for free.

  30. wring says:

    they just wanna steer away from the Endless shoes marketing strategy (“omg we pay you $5 for overnight ship! even though our selection are teh suck”) which is a-OK with me, albeit I still find zappos prices overkill.

  31. boreddusty says:

    Last Thursday I ordered a pair of shoes and was dismayed to see that they no longer listed next-day shipping as free. Since I was not in a hurry, I chose the free shipping option. A few hours later I received an email letting me know that

    Although you originally ordered Standard (4 to 5 business days) shipping
    and handling, we have given your order special priority processing in
    our warehouse and are upgrading the shipping and delivery time frame for your order.
    Your order will ship out today and be given a special priority shipping status so that
    you can receive your order even faster than we originally promised!

  32. UpsetPanda says:

    @wring: I have found Endless and Zappos to have similar selection. I’ve found plenty of overlap. If Endless has a better price, I’ll still go to Zappos to get reviews.

  33. tinders says:

    actually, this makes total sense. if they don’t advertise that 1-day shipping is the norm, they will get a small subset of people that need shoes tomorrow and will pay additional to ensure that they do. from their shipping faq:

    Q: Can I expedite my shipping?
    A: The following shipping options are available when you check out. Expedited orders placed before 1 PM Pacific on a business day will be shipped out the same day. All other orders will be shipped out the next business day.

    * Standard Shipping (delivery within 4-5 business days): FREE
    * 1-Business Day Shipping and Handling: $25 per order
    * 2-Business Day Shipping and Handling: $15 per order
    * 3-Business Day Shipping and Handling: $7 per order
    * USPS Priority Mail: $7 per order

    paying $25 for something you typically get anyway sounds like a lot of profit to me. sneaky sneaky.

  34. Anita Ham Sandwich says:

    Zappos is absolutely wonderful…I don’t think I’d shop for shoes anywhere else, since my expectations have gotten so high. Once I filled out the return form for a pair of shoes that I thought was too small, then realized the cardboard toe insert was still in. Duh. So I used their online chat to tell the CSR, and he was great. Just switched it for me, and didn’t call me an idiot (to my face).

  35. chestnutt says:

    Zappos is amazing…I have never been disappointed by anything I have ordered and the service has always been top flight. They can write the book on customer service and show others how the big guys really do it.

    Zappos for President!

  36. frankadelic says:

    In the CS department where I work we have a board where people post positive customer service stories (not just ones from our company). A print out of this blog posting about Zappos occupies the first position.

    [www.zazlamarr.com]

  37. UpsetPanda says:

    @tinders: This isn’t exactly sneaky…well, sort of yes, but not in the sense that if people need one-day shipping guaranteed, they should choose the one-day shipping method. Just because Zappos gives some of its customers one-day shipping does not mean they will make it a policy to do it 100% of the time. I think this is more of Zappos’ way of making their customers happy but not being held to the promise of one-day shipping. It doesn’t bother me, really. I would’ve been more upset if they had changed their 365-day return policy.

  38. ironchef says:

    @Jon Parker:

    sometimes you have to order shoes on line.
    My feet are so damn big, only few stores carry anything my size. I like the fact I can find all the brands with EEEE sizes rather than ask the shoe clerk which brands are the widest models.

  39. marsneedsrabbits says:

    Oh, wow. Ok… Zappos wins.
    The next time I need shoes, they get the business. I have really narrow feet and they have a lot in my size, which is nice, but so do lots of other places.
    Their commitment to customer service tips it, though.

  40. Erasmus Darwin says:

    There’s two aspects to marketing: There’s the mindless fluff, and there’s actual useful content. The fluff is awful — that’s the singing, dancing clown telling you to buy McDonald’s hamburgers or the over-excited used car salesman screaming about how he’s “CUH-RAY-ZEE”. However, the content can be pretty damn valuable — if I’m in the market for a widget, then you can bet that it’s useful information to know that Widget Barn has slashed the prices of all 2007 model widgets to 50% of MSRP.

    In this case, it sounds like Zappos dropped some marketing with useful content, but they played the “marketing” term to make customers feel like it was undesirable fluff that was cut away. To me, that actually sounds like a bit of a snowjob (which could, perversely enough, be considered part of the scummier side of marketing).

  41. whydidnt says:

    I don’t buy it. Sounds to me like they are going to “slow-roll” into standard shipping practices. If they truly still intend on shipping everything overnight, but want to cover themselves in case of some sort of unexpected issue, they could simply offer 2 days as a standard and charge for the 1 day. Yet we see they have 5 (FIVE!!) different shipping options. They may say today that they are still doing overnight, but come back in 6 months and see what they are doing. My guess is that soon your “upgrade” will be to 2 day shipping, then 3 day, then no upgrade at all.

    Frankly, I’m surprised about how many Consumerist readers are buying the bullshit.

  42. spinachdip says:

    @arch05: It makes perfect sense, actually.

    1. Consumers who base their purchase decisions on promotions or price tactics are not reliable repeat customers. Pleasantly surprised customers, on the other hand, are very likely to be repeat customers.

    2. Consumers respond more strongly to word-of-mouth than ads or promos. They’re more likely to be influenced by a friend telling them about the service than by corporate communication with the same message.

    Given the choice, it’s better to have fewer customers who spend more per year than more customers who make only single purchases, especially for niche retailers like Zappos.

  43. SpaceCat85 says:

    After thinking about it for awhile, I remembered that before they went to free overnight shipping they used to sometimes send you an e-mail after you’d placed your order to tell you that shipping had been upgraded for free. After doing a little search through my old e-mail receipts, I found one from 2006:

    “Good news!

    Although you originally ordered Standard (4 to 5 business days) shipping and handling, we have given your order special priority processing in our warehouse so that your order will ship out on Tuesday, September 5th 2006, and your order should be delivered within 1 Business Day (from that date) instead. Business days are Mondays through Fridays, except holidays, so your order should be delivered by Wednesday, September 6th 2006.

    Please note that this is being done at no additional cost to you. It is simply our way of saying thank you for being our customer.”

  44. Optimistic Prime says:

    As far as buying shoes or even clothing online, the best thing to do is go to a brick and mortar and try it on. If you’re not in a hurry, you can find the brand/ style/ size you want, and then price shop from home. It’s no different than trying out a new car at Bob’s Car Emporium and Brothel but going to the guy a town over who is selling for less.

  45. Jamie Beckland says:

    @UpsetPanda: Please do NOT tell me you are complaining about not receiving a shipping refund from Overstock. They offer $2.95 shipping on huge (ugly, cheaply made – but still huge!) chair and ottoman sets!

  46. JMH says:

    Does anyone else think “we want to be known as a customer service company, not a marketing company” is a pile of bullshit?

  47. flowergirl says:

    i just ordered shoes from zappos- i thought they were the bomb just b/c i could search “vegan” and have a huge selection of shoes not made from dead animals to choose from. when the shoes arrived 21 hours after i placed my order- no shipping cost- they won my loyalty. don’t care why they are doing it, it’s still great in my book.

  48. dlab says:

    @PotKettleBlack:

    I do know about Zappos, I’ve purchased from them in the past. Like IronChef, my feet are huge so I can’t just walk into Foot Locker like the average guy and walk out with the pair of shoes I want, in my size.

    I would rather shop from Zappos than special order the same shoes from Foot Locker because:
    – Costs the same or less.
    – Zappos gets them to me tomorrow (although now it’s not guaranteed, we’ll need to see how that plays out…)
    – We all agree that buying shoes you haven’t tried on is weird… thats why Zappos lets you send them back if they dont work, for free.
    – They not only have the shoe I want in my size, but they also have it available in 48 different color combinations.
    – They also have every other friggin shoe on the planet.

  49. mag72 says:

    OK, I’ll be the second commenter to ask:
    WHAT ABOUT THE PRICE MATCH GUARANTEE?

    Notice how they conveniently forgot to answer that part of his letter.

  50. gubble says:

    Whatever you do, don’t switch to shoebuy.com! They wouldn’t let me return shoes because they had been “worn,” meaning I had tried them on! And their customer service is a great mix of incompetence and arrogance.

  51. watchmanseven says:

    I ordered shoes Wednesday at 4:30pm and had them Thursday morning at 11:30am. No tax, free shipping. It was a deal for me.

  52. JAYEONE says:

    I love Zappo’s…placed 4 or 5 orders over the last year with them, no trouble at all. I didn’t have to deal with the mall, or the annoyed shoe salespeople. What’s great about their website is the search feature: need size 6AAA in black with a 1.5 inch heel? Type that into the search engine and 90% of your work is done! :)