At this point, you’d have to be under a rock not to have heard the news. Amazon bought Zappos for $807 million in Amazon stock, plus about $40 million in cash and restricted stock.
The real question, though, is why are we all so surprised? Both companies are at the top of virtually anybody’s list in customer service, with a fiercely loyal base of repeat customers. They’re both online retailers who emphasize value in offering the broadest selection of quality products. They’re both innovative and dynamic businesses that value their employees and customers foremost, inevitably leading to value for their investors and shareholders.
Oh, and when it comes to ease of site navigation, shipping (free at Zappos; free at Amazon for purchases $25 or above and free for members of Amazon Prime), return policies, and pretty much everything having to do with brand experience, they excel. They arguably set the standard for anyone else, whether online or brick and mortar, and regularly raise the bar on themselves.
Besides making customer satisfaction a key purpose of any business transaction, both Amazon and Zappos demonstrate a keen appreciation for engagement of their customers. Both retailers offer the opportunity for buyers to share their experiences with product purchases. These days, most marketers realize that customer feedback mechanisms, including product reviews, are critical to a shopper whose purchase decision is heavily influenced by peers, friends, and the experience and recommendations of other buyers – whether good or bad.
To its credit, while Amazon acts as a virtual hub for independent merchants and small businesses to promote their wares online, even those businesses are subject to customers’ rating of their experience with products purchased and fulfilled outside of Amazon. So in effect, Amazon protects and preserves its brand reputation and credibility as putting customers first, even when third-party sellers on its site disappoint buyers with a lame experience.
Not to be outdone, Zappos takes pride in delighting its customers, period. Stories abound of customers receiving free – and unexpected – overnight delivery, leaving a glowing impression of the purchase experience, and ultimately the Zappos brand (full disclosure: it’s happened to me twice). I spoke with a Zappos customer service specialist who was disarmingly pleasant and enthusiastic in her role, and who wisely advised me on the generous sizing of a particular shoe style I was ordering based on prior customers’ experience with this product. She was dead right about the fit, and I’ve never forgotten the call. I’ve retold the story hundreds of times. Oh, and I ended up returning the shoes… which seems insignificant, and thus often forgotten. Yet the part about overnight delivery and free return? That part I remember. It’s what brings me back again and again.
When it comes to customer engagement via social media channels, these two brands truly get it. Amazon has multiple Twitter feeds announcing everything from daily deals, free music downloads, special sales, coupons, to books and more (such as @amazonmp3, @kindlenews and @AmazonBookClub feeds, to @amazongames). It even boasts an unofficial consumer feed promoting products on its behalf (@AmazonHotDeal). How’s that for social media evangelizing?
Similarly, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh (@Zappos) is a popular Twitter user, and has managed to not only attract more than a million followers of his frequent, insightful, down-to-earth, and often funny tweets, but he’s made communication via Twitter and SM pervasive to Zappos’ culture among his staff (including the COO’s @zappos_alfred, @Zappos_Service, @Zappos_Pipeline, @zappos_helpdesk, @Zappos_Tweetup, and even @zappos_spouse and @ZapposFans).
The distinguishing quality about both Amazon and Zappos as brands is that the customer almost always wins. So ultimately, what’s most surprising is that this partnership didn’t happen even sooner. Or that it caught so many off-guard. Either way, something tells me this online retail hook-up is just the beginning of a wonderful union, for better, and for richer — for both brands, and their growing world of customers.