Article Date: 12/1/2011

What Can Zappos Teach You?
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What Can Zappos Teach You?

The e-retailer isn't about product or price. It's about a unique experience.

Gary Gerber, O.D.

“It's hard to be humble when I'm about to speak to you for an hour and tell how cool we are.”
— Jon Wolske, culture evangelist at Zappos Insights

Once a year we host a meeting for our doctor-clients. This year, we met in Las Vegas, Nev. and took a tour of When we first presented the agenda to our clients we were asked, “Why are you taking us on a tour of an online retailer who made their fortune selling shoes?”

Our response was simply, “Wait and see for yourself.” Here, I'll share some of the insights we learned from the tour.

It's not about the shoes

Zappos started as an online shoe retailer and now sells shoes, clothes, accessories and even sunglasses. Previously, many others had tried the same thing but faltered. Zappos succeeded because it wasn't about the shoes per se. It was about the experience you would have while buying the shoes, the ease which with you could buy them and the culture of the company behind the shoes.

Similarly, in an optometrist's case, success shouldn't be just about glasses or contact lenses. After all, short of a few hard-to-find exotic brands or specialty lenses, most patients view the products we all offer as approximately the same.

“Why buy shoes from Macy's when I can buy them from Zappos” is analogous to “Why buy glasses from Dr. Jones when I can buy them from the big-box guy or online?”

It's not about the price

Zappos doesn't typically offer the lowest prices or build their business around deals and specials. If you find a lower price elsewhere, they will give you many compelling reasons why you should buy from them, but they probably won't lower their price. Instead, they'll genuinely wish you well with your purchase, and welcome you back in the future.

Then, what is it about?

Specifically, clearly and succinctly it's about defining the culture and a commitment to execute your business around that culture. It's about never wavering or compromising your values.

After our eye-opening tour, Jon, Zappos' culture evangelist quoted above, outlined Zappos 10 core values, one of which is “Be Humble.” He was at that point put into the unenviable position of delivering the message of the incredible story and success of the company while remaining humble. With that core value ever present, he met his goal. The point here: Once you define your core values, you must stick to them in order to achieve maximum success. For example, if one of your core values is to “remain on the forefront of technology,” you have to do it, not just say it. And you have to do it every day, with every patient. No exceptions.

One of the defining moments for our doctors came when the discussion turned to employees getting aligned with a practice's core values and what happens when they don't. The comments were enlightening and unsettling at the same time. The conclusion was, “You have to be willing to fire somebody based on them not living up to your core values. It's that simple.” So for example, a Zappos core value we might adapt is “Pursue growth and learning.” If you had an employee who was not willing to do that, would you fire them?

Google “Zappos Family Core Values” to learn more. And if you're in or around Las Vegas, I suggest you make time to take the tour. OM


Optometric Management, Issue: December 2011