Fashion ECommerce Lessons from Zappos in Delivering Happiness

fashion ecommerce lessons

We all have the best intentions at the turn of the year but according to some statistics only 8% of us stick to our resolutions, whether business or personal. Some of this is due in part to lofty, chunky goals (rather than bite size ones) which can very quickly start to feel overwhelming.

Let’s take our fashion ecommerce sites as an example; we want to completely re-do the user interface, add some flash animation, make the checkout experience easier, add beautiful photography. And the list goes on. But after reading Delivering Happiness written by the CEO of Zappos, my thought processes changed.

Zappos went from almost nothing to $1 billion in annual sales over the 10 years and is arguably one of the most successful ecommerce companies of our time.  It made me realize that the goals and actions for sustainable and successful ecommerce comes down to prioritizing much more fundamental and simple ideas.

Under Promise and Over-Deliver

This is an ingredient for the best businesses in the world and start up fashion is no different. Customers love the element of surprise. So for the first few customers that order from your site in 2014, do something unexpected. Zappos decided to give their customers faster shipping so they received their orders earlier than anticipated. The investment paid off, customer feedback and loyalty was significantly higher as a result.

Getting Fulfillment Right

Fulfillment is always the less sexy afterthought following website design. Yet it is where numerous ecommerce sites fail to retain customers. If you are managing fulfillment yourself, always make sure you communicate to the customer the estimated delivery times and then think about one small touch inside the package that you can add to enhance the customer experience.

For example; welcome notes, a little history on the product or maybe 10% off their next purchase. Remember it doesn’t need to cost a lot but leave a lasting impression. Unlike a retail store where you see and talk to your customers everyday, your primary and most important conversation with the customer is from the time from they click to buy to when they open the package. Make it a good conversation and one they want to repeat.

Word of Mouth vs. Digital Advertising

Many of you starting ecommerce sites will, like me, be told how much you should spend on SEO, Adwords, social media, but what’s the use if you are driving them to a bad customer experience?

Remember that word of mouth from one customer’s good experience is by far the best marketing. Numerous studies have shown that people are far more likely to be influenced by peer reviews and recommendations rather than adverts – so make sure (1) and (2) are right before investing large sums in digital marketing.

Your Culture is Your Brand

Probably the biggest takeaway from the Zappos story was that so much of its success lay not in ‘ecommerce savvy’ but in the way the company built its culture. This meant anything from hiring policies, the written values, and quirks like paying people to quit if they wanted to. You might be a 2 person team or 20 people but it’s never too early to start. Have a read of Zappos core values here and come up with your own set of core values.

A Happiness Framework

A formula for happiness was the last thing you’d expect to read at the back of a book about an ecommerce company but it helped tie all the main themes of the business together.

Tony Hsieh, the CEO, always talked about Zappos as a ‘higher calling’ and he carefully applied the science of happiness to running a business. To the casual observer, this might sound ridiculous for an online shoe company but without it the company would have been just like every other ecommerce start up.

Core to Zappos mission was an obsessive focus on company culture and wowing customers. 2014 might be a good time to re-visit your start up mission and talk to existing customers for their feedback. You can then let this guide what the focus of effort and investment on your ecommerce site should be.

At the end of this book, I went back to my to-do list for my ecommerce site and re-prioritized everything. All the fancy web design changes will have to wait a little longer and that’s not a bad thing.

Image: Joel Bedford
Kajal Sanghrajka

As the founder of Fashion Coefficient with a business background, a creative curiosity and love of working with designers, Kajal consults for independent brands on business planning, financials and operations.