Jul 06 2007

eCommerce Review: Zappos.com and the Brown Shoe Scavenger Hunt

A few weeks back, I decided I needed a new pair of brown shoes – my existing pair were starting to look a bit dilapidated. I’ll give you fair warning, maybe it’s the metro-sexual part of me, but I was very particular in the type of brown shoes I was looking for. A square toed, dressy but not too dressy, wooden soled (ideally), comfortable, chocolate brown shoe. Something I could wear with khakis, jeans, or even a casual suit. I know, most guys probably aren’t this particular about what they’re walking on.

With my wife by my side, I ventured into the mystical world of underground shoe shopping… not really, but that sounded like a good way to start the paragraph – we went to the mall. Shoe shopping, store after store, to my wife’s delight. Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, DSW, Aldo, you name it – if they sold men’s shoes, we were there. To my surprise, we left the mall empty handed. I was stifled – I could not find that perfect pair of brown shoes. The biggest obstacle believe it or not was finding the right color brown – I found orange-brown, red-brown, light brown, but not a deep, rich chocolate brown in sight.

I was on a mission that day, and determined to find that perfect pair of brown shoes. So, off to the biggest shoe marketplace in the world – online! Mind you – I’ve never bought shoes online before because not only am I particular in how it looks, I also like to know how it feels and fits before purchasing. Regardless, I figured with a good return policy, I wouldn’t have to worry about choosing something that did not fit right – at this point I just wanted something that looked right. So, doing a Google search for “Shoes” returned a number of quality results, one of which that caught my attention was Zappos.com. While not familiar with the website myself, it looked as if it had garnished a lot of attention in Del.Icio.Us and Technorati – which instantly upped my level of trust in the site (talk about the power of social marketing). You may be asking yourself why was I looking that information up? Well, I wasn’t, you see, I have this handy-dandy little Firefox Extension known as Seoquake which for every webpage I visit, displays a variety of statistics about that site right in my Firefox toolbar.

Zappos Delicious and Technorati

So while I was there, I decided to read some of the comments people had mentioned about Zappos, with an overwhelmingly majority of them praising the Zappos.com website for competitive pricing, felexible return policies, and excellent customer service. This kind of information at my fingertips helped cure any qualms I had previously about buying shoes online. And sure enough, their website addressed these concerns up front and proud – free overnight shipping, free shipping both ways, these themes were consistently in my face throughout my entire visit. A shining example of how an eCommerce site is addressing consumer’s issues about shopping online – especially when it comes to shoes! I no longer had any concerns about buying a pair of shoes online, between others having positive customer service experiences, and the fact that I could easily (and freely) return something, I had basically no risk in trying something from the site.

At this point in time, Zappos.com has already received a lot of recognition in the online community about it’s customer service practices – which are excellent. But despite this excellence in customer service, I ran into a lot of issues with the website itself. Let’s start with the homepage:

Zappos.com Homepage

Can you say clutter? It took me 30 seconds just to absorb everything on this page. With sites trying to accomodate so much at once, sometimes you need to simplify the equation. Think of walking into a shoe store, what is the very first thing you do? Well, if you’re a guy, you look for the men’s section, if you’re a woman, the woman’s section, etc. There’s no need for me to waste time in looking at women’s shoes when all I’m interested in men’s, so why not define your consumer the very first thing you do? What would be more effective on this homepage would be to identify your customer, male, female, or children. The next step would be to identify what this visitor is looking for, running shoes, dress shoes, sandals, etc. This type of arrangement allows for a more comfortable flow for the consumer, and a less confusing homepage – I honestly almost got a headache looking at that page.

After a few eyedrops, I finally figured out how to get to the men’s section, through the link on the header. Zappos.com Men’s Collection But boy, just when I thought I had seen the worst of it, I encounter this page of seemingly endless text links. Could they make it any more difficult to find my shoes? At this point I’m about to just leave the site, but I muster up the courage to venture further. From here on out is where Zappos.com redeems itself, once I’ve found the section I’m interested in, the features available to shoppers are great. From a browsing perspective, they have filtering by size, color, toe style, width, price, etc. This type of functionality made it very easy for me to find the style of shoe I was looking for. On the product details page there existed multi-angle high quality photographs of every pair of shoes, customer reviews and ratings, and even a “fit survey” so customers can share how true to size the shoes actually are – because as we all know, not every 10.5 size shoe fits the same.

So at the end of the day, our overall experience from a UI side was not good, it was even bad enough to make me want to spare my eyes the agony. On the otherhand, strong customer service, browsing features, and their commitment to ease consumers’ fears of purchasing shoes online allow this company to excel in the marketplace. With a UI overhaul, we’re confidant this site would benefit from a decrease in bounce rates, an increase in user retention, and overall an increase in revenue.

I did find the shoes I was looking for – they ran big and thus did not fit right, but I will be exchanging them for a size smaller thanks to their lenient return policies.

Zappos.com Brown Shoes

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Kevin Eichelberger

Founder & CEO

Founded in 2008, Blue Acorn is the product of Kevin’s great passion and knowledge of all things eCommerce. Kevin’s data-driven approach has culminated in a strong, growing business that’s success is closely tied to the success of its clients. When he’s not immersing himself in eCommerce, Kevin works toward expanding Charleston’s tech community by serving as a board member for the Charleston Digital Corridor Foundation, and is also a mentor and advisor to several startups. A business-savvy technologist, you can find Kevin evangelizing about data, optimization and eCommerce.


Dec 11 2007

Absolutely Great! The contexts were very informational and educational. I’ve learned a lot of ideas through this stuff. Thank you!

Chad Kapfhamer
Dec 03 2012

Very insightful; akin to free consulting services. Based on the current Zappos website, which appears to have incorporated many of the ideas shared, perhaps someone at Zappos was listening….

those not listening are probably good client prospects for blueacorn…..a “target rich” environment perhaps…


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