If The Shoe Fits - A look at Zappos.com and the technology they use

Last week I wrote about several different companies using Twitter as a Business Intelligence tool. After I posted the article, I received a Twitter from Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh thanking me for writing about his company and their use of Twitter.

For those not familiar with Zappos, their vision sums up their goals as the premier online shoe retailer:

  • One day, 30% of all retail transactions in the US will be online.
  • People will buy from the company with the best service and the best selection.
  • Zappos will be that company.
  • Zappos has always been an a company looking for an edge in many areas, not the least of which is social media. They currently have 440 employees (know as Zapponians) that are using Twitter to create a more interactive customer community.

    To quote Tony, "we started getting the entire company more involved with Twitter because we saw it as a great way to help build our company culture. But then we discovered it was also a great way to connect with customers as well. For Twitter, we don't really view it as a marketing channel so much as a way to connect on a more personal level, whether it's with our employees or our existing customers"

    Twitter is great. But what is next for Zappos? I twittered Tony with some questions and he introduced me to Brent Cromley, their Director of Development.

    Brent and I had a chance to chat about how Zappos is using technology in new and different ways. Here's that conversation.

    Stephen Rose (SR) -  Brent, what technologies is Zappos.com utilizing to give yourselves an edge over your competitors?

    Brent Cromley (BC) - Generally, we will always choose an open source technology over something proprietary. That gives us the flexibility to really understand what is going on in the underlying system or library and potentially make modifications that are more suitable to Zappos. There are numerous open source projects out there that can give us a jump-start on development of a new project.

    SR- What blogs and tech sites to you read to learn about the newer technologies?

    BC- Techcrunch.com, Mashable.com, Alistapart.com,  Highscalability.com and many more, but those are some of the big ones.

    SR - Will there be a mobile enabled Zappos site?

    BC - Yes - This is something we will be building on top of our new e- commerce platform we are internally calling Zeta (Zeta = Zappos + Beta). Look for a mobile-enabled Zappos site next year.

    SR - What about photo to shoe or show barcode recognition (take a photo of a shoe or shoe barcode in a store and have the shoe waiting for you in your inbox ready to order)

    BC- Definitely an idea we have been playing with - parsing a cell-phone photo of a barcode is extremely difficult - it will be a bit before this technology is readily available for us to use.

    SR- What technologies especially interest you right now?

    BC- Search, Twitter, Social Networking, Analytics, Mobile-enabled shopping applications

    SR- What idea do you have that technology has not caught up with in new ways to reach customers and do business?

    BC- Same-day delivery of packages, barcode scanning, mobile shopping (devices are just starting to get interesting)

    SR- What’s on the horizon for Zappos.com?

    BC- More interactive and collaborative shopping experiences for a Zappos customer - trying to emulate some of the social aspects of shopping in a mall with friends.

    Special thanks to Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh and Director of Development Brent Cromley for their time.

    To learn more about Zappos visit www.zappos.com or to learn more about their internal culture visit their blog at http://blogs.zappos.com

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