Zappos  built its business on offering staggering selection--first footwear, then adding apparel, accessories, and housewares. The 13-year-old e-commerce giant now boasts 127,000 styles (about 40% of which are shoes) from over 1,000 brands that generate in excess of $1 billion of revenue annually. But what happens when all that choice becomes as big a pain point as crappy customer service? Since another cornerstone of Zappos’s business model is to provide a stellar shopping experience  from browsing to buying, the company had to rethink the way it offers goods for sale.
The result: a whole new platform. Dubbed Glance , the social commerce site aims to present customers with edited collections of the products they really want to see, uncluttered by navigation and filtering, says Carrie Whitehead, Zappos's product and UX manager. “The products and the people are heroes here,” she tells Fast Company.
Compared to the homepage of its parent, Glance is spare with just three navigation tabs and a fat photo of the featured collection at the top. The page then picks up where Pinterest leaves off; two columns of curated collections allow shoppers to click through to pages of product images they can simply “heart” (think: favorite or like) or click to buy.
“Hearting items is a core concept to develop community,” Whitehead contends, “And it really helps others to discover similar products and similar people.”
Encouraging discovery and growing community are key issues the company’s in-house innovation brain trust Zappos Labs has been tasked to develop since its inception a year ago. Under the direction of Will Young, the San Francisco-based Labs team routinely launches experimental microsites--which used to be under the Expo tab  at Zappos.com. Glance is a stand-alone, though, spawned from series of social tests.
“Years ago, Zappos tried to implement our own social network named My.Zappos. It's no longer around,” recalls Young, “We definitely see a lot more value to make it easier for our fans and customers to interact with our brand in their existing networks.” But there were challenges even with established platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Zappos Labs launched Tweetwall, thinking that when people would see products tweeted it would prompt them to buy. “We weren't giving people enough reasons to come back and check it out regularly,” he admits.
Social sharing is key to boosting sales, a revelation that prompted eBay to purchase the curated commerce platform Svpply . “When people share their orders, it generates a lot more revenue than a pin on Pinterest ($33 vs. $0.70),” he says.
The team also tested what makes users want to share their orders. Given a choice between basic social icons (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest) or more action-oriented icons that said Share, Tweet, and Pin, Young says the action icons got more clicks, especially on Pinterest--more than Facebook and Twitter combined. Glance will be sensitive to over-sharing, thanks to pushback from its test community. “We will never post anything to Facebook without your express permission,” Whitehead points out.
Whitehead says that listening to customers also prompted Glance’s layout. “From Zappos's ZN app we found that people like simple grids of curated product,” she asserts. But shoppers won’t have to rely on the suggestions of the community alone, she notes. “We are lucky that our team of stylists, merchandisers, and buyers in Las Vegas are hyper-focused on what makes sense in trends and editing down.”
Of course, the more you heart items, the better the site’s algorithms can offer up preference-based selections of products and people, she says. Though it officially launches today, Whitehead underscores that Glance is very much a work in progress. “There will be more personalization and ways to directly connect with others,” as the site evolves. Not only will that help point users to stuff they really want, but it could set the foundation for a whole loyalty program. Whitehead says that social interaction on the site could make active users “trend setters” that are able to earn rewards.
Any chance that all the curation and personalization will ever lead to a more edited selection of goods on Zappos.com? Not anytime soon, says Whitehead. “We will better understand the type of product people are excited about to help inform our buyers and how we promote product on Zappos.com,” she says, “We are all about wide selection. I don’t see that going away.”