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Getting Zappos-d

Imagine you own a local shoe store. You keep a stock on hand of about 250 pairs of shoes to satisfy the diverse tastes of your geographic area.  Even in tough times, people need shoes.  Maybe not the most glamorous business, but is has been good for you and your family for a couple of generations.

Until your world is shattered in an instant.  By Zappos. 

I’m sure you know it. Zappos is the online shoe store that stocks over 1 million pairs of shoes.  They ship for free – both ways.  So you can order 10 pairs of shoes, try them all on, and send back the nine pairs you don’t like.  Zappos consistently ranks in the top 5% for customer service right along the Ritz Carlton and other luxury brands.  Before they reached their 10th birthday, Zappos became the largest shoe store on the planet with over $1 billion in retail sales.

You can’t compete.  There’s no way you can stock 1 million pairs of shoes.  You’re out of business.  Maybe not instantly, but the decline begins right away, and your demise is only a matter of time. 

Your customers now have access to a bigger selection, great customer service, and total convenience.  They’re going away, never to return. 

You were Zapposed.  The name Zappos is derived from the Spanish word Zapatos (shoes).  Based on the impact Zappos had on the shoe industry, I believe we need a new phrase: Getting Zapposed. 

Zappos.  (ZA-pos)  Verb.  To crush one’s competitor.  To eat another’s lunch.  To overwhelm an adversary with so much innovation and creativity that they succumb to your will.  To rewrite the rules of the game and render your opponent helpless.  To demoralize your enemy via breakthrough innovation.

This kind of cataclysm isn’t just happening in the world of shoes.  In fact, many industries are in the midst of massive upheaval.  How many people do you know in the real estate industry that have been Zapposed?  What about other kinds of retail?  Think how the world of consumer electronics is in a constant arms race for competitive advantage.  Makes you wonder who’s going to Zappos whom.

In this post-recession era where companies are hyper-focused on cost-cutting, efficiency gains, and relying on their core competencies, maybe it’s time to focus on how you are going to Zappos your competitors.  You can only cut so far, and at some point you need to innovate and grow to win.

Here’s my modest proposal:  gather your best and brightest, start with a blank sheet of paper, and brainstorm on what you can do to Zappos your industry.  You’ll have fun and probably end up with a long list of possibilities.  You can bet your competitors are doing the same thing.  In the end, wouldn’t you rather do the Zappos-ing than get Zapposed?