Succcess Through Simplicity

The home page of isn’t exactly an example of whiz-bang technology in action. Nothing moves, there are no ads, and truth be told, it’s a little bland. It’s also fast as lightning: According to Lexington, Mass.-based research firm Gomez Inc., Zappos’ Web site was the fastest of the top 50 Internet retailers for broadband customers in September 2006—it took an average of just .879 seconds to load—a position the site has pretty much held since Gomez began measuring site-response time a year ago.

Does Zappos experiment with moving search boxes around the site, or increasing or decreasing the size of one particular font over another? “We will look at that kind of ‘if A, then B’ stuff,” says Jon Field, director of development. “But we don’t see the need to play those kinds of games to see if we can get customers to do something. We just put links in to make it easier for them to get from here to there.” Keeping the pages relatively stripped-down has also made Zappos the fastest retail site for dial-up customers. “A lot of retailers don’t do well on the last mile,” says Matt Poepsel, vice president of application management at Gomez. “We’ve been really impressed with how Zappos has done in that regard.”

Ask Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh whether the company spends much time trying to improve the industry measure called “cart-abandonment rate”—when you bail from a site without completing the transaction—and he can barely stifle a yawn. “We don’t focus so much on that,” he says. “We try to spend most of our time on stuff that will improve customer-service levels.” Stuff such as e-mail lists to remind consumers when their favorite brand introduces a new shoe, or discussion lists where customers can tell each other what they like about their shoes.

The company’s 1-800 number is displayed prominently on every page of the Web site. On the home page, Zappos takes care to remind you—four times—about free shipping. The Web site also allows consumers to do things many other sites don’t, such as search by shoe size. The results have been borne out in the company’s rapid growth, with sales nearly doubling every year. “Their Web site is easy to use,” says Angelique Dab, a research analyst at Nollenberger Capital Partners Inc. “Which translates into word-of-mouth sales. I found out about Zappos from my secretary. And I’ve been using it ever since.”

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