Zappos Milestone: Focus on Apparel

The sky is the limit for Zappos, as the e-tailer turns its attention to the apparel world and moves further away from shoes.

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The apparel merchandising strategy will mirror the company’s footwear business, with product categorized according to specialized segments — some of which are featured in their own mini sites, such as running, outdoor and couture. “We want to address the entire lifestyle of the customer,” Mossler said, adding that plans call for more mini sites, possibly including bridal and tennis. “[These sites are] places where we can create a special community [for different customer groups].” (See sidebar on page 26 for more on these sites.)

As with the footwear, clothing will come with the same generous return policy to encourage shoppers to experiment with their purchases. “We want to get customers to think of returns not as a bad thing but as part of the process and part of the service,” said Hsieh. “You pick out 10 items, try them on in the comfort of your living room, and then just send back the ones that don’t fit or don’t look good.”

Fast shipping will also be crucial. “When it comes to clothing, we view our real competition as a boutique or department store — that instant gratification,” Lin explained. “That’s what we’re really trying to replicate. And that’s why we’re constantly upgrading customers’ shipping to get orders out faster.”

The Zappos site already showcases an extensive selection of clothing — with much more to come by mid-year — but, Mossler said, “the challenge now is to change customers’ mindsets that Zappos is not just a footwear destination but a clothing destination as well.”

Furthermore, Mossler said the company also must reach out to apparel customers who have never even heard of the site.

To that end, the company recently rolled out a new TV campaign that puts the spotlight on apparel. And word-of-mouth among Zappos customers will also be key in promoting the e-tailer’s clothing business. “Every single product category expansion we’ve done previously has been through our customer base evangelizing about Zappos,” Lin noted. “The customer is more powerful than paid advertising.”

Many of Zappos’ vendor partners have applauded the company’s plans to claim a bigger stake in the clothing market, with some believing it will drive even more traffic to the site and draw more eyes to the footwear offerings.

“Today, it’s all about lifestyle,” said women’s footwear designer Bettye Muller, whose shoes have been sold on Zappos for more than five years. “People want to get the whole look in one place, and I hope this can enhance that.”

That’s especially true for female shoppers seeking to outfit themselves from head to toe for a special event, such as a wedding or prom, said Scott Silverstein, CEO of Nina Footwear, which has built a name around dress shoes. “The potential here is tremendous,” Silverstein said. “With [Zappos’] exceptional customer service, we’re confident that when they accessorize the ready-to-wear with the right shoes in all our categories, they will create an amazing opportunity to grow our business right along with theirs.”

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