Zappos Milestone: Tech Innovations

From a new beta site to a warehouse full of robots, Zappos is making the most of technology.

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When debuted 10 years ago, the entire site ran on one server. Now, 250 servers work continuously to ensure that every customer’s shopping experience is seamless.

While significant technology developments have spurred the company’s growth over the last decade, some would argue Zappos’ functionality isn’t overly advanced by tech-world standards.

But now, is in for a major overhaul. The new Website — called Zeta during its beta testing phase — will officially launch this year, with the majority up by the summer. Its refreshed design will better reflect the company’s move into apparel, watches, electronics and cosmetics.

“We’ve been phasing it in by sending more and more traffic to it,” said Brent Cromley, director of development at Zappos. “We are just keeping the old [site] around as a shell.”

In fact, a majority of Zappos’ current content — about 80 percent — is served by Zeta. That includes all search results and brand pages. The delay for the rest is to ensure the company won’t see a drop in its placement on Web searches. It’s also to ease customers into the major changes.

“There were a lot of people who said, ‘I like the old way of shopping,’” said Cromley. “That’s because for eight years they’d shopped the same way on Zappos. When you change their shopping experience, you have to be careful it’s not going to shock them.” The company is still surveying users to find more ways to improve the overall online experience.

Anytime a site is redesigned, there’s sure to be a backlash from devoted fans of the status quo — think Facebook’s redesign in March, which triggered a rash of complaints. However, preliminary reviews of Zeta have been favorable.

“The new site is a little less ugly and confusing,” said David Fry, president of Fry Inc., an e-commerce branding firm based in Ann Arbor, Mich. “But compared with and other major e-commerce Websites, it’s a lot more complicated to use.”

Kris Ongbongan, systems manager at Zappos, said it should actually be easier to find items on Zeta. “The biggest change is the search functionality,” he said. “The old version of Zappos was built to sell shoes, and [now] we are branching out to different product lines.”

For example, a search for “gold” now offers watches, handbags, belts and other items, rather than just gold shoes.

Offshoots from the main site, such as, a visual navigation site, and, a members-only site that will soon offer a personal shopper to users via live chat, will also become easier to execute through Zeta.

In addition, the Zappos team now will be able to track what percentage of users view a product page, how many of them put that item in their cart and then who actually makes that purchase. The goal is to pinpoint how people prefer to do their shopping.

So far, Cromley said, “the site, overall, is performing better [than the old one]. People are finding more products and actually buying them.”

Social Studies

As the popularity of social networking grows, more e-commerce sites are seeking to incorporate aspects of it into the shopping experience, including Zappos.

“We’re trying to bring in the customer to be a bigger part of the site,” said Ongbongan. “We are getting out there in social media and trying to get the customer involved.”

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