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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The Zeta site, launching this year.

Photo By Courtesy Photo

One way is Twitter, the free service that allows users to share brief commentary (just 140 characters or less) with friends and contacts. Tony Hsieh, CEO at Zappos, has been among the earliest and biggest proponents of Twitter. He has more than 300,000 followers, who read everything from day-to-day business decisions to details of his appearance on “The Celebrity Apprentice.”

Last November, Hsieh even used Twitter to announce the decision to lay off 8 percent of the Zappos workforce (including a link to the e-mail he sent employees) — something business experts said was revolutionary in the way management communicates difficult decisions.

“Other companies everywhere were making layoffs, but Zappos was able to make their small layoff into a big win for the company,” said Fry.

Zappos also is considering how it can replicate the in-store experience online through social networking. The development team plans to roll out another feature that offers more interaction with friends. Though they remain quiet about exactly what it will entail, they said it should be in place by the third quarter of 2009.

“We want our customers to have something like a profile page, where they can put up what they are considering buying and have people comment on that,” said Cromley. “Right now, when you shop online, it’s very isolated.”

Fry said that while most online shoppers aren’t looking for a real-world experience when buying through the computer, they are happy when they find it.

“The social media stuff is also about narcissism,” said Fry. “For some people, shoes are part of their identity. There’s an audience that wants to tell the world about all the shoes they bought. And Zappos’ ability to bring social networking to the Website will gratify that need.”

Robotic Programming

At Zappos, a look inside the order fulfillment center is a peek into the future.

The company’s 24-hour, seven-days-a-week warehouse in Shepherdsville, Ky., boasts one of the most technologically advanced systems in the country — robots included.

“For us, this is the future of fulfillment,” said Craig Adkins, VP of operations at Zappos. “We are not a Charles Dickens idea of a warehouse with a 60-watt bulb in a giant building.”

At 832,000 square feet, the warehouse houses 70 small, orange-colored robots working to complete orders in just eight minutes. The robots, made by Woburn, Mass.-based Kiva Systems, are new for the industry and came to Zappos last July.

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