Zappos Milestone: Vendor Relations

Over the years, Zappos’ footwear assortment has grown exponentially.

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A Merrell boot for fall ’09.

Photo By Courtesy Photo


Today, is arguably the go-to Website for footwear, and business partners can’t say enough about the retailer. But things haven’t always been so easy.

Before convincing consumers to buy goods online, the Zappos team first had to find brands willing to take the risk with their product.

After knocking on doors and selling the idea, vendors began to gamble on Zappos, and the site’s shoe offering grew dramatically after the first year. At the end of 2000, the company offered 58 brands, including big players such as Skechers, which today sells nearly 1,000 styles on the Website. By 2006, that number jumped to a total of 511 brands.

Today, Zappos carries 1,326 brands, and buyers are continuing to evaluate the assortment.

The Early Days

Fred Mossler, who now oversees merchandising, marketing, creative services and product presentation, among other departments, remembers clearly his first day at Zappos. It was 1999, and he attended The WSA Show. “After four days of the show, we walked away with four commitments: Sudini, Tommy Bahama, Bostonian and Rochester Shoe Tree Co.,” he said.

The opposition in the beginning came from shoe companies, who were wary about selling their try-and-fit product online. Very few of them even had Websites at the time.

“In the mid-1990s, nobody thought shoes would work on the Internet,” said Tim Patwell, U.S. director of sales at Camper.

And many believed the dot-com implosion was evidence that e-commerce couldn’t work at all. In fact, a number of manufacturers instituted a policy in which they would only sell to online sites that also had well-known brick-and-mortar locations, leaving Zappos out of the mix.

“Serendipitously, we had a change of management, and I talked to my boss about selling to Zappos. ... It was just the right time, and we became one of their first brands,” said Tom Austin, director of online businesses at Clarks.

As interest grew, Mossler and his team set out to make the shoe-buying experience as easy and user-friendly as possible for the consumer, hoping that would convince more vendors to join the site. “We showed vendors we’d spend a lot of money to make sure we had the best images,” he said.

Such details included pictures of the shoes from six different angles and images of all the available colors for each product and brand biographies — still prominent features on the site today.

“A brand such as Camper, that is 50 years old, has such a history, and it’s hard to tell that story through a shoe or two. You have to offer some background,” Camper’s Patwell said of the biography feature. “We don’t have an advertising budget that allows us to get our name out there in a big way right now, so that’s been the value through online partners — it becomes a marketing partnership.”


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