How did Zappos grow 20 percent in the midst of the worst recession in decades? It used super service to build a huge and loyal customer base. It brought in some fresh air - and fresh ideas. And it got social. Here's how you can follow in Zappos' footsteps.
Whenever he meets someone, Tony Hsieh asks whether the person has ever shopped at Zappos.com, the online shoe store he heads. One day, Hsieh's question triggered a harangue. The man's wife had spent $60,000 in one year on Zappos. "I should pay you to remove [her] name from your database," he said. Hsieh was inspired. Soon afterward, he announced that his shoe store would offer a "Cease and Desist" service. For the modest sum of $50,000, Zappos would agree to permanently disable the account of a wife, husband, or significant other. No one has accepted that tongue-in-cheek offer. But the whole caper was of a piece with a company that has put having fun at the heart of its public image and corporate culture. That, along with a smart, ever-evolving business plan anchored in superlative customer service, has made Zappos one of the rarest of business phenomena - an enterprise that thrives by breaking nearly every rule of retailing, online and off.