Did Zappos Get Zapped?

What could be better than getting a fawning, Martha Stewart-endorsed infomercial for your latest gadget?


If you’re Jeff Bezos, perhaps tacking on a shameless promotion for your just-launched shoe website in front of millions of listeners.


In a presentation worthy of HSN’s best, this morning on The Martha Stewart Show, Jeff Bezos, prez and ceo of Amazon.com, enumerated the many groovy features of Amazon’s reading device, the Kindle, with Martha co-presenting as a rabid fan.  Several pre-show attempts at grabbing one for myself were met with “out of stock” notices so how thrilled was I when this morning’s clicks snagged two right away (one for biz partner extraordinaire and voracious reader, Lisa).  Can’t wait to get them and Mr. Bezos’ folksy, gee whiz description of the device should bring in droves of otherwise gadget-phobic readers.


. . . What really blew me away was his answer to an obviously-planted question from the audience (you know, the ones that Martha leverages to promote sponsor’s products and her latest Omnimedia releases?).  The audience member asked what the top-selling item on Amazon was.  Books, of course; however, Mr. Bezos also wants us to know that shoes (“shoes!”) are right up there . . . so hot are shoes that he HAD to launch a new shoe-selling website to address the demand.  Enter “endless.com,” the long-anticipated slap on the toes to Zappos.com . . . at least WE’VE anticipated it.  After all, how long could Tony Hsieh, ceo of Zappos, hog the online shoe market with his completely revolutionary-on-the-stealth shoe-selling platform (pun intended)?  Hearing Mr. Hsieh speak at the recent Global Retailing Conference (hosted by Terry Lundgren, ceo of Macy’s), solidified my devotion to Zappos.  I already knew first-hand about their terrific customer service, unbelievable selection, mind-blowing shipping timelines, and “no way!” return policies (one year to return, most returns paid by Zappos . . . you can basically order up your own shoe boutique and ship back what you don’t like).  His low-key description of Zappos’ wooky-culture and relentless customer service ethics belied what has to be a razor-sharp business acumen.  Not everyone can go from zero to $597 million in less than a decade (with projections to hit $1 billion next year).  I popped onto endless.com, expecting to find a me-too effort that doesn’t hold a candle.  Ruh roh . . . I’m liking some endless.  EVERY style marked with “free overnight” and a quick comparison shop revealed prices that, on average, were $3 to $4 cheaper.  The novelty of Zappos’ ongoing surprise shipping upgrades may begin to wear thin.  BTW, the comparison wasn’t easy to execute since endless’ selection is nowhere near as vast as Zappos’ and it appears that endless hasn’t yet procured the big brands.  Endless’ much more navigable and sleek site is giving me permission to admit that Zappos has always felt a bit cluttered, over-assorted and . . . well, cheesy; like walking into a TJ Maxx store.  Really love the color, size and other search criteria neatly presented in the left column on endless.


Mr. Hsieh knew that imitators were heading his way . . . but was he counting on Jeff Bezos?


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