All the press about Tony talked about customer service and the 24/7 warehouse and having a fast website. That was great, operational excellence and all that. Sure.
But not being a big shoe shopper or shoe thinker, I was kind of flying blind in the space. I wanted to understand the original vision for the business, to glimpse the spark that lead someone to think they could make a successful startup out of selling shoes online. Retail is so hard, and I dunno, I would just expect that between existing bricks & mortar retailers with websites, and ordering direct from manufacturers over the web, shoes would be pretty much covered, and it would be hard to get a foothold to make a big business.
So I went to look at the site, but it didn't help. The tagline really left me stumped. "We are a service company that happens to sell ... Shoes Handbags Apparel Accessories". Huh.
I didn't get it. I mean, that's great and all. I expect that sort of thing on a poster in the warehouse over the drinking fountain. Like if you go to the restroom at Best Buy and see the wall with all of the reminders for the employees on how to upsell properly. Or the big "Check Your Appearance" over the mirror in the employee hallways in casinos just before the doors that lead back into the public areas. It's an internal motto, a way they think about themselves. McDonald's is "Quality, Service, Cleanliness, and Value", but that's not their advertising tagline. (It's currently "I'm lovin' it", unfortunately).
There was no way "We're a service company" was the original spark behind Zappos. Yeah, we're going to happen to sell shoes, and we're going to be great operationally. That elevator pitch didn't hook any VCs.
I know the kind of meeting that results in "We're a service company" ending up on the website, and it wasn't around a kitchen table. It happened later. After other people were hired.
I went over to the Internet Archive to see what Zappos had looked like when it first launched. Sure enough, Zappos circa 1999-2001:
World's largest shoe store. Of course! It's so blindingly obvious (in hindsight). They're the Amazon.com of shoes. That's the elevator pitch. "We're going to be the Amazon.com of shoes." They're going to have everything, be really comprehensive. And of course have a great website and handle returns and ship things fast and all that stuff you need to do well if you're going to have a hope in retail.
Now Amazon.com doesn't call themselves the "earth's biggest bookstore" anymore. They don't seem to have a tagline at all now, that I can see on their website. Books became limiting, and they wanted to become a superstore, and sell everything.
But then this Zappos thing came along. And although Amazon sold shoes on their website, I guess Zappos was getting all the shoe-buzz and eating away at the vertical. So Amazon has launched Endless.com, an online shoe store.
Now Endless.com has a tagline. Which is reminiscent of Amazon's original tagline, and Zappos.
"Endless Style, Endless Options." Earth's biggest... world's largest... endless... hmmm.
So now Amazon has launched a site to be the Amazon.com of shoes. Ironic!