What Zappos can teach us about mobile commerce


When I first heard of Zappos, I thought “No way! Buy Shoes online . . . How do I know how they fit?!?!? That will never work.” Well, after an $1.2 billion acquisition, I stand corrected; in my shoes that I did NOT purchase from Zappos. Turns out, people were willing to buy shoes online. A lot of people. As a matter of fact, I recently asked my class and another I was guest lecturing in, who had purchased from Zappos and about 95% of the people in both classes had done so. Why was I wrong? Zappos focused on customer service and has a no questions asked, return policy.  Those are the reasons Zappos was able to sell shoes online.

I hear many people say that they’d be unwilling to buy something through their mobile phone. Well, they may be alone on that one. Eventually. They should be feeling pretty lonely right about now. Here are some recent numbers showing the adoption of mCommerce.

As you can see, consumers are increasingly comfortable with mobile purchases and if we think about buying more personal things, such as clothing, etc my Zappos-based doubt creeps in. But wait! Remember, there’s a solution. Exemplary customer service! A no questions asked return policy! These are things that businesses embracing mobile commerce need to focus on. Mobile commerce is at an even greater deficit due to the screen real estate, but that can be overcome following the Zappos model.

We also need to remember that it isn’t just what you do, but how you do it. Businesses embracing mCommerce need to enable customers to contact to customer service in a format that is native to the mobile device AND that they’re most comfortable with. Those formats are:

  • Email – Some are more comfortable with this ancient format. It’s not quite smoke signals, so you should support it.
  • Call – This should used for more immediate help and a personal touch and their smartphones do make calls!
  • Instant Messaging – Because of online chat adoption, this behavior may carry over. Typing on a mobile is not fun, no matter what, but some may have to do it given the situation; such as they need to keep it quiet but need immediate help.
  • SMS – This is the number one data-based behavior on mobile phones. Enough said . . .
  • MMS – If a customer wants to take a picture or shoot a video of the issue and send it to you; let them.

If I were just starting a business, I’d launch with all of these (because they’re cheap) and monitor which ones have the most traction with my customer base. These are great tools but they need the Zappos mindset to truly be successful for mobile commerce.

By Michael Myers