It wasn’t advertising or an aggressive Twitter campaign that drove thousands of downloads of Zappos’ first app on the iPad, said Ian Klassen, principal, Zappos Mobile. It was a front-page mention — free of charge — on Apple’s “What’s Hot” page. “It was like a godsend,” said Klassen. “There’s nothing like it. Advertising is useful, but we haven’t seen a direct relation. We don’t do much more than word of mouth.”

Klassen was careful to point out that even though the Apple shout-out led to thousands of downloads, that didn’t mean the money started rolling in. “We all thought we’d be driving Cadillacs,” Klassen grinned, adding that he formerly thought downloads equaled revenue. “We discovered that we had to know what Zappos is. Design and quality trumps all.”

This story first appeared in the October 19, 2011 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The Las Vegas-based company — which sells shoes, beauty products, clothing and housewares online — has a business model focused on building revenue over time rather than trying to be a one-hit wonder with quick hits and e-blasts. He said Zappos stands apart for its free shipping, free returns and the fact that all of its customer service representatives are based in Vegas.

“We found people that really believe in what we’re doing. Finding people isn’t easy, but if you can get them to believe in what you believe in, it will be easier to get them on your team,” Klassen said.

The company is now focused on figuring out the best way to tell its story through the app by incorporating the brands it works with. “We do a good job of helping you find something but not a good job of telling a story,” admitted Klassen. “We work with all of these awesome brands, like Nike. We also need to talk about what they are about.”

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