Zappos was founded in 1999, during the Internet boom, to sell shoes online. The company's founding premise was to provide the ultimate in selection to its customers-all brands, styles, sizes, and colors. Zappos organized all aspects of its business (including recruiting, culture, call center, inventory, website, and supply chain) to provide the best possible service-it wanted to "wow" everyone who interacted with the company, from customers to employees to corporate partners. Zappos grew rapidly, and by 2008 was profitable with net sales (after returns) of about $650 million. The company faced a number of issues as it looked forward. While it had penetrated only about 3 percent of the U.S. market for shoes, Zappos had expanded its product lines to items such as camping gear and video games. It needed to determine those elements of its strategy had contributed to its success in shoes, and whether it would be able to duplicate that success in other product lines. It also needed to determine how it could scale its business-much of the effort it had made to "wow" its customers was labor intensive and expensive-could this be scaled to a company with revenues of tens of billions? Finally, the economic landscape changed dramatically in late 2008, with the financial market collapse and recession. The service-intensive Zappos.com business was based on sales at little to no discount, unlike many websites that relied on selling at the lowest possible price. Would the company need to make changes to respond to the changed economic environment, and if so, what were those changes? The case provides an opportunity to evaluate the core competences of an Internet retailer that has experienced rapid, initial success. The case enables students to consider supply chain issues, which are critical to the company's success, in the broader context of the business: the bases of Zappos' success, its core competencies, culture, and competitive environment.
The case highlights an Internet retailer that has grown rapidly, but faces significant issues, including scope of product offerings, supply chain costs, customer service costs, and scalability. The teaching objective of the case is to examine these issues, and the considerations that the company must make in choosing a way forward.
Supply chain management
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