Playing to Win: How to Think & Act Like Zappos

I started my book about Zappos with a tweet and a question.

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The tweet read:

I saw Winnie the Pooh running through the parking lot. Yes, I work at Zappos!

The question was:

Zappos, what is Zappos?

Here’s the short answer:

Zappos is an online shoe and clothing retailer founded in 1999 by Nick Swinmurn and acquired a decade later by Amazon for $1.2 billion. It is also a company with a revolutionary culture and outstanding customer experience.

Let’s look at five elements of Zappos’ culture that warrant attention:

Serve a Perfect Fit – Most businesses fail to differentiate themselves from the competition because they never take the time to understand what they uniquely value or possess. Rather than emulating the core values of other companies, Zappos’ leaders asked their people, “What does it take to be a success here?” After securing that honest assessment, leaders used those core values (things like creating fun and a little weirdness) to guide all decisions for the company, including the selection of applicants who possess those qualities.

Make it Effortlessly Swift – Before a company can build an emotional relationship with its customers, it has to get the basics right. Today that involves “making it easy” for customers to get their needs met. I describe this as “service velocity” – since it involves service speed in the direction of desired customer outcomes.

Step Into the Personal – Unfortunately, good service leaves you a coupon away from customers trying a competitor. Zappos encourages the formation of a PEC (personal emotional connection) during every customer interaction and focuses on customer success over short-term profit. For example, if you reach out to the Zappos contact center (named the Customer Loyalty Team or CLT) and they can’t find the product you need for delivery when you need it, they will send you to a competitor.

S T R E T C H – Many great leaders and companies become less relevant because they stop growing. In essence, they lose their entrepreneurial restlessness. Zappos fosters growth and development by cross-training team members, providing career paths through Zappos University, offering personal coaching, and equipping team members with cutting-edge learning resources.

Play to Win – Work and play aren’t opposites at Zappos – they merge together. While play without purpose is not a sustainable business approach, a workplace devoid of play is also not likely to fuel innovation and collaboration. Zappos drives employee engagement through its quirky, communal, and mirthful work environment.

Zappos zigs where others zag. Leaders understand that

team members must enjoy the same experience you want your customers to have.

To learn more about ways to drive playful and engaging experiences, please contact me at

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Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies.

Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

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