Rain or Shine: Zappos and the Art of Consistency

On Sunday, SXSW Interactive brought the unexpected: inside, the first onstage marriage proposal, and outside, a downpour. Austin typically gets just over two inches of rain in March, but Sunday, just in time for thousands of web people to descend on the downtown area for lunch, it poured. And while a few came prepared for the weather, most did not.

Of all people, Zappos, the online shoe seller, stepped in to help. Zappos representatives, posted at key doors to the conference center, handed out perfectly packaged Zappos-branded ponchos. Attendees — the fashion-conscious and fashion-carefree alike — pulled on the oversized plastic protectors en route to their respective lunches. The result: downtown Austin became a venerable Zappos billboard, and hundreds and hundreds were both dry and thankful. “We have no idea what Zappos.com does online, but their raincoats rocked,” posted cogdogblog to flickr.

The poncho’s out of the bag.

Known for their unfailing customer service, Zappos consistently just seems to really get it. Protecting humans from inclement weather conditions is surely not something you’d find in their mission statement, but I’d bet “protecting customers” is. Therefore, somehow having them take care of us — being able to depend on them for support in the unexpected — didn’t seem that odd at all. I might even say it was on brand.

From Zappos’ almost too-good-to-be-true shipping and return policy to their now-legendary personal attention, it does appear that customers come first. And while there’s no doubt that the ponchos’ purpose was advertising, pure and simple, the move came off as a considered campaign that put people at the center.

There’s nothing wrong with handing out flyers and postcards, but without a secondary utility, most serve to quickly inform us, then end up in a nearby garbage can. Thanks to Zappos for coming forward with a simple strategy that was unexpected, yet unquestioningly consistent with their brand.

A final note: The ponchos were pretty successful. While most of me stayed quite dry, my sneakers, ordered a few weeks ago from (I’m not kidding) Zappos, got soaked.