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The New York Times has a piece about Kedar Deshpande, the CEO of Zappos, who found himself in a much more fraught position than he expected when he took over from the longtime CEO, virtual founder and retailing icon Tony Hsieh.  Several months after taking the job, Hsieh died in a tragic house fire;  it was then revealed that he had been behaving erratically for some time. and that his death seemed to be a direct result of his personal demons.

“The Covid situation and everything else going on makes it very tough, particularly with a culture that is built on physical proximity and happiness associated with that,” Deshpande tells the Times, which says that "he said he was optimistic about the future, especially given the decade he had spent at Zappos in different roles.  'The culture is not just one person or two people,' he said."

The Times goes on:

"While Zappos did not have to struggle with the drop-off at physical stores that so many other retailers did, it did take a hit early on in the pandemic as shoes and clothing became an afterthought; few people were buying high heels last March. Sales have recovered since, fueled by demand in the so-called performance and home categories - think running and hiking shoes, pajamas, athleisure and slippers.

"Mr. Deshpande said he was unsure when demand for high heels would return, but anticipated that people would continue to want comfort as the economy reopened.

Zappos has introduced and expanded ways to smooth out the kinks of online shopping during the pandemic, like allowing some customers to make returns through UPS home pickups, and making it easier to exchange items. It also observed that the average length of calls with customer service representatives had increased as people had more time in a closed-off world. They also left more detailed reviews on products.

"One of the company’s biggest goals, and a top priority for Mr. Deshpande in coming years, is figuring out how to make online shopping less transactional and more like the browsing experiences that people seek out in malls and department stores. That includes developing new digital magazine-like 'verticals' - much like what media companies create - such as 'The Ones,' which is tailored for female sneakerheads and advertised as 'powered by Zappos'."

Deshpande tells the Times that all his efforts "are in line with Zappos’s obsessive focus on service for the past 20 years, which he anticipates remaining its focus for the next 20 years.  'To me, Tony’s legacy is around delivering this happiness to everybody,' Mr. Deshpande said."

KC's View:

The culture is not just one person or two people.

That may be the most important sentence in the story.

If Zappos continues to excel in customer service and thrive as a brand - and I think it is a pretty good bet that it will - it is because the culture is not ephemeral, but rather is embedded deep in the company's DNA.  And, give its owner, Amazon, credit for not having messed with it.