The e-retailer is hauling a beacon-bedecked shipping container around the country and hosting pop-up parties to draw customers closer to the brand. At its first stop in Austin, Texas, that translated into free tacos, music and puppies., the shoe and apparel e-retailer that’s a subsidiary of Inc., jumped from the virtual world to the real world in January when it pulled into Austin, Texas, propped open the doors of a 40-foot shipping container and started handing out tacos.

It was the first stop of the e-retailer’s Friends With Benefits Road Show, which will consist of similar events in at least 10 cities throughout 2017. Future stops include Nashville and Atlanta, but other stops are still up in the air and will, in part, be based on what Zappos hears from customers who want Zappos to pay a them a visit, says Kristin Richmer, senior brand marketing manager. “We want to hear from our communities and see where the road can take us,” she says.

If that sounds a little more casual than most e-retailers’ marketing plans, well, that’s Zappos. Known for its “delivering happiness” approach, the company has a team of “fungineers” whose job is to create fun and plan parties.

The Zappos team began kicking around the road show idea in late September, worked out the concepts and renderings by early November, and spent December building elements out and finalizing the creative. The shipping container pulled out of Las Vegas, Zappos’ hometown, Jan. 14 and opened in Austin Jan. 27.

“We are known as an e-commerce company, and living in the digital space there are not a lot opportunities to meet our customers in person and say thank you,” Richmer says. “This gives us the chance to showcase our brand in a physical way, and to give back to our communities. To say ‘hey, thank you, let’s just come and hang out.’”


Until the road show effort, Richmer says most of Zappos’ branding events have been one-off programs, such as when Zappos surprised residents of Hanover, N.H., one morning in November 2015 with free holiday gifts. Zappos selected Hanover based on customer data that showed Zappos had an outsized number of loyal customers there. “At Zappos we’ve never done anything from a yearlong perspective. We’re used to instant gratification,” Richmer says. “[The road show] is the first time we will do it consistently because we feel strongly about reaching a massive amount of people.”

Zappos connected with nearly 5,000 consumers during its three-day Austin visit, which Richmer calls a success. The team hadn’t set any hard performance metrics for the event. “We didn’t really have an expectation. We were hoping some people would show up,” she says. Zappos  promoted the event by sending an email to existing customers and running ads on local radio, retargeting display ads on social media and working with local influencers to get the word out. Setting up shop on busy Congress Avenue drew passers-by as well.

The shipping container showcased 10 head-to-toe “Austin” looks—apparel, footwear and accessories selected by Zappos merchandisers based on data the e-retailer had on what sold particularly well in the area. Each item on display contained a Bluetooth beacon, and consumers shopping at the pop-up were given an iPad while they shopped. If the iPad came within two inches of the beacon, the corresponding product page on appeared on the iPad, where the consumer could see additional product information and read reviews. Shoppers could buy on-site and take items with them or place an order for next-day delivery, Richmer says. The featured merchandise will change based on shopper purchase data at each road-show stop.

Free tacos, beer, music from local bands and the chance to play with—and adopt—puppies and kittens from a local rescue organization helped draw traffic to Zappos “backyard” area, where green turf and seating was set up. A dozen Zappos employees from headquarters roamed the yard, tasked to hang out with visitors and get to know them.

Some visitors left with an enduring reminder of their Zappos visit—a pet. The e-retailer worked with the Austin Animal Center and paid the adoption fees for all pets adopted during the event and at the animal shelter. 35 pets were adopted on-site, and 141 total.


Paying the adoption fees for rescue animals is a recurring effort for Zappos.  Richmer says it is a way for Zappos to give back and set its messaging apart. Zappos rarely discounts the products it sells, and so it does not offer big discounts or promotions from Black Friday to Cyber Monday. During that crucial shopping period Zappos runs and promotes its “Home for the Pawlizdayz” program, paying the adoption fees for pets at shelters affiliated with the Best Friends Animal Society. Since 2015, Zappos has paid the adoption fees for approximately 18,000 animals.

Zappos will announce its next road show stop later this month.