After receiving requests every day, Zappos is piloting a program that allows shoppers to buy shoes of two different sizes or just a single shoe. The retailer hopes in the long-term, shoe brands will sell single shoes to Zappos wholesale.

Web-only shoe retailer Zappos recently launched a pilot program that allows shoppers to purchase single shoes or a pair of shoes of two different sizes.

The pilot program, launched in mid-July, was born out of Zappos Adaptive, the retailer’s dedicated shopping area for apparel products designed to be easy for anyone, including for a person with a disability, to put on. That includes such items as slip-on shoes or shirts that close with magnets instead of buttons.

The new program allows shoppers to build a pair of different size shoes or just buy one shoe from the following brands: Nike, Billy Footwear, Converse, New Balance and children-shoe brands Plae and Stride Rite. Shoppers go to Zappos.com/adaptive and then click on the button “shop single shoes or build a pair.” From there, shoppers can browse the available shoes and in the size drop-down menu indicate the size and a left or right shoe.

Within one of its warehouses, Zappos has separated the pairs of shoes designated for this program and put each in a resealable bag, says Dana Zumbo, business development manager at Zappos Adaptive. When an order comes in, Zappos matches the individual shoes, or just ships one shoe. It ships each shoe in a resealable bag instead of a shoe box so shoppers can return a single shoe in that same bag. All orders are still shipped in a cardboard Zappos-branded box.

Why Zappos launched the program

Launched in 2017, Zappos Adaptive now sells 20 brands within this collection, Zumbo says. Four dedicated staff members and a few advisors oversee this channel, she says. From the online retailer’s earliest days Zappos’ customer service department has received requests from shoppers wanting to purchase single or different size shoes, for whatever reason. But once Zappos Adaptive launched, it started receiving that request every day, Zumbo says.

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“We knew it was something we couldn’t ignore,” she says.

“Working at Zappos for 11 years, and during the holidays, when everyone goes on the phone to help with customer service, even I’ve received that question when I’m on the phone,” Zumbo adds about shoppers requesting different sizes in a single pair.

In March 2019, Zappos posted a survey on its Facebook page asking consumers if it were to offer shoes with two different sizes, what types of shoes shoppers would need most and why. The goal of the 15-minute survey was to obtain as much information as possible to build a program, Zumbo says. The retailer expected a few hundred responses, a typical number for its Facebook surveys. To Zappos’ surprise, 2,600 consumers took the survey, she says.

Based on the survey feedback, Zappos is selling the shoe brands consumers said they would be most interested in purchasing. Zappos is keeping these brands in the loop that they are a part of this program, and the e-retailer is sharing information about the buyers of these products to help the brands create an attractive assortment and forecast sales.

More than 100 Zappos employees across at least 20 teams have worked on this launch, Zumbo says. While preparing the pilot, Zappos discovered that there were no large-scale programs online where shoppers could buy different size shoes from a variety of brands, Zumbo says. When Zappos approached manufacturers to be a part of the program, it discovered shoe brands have also had this request from shoppers and no solution to offer them.

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In general, shoe “mismates” are an inventory challenge in the shoe business that requires time and cost to find a solution for, says Paula Rosenblum, co-founder and managing partner at retail marketing firm RSR Research. This is likely why programs like this are not common, Rosenblum says. Zappos’ program will likely not increase its bottom line but is rather an investment in inclusivity, she says.

The program’s first 2 weeks and long-term

This new shoe program is prominently featured on the Zappos Adaptive category landing page, along with video content that Zappos created with medical professionals about how to measure feet, how to measure a prosthesis and how to select a shoe size for a foot with a brace.

The goal for the pilot is to gather feedback from shoppers so it can adjust the program, detect patterns and make any tweaks for a “phase 2” before the holidays, Zumbo says. For example, Zappos is hoping to identify which shoes are most popular, she says. Zappos has a large feedback button on its site that shoppers can click to leave comments.

 

Zappos will measure the pilot’s success by sell-through, feedback and media response, Zumbo says without providing specifics.

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Its larger goal is to determine how to expand the program. Zappos knows it can’t dedicate the labor to separating shoes on a large scale, Zumbo says. It wants to take its sales data to vendors, show them the patterns that emerged and demonstrate it can sell-through these products, with the aim of being able to purchase single shoes from vendors in the future, she says. Right now, suppliers do not sell single shoes, she says.

“For us to break apart all of the shoes in our warehouse would not be sustainable, especially if we expanded the program to more brands,” she says.

 

 

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Zappos has sold out some of this inventory already and plans to add new styles soon. Adult styles are outselling those for kids for so far. Although this is only 2 weeks worth of data, Zumbo says she is surprised by that finding as it typically has more sales for kids products on Zappos Adaptive.

While Zappos Adaptive is geared toward apparel for people with disabilities, anyone can purchase these products, including the single shoes. In the 2 weeks since launch, Zappos has received several messages from skateboarders who say they wear out one shoe much faster than the other and would like to only have to repurchase one of them. These consumers are hoping Zappos adds more skating-specific shoes in the future.

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This is exactly the type of feedback Zappos is hoping to gather, as it will guide the retailer on what other brands it should offer in this section of Zappos.com, she says.

Zappos is owned by Amazon.com Inc., No. 1 in the 2020 Digital Commerce 360 Top 500.

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