When the Amazon acquisition of Zappos was announced earlier this week, it surprised many, not in the least because it's a year where M&As are few and far between. Yet after the surprise wore off there was something else: a round of congratulations – for Zappos.
To be sure, the investor community praised Amazon for the smart play in gobbling up a competitor. But for Zappos, a company that has achieved a beloved brand status, the announcement had the potential for severe backlash from a passionate fan base worried about its future.
In some ways the love for Zappos seems absurd. The company sells shoes (and other stuff) online. Sure it has free shipping and returns but that isn't normally enough to endear today's skeptical consumer. But Zappos learned early on that golden rule of “the customer is always right,” and it worked to provide incredible customer service at all levels, while at the same time valuing its employees. That credo created a culture that spawned brand ambassadors at every turn, which paid off roundly particularly as the company embraced social media. (Reports suggest that Zappos' revenues topped $1 billion last year.) And the company certainly wasn't shy about broadcasting to the world its positive values.
Anger could have followed that round of surprise at the acquisition, rather than congratulations. But because of the goodwill the company and its CEO Tony Hsieh have personally invested in engaging and listening to its base, the audience listened and trusted what he had to say, via tweet and company blog.
While questions remain about the deal, the announcement generally went off well. It remains to be seen how the cultures will mesh and what will actually happen to the Zappos brand, but for now, its faithful audience appears more than willing to follow wherever it goes.