He guessed that employees would start returning to the office after July 1 and were likely to develop hybrid schedules with some remote and some in-person work.
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 magazinelike “verticals” — much like what media companies create — such as “The Ones,” which is tailored for female sneakerheads and advertised as “powered by Zappos.”
Zappos is also behind VRSNL, a luxury site that has its own web address and no visible link to the shoe site. It features wares from designers like Dolce & Gabbana and Proenza Schouler. The company has been pouring new effort into product detail pages and informational videos catered to audiences like new runners, and even co-developing merchandise and campaigns with the brands it carries.
“What online fails to deliver, which physical delivers today, is around these different experiences,” Mr. Deshpande said. “Until you actually go and deliver on these experiences, people will go back to the physical, in my opinion, and they will stay online for only transactional experiences.”
The company refers to these efforts as “experience commerce,” and said the category was driving 25 percent of its investments. Outside of prompting consumers to explore more, Zappos is also trying to make online shopping more cohesive — all with the aim of getting consumers to spend more money over time.
“One of the challenges has been that when somebody walks into ‘online,’ somebody looking for a jacket, for example, we show them inventory next to each other — like a $30 jacket, $50, $100, $300,” Mr. Deshpande said. “This is a very disorienting experience.”
In his view, all of the 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.
While the company is still grieving Mr. Hsieh, Mr. Deshpande said, employees will continue to embody the values that he championed. He pointed to an instance during the holidays when one employee mentioned children missing out on meeting Santa Claus during the pandemic, leading to a multidepartment effort to set up Santa Zoom meetings for children around the country.
“To me, Tony’s legacy is around delivering this happiness to everybody,” Mr. Deshpande said. “This culture he has created or pioneered, it’s going to be alive.”