Amazon to Buy Zappos. What Impact on Their Cultures?

Amazon’s just-announced deal acquire all of Zappos.com stock in a transaction worth more than $800 million will fuse two enormous Internet companies. But even more fascinating than the deal’s size is the huge difference between the companies’ cultures and brands.

On the one hand, Amazon is the undisputed leader in online retail sales and a major technology innovator (See: Kindle, cloud services). However, speaking as a journalist, the company is intensely private about its doings. It will rarely comment for a story on the record, and even then often waits hours or days to respond to an inquiry. Customer service is notoriously great on the site. On the phone? Not so much.

Zappos, on the other hand, is among the most transparent companies on the Web. At its core it’s employee-driven, having earned consistent recognition for being among the best employers to work for. This policy extends to platforms such as Twitter.

Of course, what’s driven success at both companies is their intense focus on the customer experience. That’s the fundamental point of the video below, in which Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos talks about the companies’ shared passion for providing a good experience. (Both are also major online advertisers.)

Yet there are few clues either in the above video or in Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s letter to staff today about exactly how they intend to cross-pollinate. Will Amazon, spurred on by Zappos transparent ethic, embrace social media tools? Will Zappos, influenced by Amazon’s reclusiveness, think twice before issuing an open RFP to more than 100 agencies on a major trade publication?

While Bezos expresses his plans only generally (“I’m super-excited”), Hsieh goes into a little more detail — but only a little:

We learned that they truly wanted us to continue to build the Zappos brand and continue to build the Zappos culture in our own unique way. I think “unique” was their way of saying “fun and a little weird.” :)

Over the past several months, as we got to know each other better, both sides became more and more excited about the possibilities for leveraging each other’s strengths…
Amazon focuses on low prices, vast selection and convenience to make their customers happy, while Zappos does it through developing relationships, creating personal emotional connections, and delivering high touch (“WOW”) customer service.

We realized that Amazon’s resources, technology, and operational experience had the potential to greatly accelerate our growth so that we could grow the Zappos brand and culture even faster. On the flip side, through the process Amazon realized that it really was the case that our culture is the platform that enables us to deliver the Zappos experience to our customers. Jeff Bezos (CEO of Amazon) made it clear that he had a great deal of respect for our culture and that Amazon would look to protect it.

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