Before I joined Safari as editor in chief late this past summer, I generally slept pretty soundly. (My wife will read this post and be sorely tempted to add a comment about my snoring. Just ignore her.)
Yet that was then, and this is what happens when you work alongside an incredibly engaging and brilliant group of people eager to create groundbreaking new experiences: You wake up at 4am suddenly obsessed with the way Zappos curates content.
Right, Zappos. The one that sells shoes and jeans and and such. Among its many fine organizational traits (Yes, that’s me interviewing author Bill Taylor. Good hair day.) Zappos treats its merchandise like content. And it treats its customers like readers and viewers. Zappos does this quite brilliantly and in a way that online publishers and content platforms can learn a great deal from. I certainly find Zappos to be an inspiring source of ideas for my own work as an editor and curator.
Zappos has built a robust set of navigational tools and content experiences that are highly intuitive and that assume different customers seek and need different levels of direction and guidance on different occasions. Some days I search by “author” (Nike); some days I browse by use case (Wear to Work); other days I’m simply looking for guidance on what’s in this season, or feel clueless and need helpful ideas.
You can loosely define the Zappos approach to content curation along three dimensions. It is the combination of all three that gives the Zappos way its distinctiveness:
1. User-driven: Using Zappos’ well-tuned faceted search, one can filter its vast catalog to a highly personalized level. The user drives the experience but relies on sophisticated content tagging — no doubt the result of a combination of human experts and machine algorithms — to do a lot of the heavy lifting. For example, one can sort…
- By topic: shoes, handbags, sweaters
- By author: Levis, Dr. Martens, Jimmy Choo
- By core characteristic: navy, jute, 11 C, medium heel
- By secondary characteristic: moisture wicking, vegan, orthotic friendly
- By use case: office and career, wedding, back to school
- By style theme: western, action sports
- By previous activity: users receive personalized recommendations based on browsing and shopping activity
2. Peer-created: Zappos, like many content and shopping sites, give users tools to provide feedback and, thus, create new content for the site.
- By formulaic ratings and reviews that align with the user-driven approach: Star-ratings for particularly important characteristics like arch support, comfort, width, and style.
- By open-ended customer submissions: Review narratives and user-submitted videos, for example.
3. Expert-driven: Zappos employs subject matter experts to help further curate its vast content repository and give a human face to the Zappos web experience. In doing so, it is creating loyal “readers” and fans, not simply serving transactional buyers.
- Zappos Blogs: New posts from subject matter experts each day — on topics ranging from hot new styles to the history of popular brands
- Glossary of terms. Zappos has created its own dictionary of fashion and related terminology. It’s both a helpful resource for shoppers and, one presumes, a source of pleasure reading for the fashion obsessed. Some examples:
- “Minaudiere: A small, heavily ornamented evening bag.”
- “Mary Jane: The style of low heeled shoe with a strap across the instep. The strap can be attached with elastic or a buckle, making it easy to slip on and off.”
- “Finishing Room: The area of a shoe factory where the shoe is finished, including the removal of the last, insertion of the insole, completion of the outsole and final application of polish.”
- “Neuroma (Or Morton’s Neuroma); A benign, soft tissue mass which forms on the nerve which runs between the metatarsals, in the ball of the foot. When two metatarsal bones are squeezed together, they pinch the nerve that runs between them. This squeezing together of the metatarsal bones is usually a result of narrow, high-heeled shoes, injury, or a biomechanical defect of the foot (such as loose ligaments, pronation, or arches which are too flat or high).” (Me: YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!)
So, what’s the net result of this comprehensive approach to curation at Zappos? An experience that can be as personalized, relevant, and useful to each individual user as the individual cares to make it. Isn’t that the ideal of any content site?