What Can Pharmacy (& Healthcare) Learn from Zappos?

I have a pair of hot pink Chuck Taylors. They’re my fun, comfortable travel shoe (when I used to travel). VP-elect Kamala Harris has some Chucks too. They’re a little slice of coolness these days — nostalgically speaking.

But let’s be honest — they’re also a commodity. They are also just shoes.

There are hundreds of places you can buy them. You can sometimes get them on sale. They come in a ton of colors, and they’re just fun to wear.

(They are still a commodity.)

What one of the largest retail shoe stores on the planet understood, that I argue pharmacy (and healthcare) can use and differentiate on — is not the commodity. You can buy shoes anywhere. You can also buy drugs at hundreds if not thousands of pharmacies, and get care from hundreds if not thousands of hospitals. They are commodities too.

What Zappos knew, and what healthcare needs to understand, is that their businesses are based on commodities.

Where they can differentiate: is in the customer service.

Tony Hsieh — who recently and tragically passed long before his time recently, the founder of Zappos — knew that Chucks were just shoes too. If he tried to compete on the shoes themselves, he’d never win. People can get Chucks anywhere!

What and how Zappos succeeded was on its customer service — and culture. The work culture of Zappos was fun, and a little weird. He and his team also strove to get the customer to have a “Wow” experience.

Think about it. When was the last time you had one of those? Were you ever wowed in 2020? The last 5 years?

In all the eulogies online for Tony recently — I saw a picture at Zappos HQ with a whiteboard. On it, there were metrics. One of the metrics was the number of handwritten thank you notes.

If you’re lucky enough to have a job right now — what is your company measuring as success?

Think about it. When was the last time you had a handwritten thank you note? Did you ever receive a thank you note in 2020? The last 5 years?

I was and am a die-hard fan of the culture of Zappos, and a proselytizer of ensuring that values are woven into companies and everything the people in it do because it mattered. It matters. That created and inspired the ‘Wow’ culture that led Zappos to become a billion-dollar company. They did it all…around selling nothing more than a commodity: shoes.

We all need a little more Wow inside our lives. Especially in 2020.

May Tony rest in peace. But, I hope his philosophy lives on…



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Erin L. Albert

Erin L. Albert

Pharmacist, author, lawyer, intrapreneur. Opining is my own. www.erinalbert.com