Zappos Labs: Retailer’s San Francisco Office Searches For Disruptive New Ideas

Zappos left San Francisco way back in 2004, and since then it has become closely associated with its new home in Nevada — in fact, CEO Tony Hsieh is working to revitalize downtown Las Vegas, in part by turning it into a startup hub. At the same time, the Amazon-owned online retailer hasn’t entirely severed its connection to the Bay Area — in 2010, it reopened an office in SF, one that’s focused on experimenting with cool new ideas.

The role of the 11-person SF team is getting a little more official today, with its renaming from Zappos San Francisco to Zappos Labs. To be clear, that’s basically the role that the team was filling already, releasing products like a fashion magazine-style iPad app. And it was even called Zappos Labs unofficially.

Nonetheless, Will Young, who directs the local team, says the official change should make its mission of “disrupting online retail a lot more explicit.” He says that a lot of Zappos’ success is due to ideas that seemed innovative at the time, like free shipping, free returns, and great customer support through its call center. But e-commerce has been changed a lot since then, and the Zappos Labs team is trying to figure out the next wave of innovative ideas.

To coincide with the renaming, Zappos Labs is also launching its latest effort, What’s New. I don’t think you’ll too surprised to hear that What’s New is a page that highlights all the goods that have just been added to Zappos. There’s also a cool visualization showing the different categories of new products.

Zappos Labs products are also going to be highlighted more prominently on the Zappos site. Previously, everything the team launched was featured in a section called the Zappos Expo, but you had to know that the site existed in order to find it. Starting next week, Zappos will add a link to the Expo from its front page. Young says new, experimental features from other Zappos teams will also be included, as will innovative uses of the Zappos API.

He also wants to use the Expo page to feature research done by the Labs team. For example, Young says that they’ve been looking into the value of social sharing. It turns out that Zappos buyers are 13 times more likely to pin an order on Pinterest and 8 times more likely to share it on Facebook than they are to tweet it. However, it’s the tweets that are the most valuable, because they convert into more sales. Young’s team calculated that a pinned order is worth 75 cents, a Facebook shared order is worth $2.08, and a tweeted order is worth $33.66.