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April 20, 2014

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Joe Downtown:

Joe Downtown: Nothing unusual — or more unusual than normal — about Zappos office on busy Cyber Monday


Joe Schoenmann

Tony Hsieh at Zappos’ headquarters in downtown Las Vegas on Cyber Monday, Dec. 2, 2013.

In the brain center of one of the largest online retailers in the country, it is not immediately apparent that today is one of the busiest days of the year for and its discount site,

That is, there’s nothing weird going on — beyond the fact that many employees are walking around with aluminum foil affixed to their noggins as antennae, headpieces, crowns or pointy hats. Another worker walked into Zappos' downtown headquarters carrying a cardboard box decorated like a robot, with holes for his head, arms and torso.

Beyond that, there’s nothing to let on the fast-paced, numerous sales occurring, microchip by microchip, between customers around the world and Zappos/6pm on Cyber Monday, which is the busiest online sales day of the year.

Graham McCulloch, director, said the driving forces behind all the sales are the even bigger discounts offered today and throughout this week, which has dubbed Cyber Week.

Where normal discounts on the site average 30 percent, they are 55 to 90 percent today. Then there’s the hourly event in which some item is dropped from its regular price to $24. At this writing, a pair of JD Fisk Ozzie lace-up boots, normally $179, are offered for that $24 price.

Cyber Monday became a “thing” because of the growth in popularity of online shopping.

Traditional brick-and-mortar stores own Black Friday — the day after Thanksgiving so-named because for many retailers, it’s the first day of the year they are profiting. But people were still in a shopping mood the next Monday. When that mood merged with online shopping, Cyber Monday became a huge online sales day.’s merchandise isn’t used or returned, McCulloch said; they are brand-name products purchased at deep discounts in large volumes, which allows the lower sales price per unit.

The site isn’t as well-known as, having been established in 2007. Its sales, McCulloch said, don’t come near to Zappos'. He wouldn’t reveal those numbers because they are proprietary. He also said Cyber Monday would be “the biggest day of the year for us.”

Even so, there was a moment in the hallway when one worker congratulated a employee for reaching a “$7 million day” Friday. How does that compare to Zappos? The last Zappos figures publicly available a few years ago were that it had been approaching the $2 billion mark in annual sales.

McCulloch would say the company experienced percent sales increases in the triple digits between 2011 and 2012.

“And we’re very optimistic about 2013 sales,” he said, adding that’s current customer database stands at about 2 million people. employs 125 people — 50 in Las Vegas and 75 at a call center in Manila, Phillippines.

Click to enlarge photo

The cafe specialty drink menu at Zappos' headquarters in downtown Las Vegas on Cyber Monday, Dec. 2, 2013.

“We have to keep that cost really low in order to keep our prices down,” McCulloch said when asked about the out-of-country call center. “A 24-hour, U.S.-based call center is pretty expensive.”

In the center courtyard of the Zappos building, a drum circle forms and starts a consistent beat, one girl skip-dancing around them.

The place tries to have fun with the name, Cyber Monday.

In the coffee shop, where free coffee of various types is offered to employees, a sign says, “Happy Cyber Monday, dear robots!” Drinks offered include “the C3PO,” “the R2D2” and “the wall-e”.

At desks throughout the building are those people wearing aluminum-foil hats. Tony Hsieh, the CEO, sits in his “Monkey Row” desk answering emails, fielding questions from people taking the Zappos tour, and talking a bit about Kanye West.

West last week made a comment about Zappos’ “(Expletive) products.” Zappos responded by putting up a humorous ad on its website advertising a toilet and plunger as its “(Expletive) product.”

West, essentially, was made the fool.

And guess who thought of the toilet-and-plunger idea?

“Tony,” said one of his assistants.

“It was a group effort,” he demurred.

That’s how it went in the CEO’s office on the busiest day of the year in the land of downtown’s newest, largest employer of those who make their living off the Internet.

Joe Schoenmann doesn’t just cover downtown, he lives and works there. Schoenmann is Greenspun Media Group’s embedded downtown journalist, working from an office in the Emergency Arts building.

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