Zappos division 6pm.com screwed up and then manned up, making a mistake that capped all prices at $50 but honoring the sales and losing $1.6 million. The company blogged about it — apologizing, even — and then Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh tweeted about it. The king of customer service — whose book, Delivering Happiness, is coming out in only two weeks — set the bar high for screwing up publicly.

: I note that the original 6pm post was on May 21 and Hsieh’s tweet was today, the 23rd. Hmmm. Thinking they wanted more PR to make the mistake pay off.

  • If they didn’t honour the sales they would have to talk about it anyway, and if they do, why wouldn’t they tell everyone how cool they are? It’s such a minor error, and so clearly not harmful to customers.

    • To be honest, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if this was a publicity stunt. Wouldn’t this be cheaper and more effective than $1.6 mil worth of advertising? I bet some people will go to the site every midnight and check if the bug is back.

      • It wouldn’t be _cheaper_ than advertising, but probably more effective, sorry about that.

  • Jeff,

    I love your blog, but some language in this post is tripping me up.

    I do not get this term “manned up” — well, I expect I get this intent. But if “stepping up to the plate” means “being a man” what does that mean for businesses run by a woman? Really, we need to get this crap out of our business lexicon if we want a workplace that doesn’t subtly structure itself in favor of men. It is not just a man’s world. My wife or my daughter can never “man up” and make sense, though my wife exhibits more responsibility and leadership than most people I know, and she acts as a great role model for my young daughter. Both should be able to succeed in the business world without having to ever “man up.”


    • I’m getting tired of apologizing for being a man. It’s not a dirty word.

      • I’m not suggesting that it is a dirty-word, I would not apologize for being a man either.

        But it would probably sound really weird to use this language for a company headed by a woman. What this genre of language suggests is that the normative thing to do in business for all (men and women) is to be like a man. And this leads to the double-standard for women to be called bitchy if they act assertive in some business environments.

        Likewise, it allows for masculinity to be (ab)used to override business sense. Imagine the scenarios where some male fund manager at some financial company has some objection to relying too much of a risky financial product; and suppose his boss puts pressure on him with an intersection of realism (“everybody is doing it”) and masculinity (“be a man and just approve the damn securities contract”). Masculinity as a normative pressure can be used coercively by men against other men.

        What I’m suggesting is that the language traps all of us who use it (myself included from time to time) in allowing masculinity to pervade the business environment at the expense of a better gender-neutral work ethic.

      • Karl

        Sorry Jeff, Sean is right. Do you have a daughter? If so, tell her to man up. Let us know that works out. Don’t apologize for being a man, but be a modern man, not a cave man.

  • I man up all the time and I’m a woman. There’s no discrimination. Political correctness gone overboard here methinks.

    • Thank you, Laurel.

    • Is thoughtful discussion so easily dismissed with a two-word label? I’m not being accusatory with Jeff, just pointing out the entailments of lots of us commonly using terms like this in a business context. But somehow, it is assumed that we can escape talking about when and where these things are and are not problems by just labeling the argument with two words. Somehow it is assumed that language really has no power to shape how we think about business in gendered terms by just using a label.

      For every woman who is not offended by this, there is a woman who is. For every woman who is not offended by this, there is a woman who isn’t sure. It still makes less “sense” for ALL of these women to “man up” than it does for their male counterparts, and we are still stuck with the effects of coersion that using terms like “man up” have when used coercively by men pressuring other men to act some way in the workplace.

      • Sean is completely right to question the sexism communicated in the term “man up”. The term suggests — declares even– that taking responsibility and fixing a problem is something done by men. To ‘man up” means to put men’s energy against the problem, to fix it.

        Jeff, I’m surprised that you’d be defensive about being called out for sexist language. Given what you do for a living, you perhaps might appreciate someone asking a media expert to examine his own product.

        Do you think that maybe you jumped to defensive, even dismissive reaction, without considering whether Sean’s concern was valid? Sean never blamed you for being a man, she/he questioned your use of a glib and sexist cliche. You could just as easily have used the term ‘power up’, or ‘step up to the plate’, or some other term that was not gender-specific. You didn’t.

        Anyone who is a media analyst, critic and/or teacher does have to hold himself or herself to a somewhat higher standard. You wouldn’t use implicitly racism language, so why would you use implicitly sexist language?

        Speed, clarity, brevity– all good qualities in a writer. However, these qualities don’t excuse or compensate for implicit bias.

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  • Dammit Jarvis, you were on track and running well and then you had to get all insensitive. (Tongue firmly in cheek.) I am sorry, I know this couldn’t be farther from what this post was supposed to be about, but I find politically correct people to be highly offensive.

    Sean and Karl, Jeff is a wordsmith by trade and training. He thinks fast, speaks fast and I would be willing to bet that he also writes fast. That is not to say that he does these things without proper forethought. His job is to get his point across as directly and understandably as possible. Brevity… wit, to quote The Simpsons.

    You boys have drank the wrong Kool-Aid. You are rescue breathing for a nearly dead and fundamentally flawed ideology known as political correctness. The goal of political correctness was never equality, it was control. If you control the vocabulary you control the argument. There is an ages old adage that says something to the effect of, “a man (person) cannot think in a subject (topic) for which he (he/she) does not have the vocabulary (properly sanctioned word list).” Political correctness seeks to exploit this human conversational vulnerability by blacklisting (sorry, that was probably offensive) certain words crucial to making an argument contrary to whatever political side you fall on. It leaves the opposition saying things like, “person up” which not only makes you sound like a complete idiot, but it’s utterly meaningless. In both cases you fail to make your point and the other side wins the debate.

    There are brilliant ironies that just plague the political correctness crowd. Being offended on the behalf of your wife or daughter, as well as trying to vilify certain terms such as “man up” has the opposite long-term effect than what you desire. I have always said that if you give a child a padded life, you are preparing them for a padded room. In essence, by trying to sanitize language that may be offensive to women, you are building their padded room. Free speech is one of our founding principles and with the good comes the bad. I think both of you would rather have your daughter exposed to the term “man up” for the first time in a blog, rather than in a board room.

    Honestly Sean, it’s not the assertive women that get labeled bitchy. It’s the women that walk in with this air of entitlement expecting a genderless society that will still make allowances for their gender based shortcomings in whatever game that they’ve chosen to play. I am sure that sounds incredibly chauvinistic to you two, but it is experience based. The polarity between masculine and feminine is really the only thing that keeps our species rolling. Our differences are to be exalted not blurred by murky, nonsensical doubletalk.

    • See my comment above: “politically correct” is a dismissive label. It doesn’t get us anywhere, and furthermore serves in the above comment as an ad hominem fallacy. Worse, this entire comment builds up a straw-person from my argument. I am not here to sanitize anything. I am not here to offer entitlements to people.

      We say things like “man up” without effort, without thought, because they are culturally ingrained, but this denies us will and choice. When we are more aware in our daily lives of the effects of our language, we have more conscious choice. My goal is more choice, not less — but this requires awareness.

      This comment exhibits hyper-realism as a philosophical system, arguing in sum that things are “just the way they are.” The problem with this philosophy is that it defelect responsibility away from the individual to the society of scene beyond up. We do have the opportunity to consider what we say, why we say it — what is so totalitarian about this?

      I would turn this around: the label “politically correct” is designed to be a conversation stopper, not starter; it is the worse evil in the stifling of free speech, the creation of inaction, the creation of complacency and social paralysis. It is the ultimate denier of choice, and the creator of entitlement just as much, just for folks who would rather label then engage in dialogue.

      • I simply don’t like people telling me what I cannot say. So now you’ve said I can’t use man as a verb and when I complain you say I can’t label that PC. How about I tell you you can’t say “ad hominem” because it’s overused and showy? You are trying to be my word police. I don’t recognize your authority. I’d rather discuss substance than this.

      • Jeff,

        I think your qualifications as a teacher of this craft to future practitioners gives you both a moral authority and responsibility to be considerate of the power of words, especially in a craft that has its issues with gender equity. There is a correlation of language to effect. You would not be in this practice if you did not believe in the power of words to shape the world. More often than not, the persuasive effect of language is more subtle than overt.

        We should consider the cultural context and professional landscape before we dismiss conversations of gender and language. Men outnumber women two-to-one in AEJMC membership and in the general practice of post-secondary journalism instruction; in the administration of J-schools, men outnumber women three-to-one. (See Wooten, 2004 in Seeking equity for women in journalism and mass communication education, Rush et al Ed.).

        Being a “man” or “manly” has jack to do with business ethics. Yet, coercive masculinity happens because there is, somehow, this pressure to be more like “a man” (as a good valuation) — that translates into power of those in business management, business journalism to challenge the manliness of other men, capitalizing on their insecurities to be more manly. It leads to stupid war and sports metaphors used by business journalists (Doc Searls has discussed these metaphors, they are pretty pervasive). Speaking of war metaphors, I am reminded of Thatcher’s admonition to George H.W. Bush about invading Iraq: “This is no time to go wobbly.” Coercive masculinity’s persuasive power over our insecurities is a problem in business and politics, but positive valuations of “manliness” give the flip-side coercion its moral authority.

        Newsroom cultures likewise often face the problems of coercive masculinity in their management, which has often led to the exclusion of entrepreneurial modes of acting and thinking. This is because one entailment of normative association of “manly” with responsibility has been to entrench both “legitimate power” authority in the hierarchy and in parallel groupthink that excludes those with “expert authority.” The innovators and the inventors lose to this mode of thought.

        Jeff, keep in mind that I am not telling you what you can or cannot say (nothing in my comments have been imperative). Nothing here is in accusatory mode. I’m not trying to police your words, that’s not my job (nor anyone’s); I am trying to point something out. Nothing should be mutually-exclusive with awareness of what we say — and awareness offers choice.

        I would suggest use of the “PC” label is shallow, and more of a conversation-stopper than anything I suggest here.

        I agree with the “substance” of your post; others are discussing it here with interest. There is nothing about having this side-conversation that shuts down the broader conversation. This is not an issue-troll, it was meant to be a considerate side-conversation that should not subtract from talking about Zappos. But there is as much substance in form as content in journalism, writing, and life. Jeff, please do not worry about my authority — it has no bearing on a conversation, it is only a conversation itself that has authority. No one wants to shut down any conversations.


        • Sean,
          Thoughtful comment and thanks for that. I understand the issue but I also think we have to allow language to flow and not make it all the same. Some phrases have history. Some have irony. Yes, some people use sports and war metaphors. And what’s wrong with that? I fear we are going to lose any sense of irony if we cleanse the language of anything that could possible offend or bother anyone. I would see that as a tragedy.

  • Amber

    Sean and Karl – I am so impressed to hear men talk about this with such passion. Thanks for sticking up for the girls.

  • Jeff, I’m surprised you didn’t also demand a bacteria count on the milk of human kindness.

    On one hand, “:… Thinking they wanted more PR to make the mistake pay off. ” is always true, because of course they didn’t have to mention it at all, did they? Are you arguing that keeping it secret would have it made it more of an honorable decision?

    So, if we can agree that keeping the mistake secret and quietly honoring the prices while working to ensure that word didn’t get out doesn’t match your transparency posture, why exactly is it wrong for Tony to tweet this, whenever he tweets it?

    I probably would have ended the post without a cynical dig. Save that for the 99% that wouldn’t bother to honor their pricing, or perhaps with a dig on those that rushed to rip them off, like people hustling into a store that left the door unlocked.

    • It wasn’t a cynical dig at all. It was saying that having done the right thing, there is value in talking about it because it says something about you and you want people to hear it.

    • See my tweets calling this to the attention of reporters: The problem is that they missed the story and so Tony had to show it to them.

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  • I read the article about Zapos and saw Manned-up and didn’t even think about it one way or the other. Maybe Jeff was politically incorrect to use that term, when others would have severed just as well. So What?
    I didn’t see one comment here about Zappos doing the right thing, and honoring the sales. Everyone was picking about Jeffs wording,,

    Zappos did exactly what my dad would have done If I told a customer the wrong price on a item in our store, he would have honored it and we would make a sale, and probably a repeat customer. Of course I would have heard about it later when folks were gone, but the point is I said something and he would back it up, the site said something and tey backed it up. The good publicity did more for them, any cute ad could in a million years.

    Ken Lawson