Few corporate deals have met with such unanimous praise as Amazon's recently announced acquisition of online footwear retailer Zappos for about US$900m. Richard Woodard looks at why the deal has been received so positively - and wonders if Amazon could learn a lesson or two from its new buy.

Online shoe retailer Zappos has a reputation, shall we say, for the quirky and unconventional.

So it's no surprise to see the progress of the company's acquisition by Amazon.com set out on Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh's Twitter page (1.1m followers and counting, by the way).

"Big day!" he Tweeted when the deal was announced. "Email I just sent to Zappos employees today about the Amazon acquisition" - along with a helpful link to the message itself.

A few days later, we learn that staff are "psyched" about the deal…and, later still, that Hsieh and Zappos COO Alfred Lin are buying every employee a Kindle - the electronic reader that has become an Amazon best-seller.

So, what persuaded Amazon to part with the equivalent of about $900m in shares and cash for a company which had revenues of just $70m five or so years ago?

Corporate charisma
There's been much talk of what we might call Zappos' "corporate charisma" - embracing social media, engaging with the customer in a chatty, informal way.

But, if the nuts and bolts of the business don't work, you don't make a profit, you don't grow - and the likes of Amazon don't come knocking at the door.

In the decade that it has been in existence, Zappos has got a lot of things right: stationing its warehouse in Louisville, Kentucky, close to the UPS Worldport hub, enabling quick and efficient shipping (and note that Amazon doesn't have any warehousing in the area - a possible early synergy).

To speed of delivery the company has added free delivery, free returns and never offering anything for sale on its site that isn't already in that warehouse. In other words, an answer to just about every possible gripe that the internet shopper might have.

No wonder, then, that in a poll of more than 26,000 internet shoppers, Zappos ranked fourth in terms of popularity, behind eBay, LL Bean and Victoria's Secret.

All very attractive for Amazon - and there's an added bonus. Included in the deal is the domain name clothes.com, which Zappos acquired last year for $4.9m.

To date, Zappos has been marking time with the clothes.com site, using it for its "Clothing Product Smackdown" promotions, but the purchase was a signal of future ambition: to do with mainstream online apparel sales what it has already accomplished with footwear.

Now the question for Amazon is whether it should develop clothes.com itself - or stand back and let Zappos run with it.

Given the companies' respective records in the sector (analysts are unconvinced by Amazon's forays to date, on its main site and footwear spin-off endless.com), the latter looks like the most sensible course of action.

Easy-going customer relationship
But beyond the numbers, Zappos has something else which Amazon sorely lacks: a natural, easy-going relationship with customers who appear to enjoy the approach, and reciprocate.

This is a company that does things a little differently, encouraging an ongoing and very personal dialogue with consumers, and even using the services of a life coach (Dr Vik) through its blogs.

Compare and contrast this with the stubbornly price-oriented, dry and impersonal approach of Amazon.

Great at driving volume and market share, but where Zappos is the cool kid in the class, Amazon is the awkward geek - high marks but not so popular in the playground.

That said, it would be unfair to suggest that only Amazon will gain from this acquisition.

Zappos can learn from its new parent's practical, consumer-centred use of new technologies, such as cloud computing, not to mention Amazon's sheer scale.

For Zappos to take the next step in its expansion, something needed to change, either through an IPO or an acquisition by the right partner.

It says much about the Zappos culture and Hsieh's attitude that he balks slightly at phrases like "Amazon acquires Zappos".

He says in an email to staff: "While those headlines are technically correct, they don't really properly convey the spirit of the transaction. (I personally would prefer the headline 'Zappos and Amazon sitting in a tree…'.")

Open interaction
Hard-nosed analysts and commentators might snort at such folksy sentiments, pointing out that there's little room for being cuddly when you're negotiating a $900m deal, but it's exactly that kind of informal, open interaction with staff and customers alike that has made Zappos such a success.

Hsieh was clearly frustrated that securities laws prevented him from discussing the potential Amazon deal with staff prior to the signing of the definitive agreement. But he did at least give a clue in a Tweet early on the day the deal was announced.

"Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future - JFK" he Tweeted just after 7am on 22 July.

While the coming years under Amazon's ownership will bring many changes to Zappos, it's crucial that the dynamic spirit and charisma that has brought the company this far is not lost along the way.