How Zappos Is Using Its Internet-Connected Outhouses to Boost the Brand

The company's 'fungineer' talks data and business

Zappos, which debuted its Porta-Party outhouses in 2015, hopes to broaden the use of the units in the future.
"YouTube: Zappos.com "

When it comes to doing your business, Zappos’ internet-connected outhouses might be able to offer a lesson—and perhaps even a number, too.

The online retailer’s Porta-Party, which it debuted in 2015, has been touted by CEO Tony Hsieh as a way to disrupt the $2 billion industry with something that makes going to the bathroom in crowded and messy places like music festivals a little more fun. However, the units, which have been so popular that they’re sold out for 2017, also provide data (it’s anonymous) about what people do behind the closed doors.

Speaking on a panel this week hosted by Adweek during Marketo’s marketing conference in San Francisco, Zappos “fungineer” Tyler Williams said one of the main pieces of feedback major outdoor event organizers get is about the quality of port-a-potties. So why hadn’t anyone innovated in that space? It seemed like a great opportunity for the brand to provide a service and expand its marketing in a fun and useful way.

Enter Zappos, which has innovated everything from shoes to now portable johns, since it’s founding in 1999. According to Williams, the units recently made stops at the Super Bowl and Coachella to service VIP areas, and the company has plans to make them more mainstream.

“It’s got a lot of amazing features,” Williams said. “It’s fun. It makes going to the bathroom quite the experience.”

But the Porta-Party units do more than make a less-than-thrilling experience a little more bearable. The Wi-Fi-equipped devices also provide insights into human behavior. For example, Williams said, the company’s data shows that only 38 percent of people who enter a Porta-Party wash their hands.

“We do think it’s a little skewed because some people just go in to experience it, and not everybody actually uses the restroom,” he said, noting that the company’s metrics are based on the number of flushes.