Initially Speaking: A One On One With A Three Letter Brand

Ok no cheating, what do the initials QVC stand for? Time’s up. They stand for Quality, Value, and Convenience. These three words have been the brand’s guiding principles since its inception in 1986. A brand, thanks to various marketing initiatives along the way, is now seen in over 300 million homes around the world and last year sales alone generated $8.6B in annual revenues, $3.2B of which came from ecommerce.

It’s a brand that is available, as my fellow Forbes contributor Paula Rosenblum wrote last year in her piece QVC’s Successful Formula For Social Shopping — to view on pretty much any device a shopper has in her hands: from standard web sites to iPads, iPhones and Android devices.

It is also a brand that is very savvy when it comes to marketing — integrated marketing that is or cross-channel marketing of whatever term is hot these days. As Rosenblum put it  “(QVC) serves as an excellent example for retailers seeking to create a consistent customer experience across all engagement and selling platforms.”

QVC logo

It’s Miller Time

For her piece last year, Rosenblum spoke with Alex Miller, SVP Digital Commerce for QVC and I recently had the chance to do the same.

We spoke about a wide array of topics including the changes he’s seen over the years regarding engagement with the brand, if he thinks TV is dead, how the brand stands out amidst all the clutter and what the future holds not just for QVC but for retailers in general.

Thankfully for both of us, we refrained from speaking about our beloved Philly sports teams and the continued anguish they keep putting us through year in, year out.

Steve Olenski: What’s been the biggest difference in the way consumers engage/interact with QVC over the past 3-5 years?

Alex Miller: QVC has experienced rapid growth in mobile over the past few years and it continues to be our fastest growing platform. In 2013, ecommerce accounted for 38% of our $8.6B global revenues and mobile represented 31% of ecommerce orders. QVC is now the second largest mobile commerce player among all multi-category retailers, behind only and ranked third across all industries according to the 2014 “Internet Retailer Mobile 500.”

QVC is a relationship oriented business and social media has become a big part of that customer experience. In many ways, QVC was a “social” business before the advent of social networks. We have always worked to connect the owners, inventors, and experts with our customers. Even before social networks, we used the phone to allow our customers to share their thoughts and questions with our community on air. Social media and mobile platforms enable us to extend that relationship with customers in places and times that we weren’t able to before.

Now, customers use social as a way to further enjoy and share in the experience of shopping, which has resulted in a high level of engagement and increased purchasing. In the U.S., customers who interacted with one or more of QVC’s social channels generated more than half a billion dollars in revenue in the 12 months ending June 2013.

With the overall industry shift towards tablet and smart phone devices, mobile and social will continue to be increasingly important for the customer experience.

Olenski: Are you seeing any “digital lines” being drawn re: are those in the younger demos leaning more to using digital methods to engage/purchase vs. the older demo using more on traditional methods i.e. TV?

Miller: QVC customers are a very engaged, savvy community of shoppers and have proven to be early adopters of new technologies. While we have seen slightly younger averages in the customers that engage with us online, our best customers engage with us across all our platforms.

Our customers are largely multi-platform, so we see them choosing to engage on different platforms based on the context they are in. We’ve found that once you have built trust with the customer on one platform, they are more likely to follow you to the next platform.

What we have seen is a shift in how new customers are coming to QVC. In 2013, we gained 3.8 million new worldwide customers, and the majority of them are connecting with us first over one of our digital channels – whether it is our website, a mobile or tablet app, or one of our social channels, such as Facebook or toGather.

togather QVC

Olenski: We have heard for years that “TV is dead.” Yet QVC is a brand that relies heavily on TV. What is it about TV and video that works so well with a brand such as QVC?

Miller: QVC is a multichannel retailer, and TV and video remain an important part of our offering. The broadcast is our strongest story-telling platform allowing viewers to see the products themselves and connect with our community of hosts and product experts. Our business model allows us to own our content and leverage that unique content across all our channels. For example, we are able to post both our live broadcast and on-demand content on our YouTube channel without delay, enabling customers to access video product information at any time.

In addition, we can use video content from the live broadcast as product detail content on our ecommerce site and mobile apps. It’s part of what helps us to deliver engaging and entertaining content across all of our channels.

What is interesting is that the concept of “TV” is rapidly changing. For example, we recently joined the lineup for Pluto TV – a new outlet for people to enjoy video content online. We have also done some experimentation with interactive television, created an app for Roku players and continue to explore new ways to reach our audiences and meet customer needs.

Olenski: Can a consumer be over inundated with marketing and advertising messages and if so how does QVC strike that balance between over-saturation and the so called “sweet spot?”

Miller: Our customers find shopping to be fun and entertaining, and they enjoy content related to shopping and the products and brands they love across multiple channels. We believe strongly that relevant and timely content trumps promotional and loud messaging every time , so we work hard to give our customers ultimate control of when and where they hear from us.

Increasingly on our digital platforms, we are inviting the customer to co-create the retail experience in real time through toGather, social media and with ratings and reviews which we often integrate into our live broadcast. Unlike other ecommerce retailers, who frequently rely on algorithms to suggest custom content and recommendations, we have a community of shopping experts who helps to determine preferences.

From our hosts, to our product experts, to our fans and customers who love sharing their thoughts and insights on products, we are able to infuse customer messages with customer-driven insights that override any commercial algorithm.

Olenski: What does the future hold for not just QVC but retail shopping as a whole?

Miller: The future of QVC and retail is two-fold. Technology is evolving at a rapid pace, so we’ll be building new experiences across new and existing platforms, while remaining focused on the experience that the customer wants and expects. With regard to digital commerce, QVC has already made the move towards responsive design for our web platforms because, in the long run, we believe that it will be important to maintain a very flexible platform versus creating a different platform for each screen size and device.

Today’s challenge for all digital retailers is the mobile phone screen, but tomorrow’s might be anything from a watch face (I’m a proud owner of a Pebble watch), to a 64-inch screen. What we do know is that access to relevant content on multiple devices is the future of retail and ecommerce .

We thrive at the convergence of shopping, entertainment and social as one. For the future, we can anticipate a shopping experience that is even more participatory and community-driven – a space where customers and fans with a shared love of shopping come together to shape their retail experiences.



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