Burning the midnight oil by late-night shopping? Consumers are hitting the buy button these days by the light of the computer or smartphone, and not the television.
It wasn’t always that way. In the mid-late-1980s, the online shopping channel of choice was the television – and QVC one of the granddaddies of what was hailed as “home shopping.” And you could buy some of the same stuff that you can buy today online.
In fact, the first item QVC ever broadcast and sold, in November 1986, was an $11.49 shower radio (Windsor Shower Companion). The year that QVC launched, it reached nearly 8 million homes, with the first full year of sales reaching more than $110 million. For context, at around the same time The Cosby Show reigned as the top-rated show in TV with more than 29 million households tuning in.
Many people, lots of money. Over the years presenters have become minor celebrity in their own right, joined for specific products by stars like Marie Osmond, Rachael Ray, Nicole Richie and Lisa Rinna. For many years, shopping at home in front of the TV was the only way to shop, well, at home. Sending away to catalogues took much longer, and didn’t have that showman-like quality in real-time. Certainly the appeal and the following glowed right through the tube, luring in shoppers ready to open their wallets.
The notion of a "limited time offer” seems ironic now in 2016.
According to Nielsen, most of us are only watching 17 channels, regardless of the total number of channels available, growing by an average of 10 annually. In 2011 there were about 170 channels available per household. In 2012, there were 180, and a year later, there were 190. Nielsen’s study says that “the best way to reach consumers in a world with myriad options is to be the best option,” but how does one do that when the number of competitors grows at almost 6 percent year over year?
Retail channels have switched, and they’ve switched quickly. Consumers want an expedited way to purchase and receive items, and if they want to see how something works, they’ll flip to Pinterest or ask their friends on Facebook.
Yet despite the shift to smartphones and laptops, these shopping channels have managed to stay in business — but not because they’ve stayed locked into the TV channel.
Home shopping has gone multi-channel, and here’s proof.
QVC is steady at tenth in Internet Retailer’s 2016 Top 500 Guide, and the third largest mobile retailer U.S. The fact that the company, which previously leaned solely on TV, has been able to maintain a footing in the digital space may come as a surprise. But it needed to do so, considering that a hefty and growing section of the American population has opted out of cable TV, and opted in to Netflix, Amazon TV, Roku, Hulu and Apple TV. Even Comcast is expanding its on-demand, online video services. Some analysts dubbing these subscription and commercial-free outlets as the “death of cable TV.”
QVC says its "viewership levels have remained stable," despite reports that its TV viewership is down. Some argue it's the jewelry offerings that have kept their signal strong. Regardless, the company says that for years it has taken matters into its own hands by moving into the digital world.
This November, QVC celebrates its 30th year since its first broadcast, with programming still continuing in front of a live audience. So who are these people keeping home shopping networks afloat? Could it be people who just love to shop via their TV like they always have? Could it be fans of the December 2015 biopic "Joy" centered around QVC host Joy Mangano? Are they your grandma, who just enjoys the UPS guy showing up on her doorstep?
According to QVC, the current customer demographic is a woman between the ages of 35 and 64, who has a high school diploma or more advanced education, earns a “higher-than-median” income, shops on the internet at least once a week, watches some kind of cable, digital, satellite TV, and is — of course — the primary shopper in her household.
“For 30 years, we have continued to reimagine what retail can be through what we call ‘shoppable entertainment’ — the incredibly powerful and engaging combination of entertainment, community and technology,” says QVC’s Alex Miller, senior vice president of digital commerce, who adds that for much of that time QVC has both mobile and digital platforms. “Engaging customers across multiple platforms is something we have been doing for decades.”
Multiple platforms, eh, including mobile? QVC.com was launched 20 years ago this September, and today 58 percent of QVC’s total eCommerce orders are from mobile, nine percentage points higher over last year.
“QVC was an early mover in digital retail and have continued that tradition with early entry into mobile and integration of the brand experience across platforms,” says Miller. Years ago customers could text QVC to purchase items. Then followed mobile-optimized websites, then apps for shopping. QVC now has the TV channel, the website, and its mobile app, and doesn’t seem to have a countdown timer on these channels.
In January QVC started streaming live video on Facebook,which it said reached approximately 15 million people. Ecommerce accounts for $3.9 billion of QVC's annual revenue, and 58 percent of all its second quarter eCommerce orders were made via mobile devices.
“We have always met our customers where they are and will continue to do so, while solidifying QVC's ability to thrive in an on-demand or non-TV environment,” says Miller.
So, what’s next for QVC? Whether those shoppers are online or on the couch, Miller says QVC them wherever they are. “We will continue to meet our customers where they are on the platforms and devices that they chose to engage with us on. Relationships with the customer will always be part of the QVC experience and as our business and technology evolve, there will always be an avenue for meaningful conversations – from social media to email to phone.
As one of the household-named shopping networks, QVC indeed does have some traction and expertise in connecting with customers — whether you’re a late-night shopper clicking away, a grandma with a penchant and a wink for UPS men, or the president the Joy Mangano or Jennifer Lawrence fan club.