Home shopping tends to take a lot of teasing. However, even in the eCommerce world of 2019, it still manages to be a surprisingly lucrative and competitive space. For example, Qurate Retail, Inc. — parent firm of the two largest home shopping networks, QVC and HSN — brought in $14.1 billion in revenue in 2018, with 2 percent year-on-year growth.
While the traditional home shopping experience has an undeniable charm, Down to Shop Co-founder and COO Cyrus Summerlin told Karen Webster in a recent conversation that it is not well-suited to the modern or younger consumer. He said he was a fan of the format, and believed there was something there worth preserving, but it needed to be done differently to make it relevant.
“The original business idea was really a question: What would QVC for Gen Z look like?” he said.
Down to Shop was the answer, and it is certainly different from anything else in the world of home shopping video content, both in terms of who is on screen and what they are selling. One might tune in for the ongoing adventures of Mindy and Sammy — a young couple in love and deeply engaged in discussing the products they love. There’s also the retail therapy-centered Dr. Sue show, focused on consumers’ well-being (as best catered to through shopping).
As for what one can buy (Tupac prayer candles, a razor for leaves, a kitty litter subscription service, a Vietnamese coffee set, a Tamagotchi), there is probably no product too weird or wild for Down to Shop — or anything one might rate as outside of the realm of possibility. From CBD wellness supplements to camo print onesies for adult women, it is all pretty much there.
That works for the Gen Z audience to which the company caters — those who tend to like low-cost, high-contrast items that one won’t see anywhere else. In fact, Summerlin noted, among its more popular items is the mystery box, which, as its name implies, means the consumer has no idea what they ordered until it shows up on their doorstep.
Getting people to buy weird stuff on the internet is no great feat — alcohol and insomnia, mixed in with a few cheesy informercials, have been doing great work in that field for years. Getting them to do so consistently and enthusiastically is a much harder trick, one that Down to Shop is aiming to pull off with content that is unlikely to be found anywhere else — crafted in-house by local social media influencers and members of the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) Theatre.
“It’s pretty easy; we just have to make a couple of Super Bowl commercials every day,” Summerlin joked. “We know our audience pretty well, and so we are good at asking ourselves, ‘Will this product speak to them, and what is the best kind of show to place it on to tell the best type of story?’”
The stories are certainly memorable, and the Down to Shop team has become good at using social media channels to build buzz. Three of four new shows go up on the channel per day, and, before airing, the trailers appear on social media. The trailers give viewers a taste of the episode, and perhaps some idea of what their favorite characters and personalities are up to, but the products themselves remain a secret until broadcast.
To create extra incentives for viewers to show up on time and primed for deals, the site awards extra “clout” to members who view the broadcast as it goes live. Clout is the name for Down to Shop rewards points, and they function much in the same way as on any other commerce site: Users can trade them in to get discounts on purchases. Usually, though, retail sites only award points for making purchasing — Down to Shop intentionally creates all kinds of opportunities for shoppers to earn clout. They can fill out surveys, play games, take quizzes and, of course, watch the shows. They get extra clout if they watch it the minute it goes live.
Clout builds relationships, Summerlin said, and gamifies the process. Not every customer is going to buy something every day — the company knows that. Surveys have said that about 20 percent of QVC’s viewing audience buys 80 percent of the merchandise. However, even if they aren’t buying, Down to Shop benefits from what it learns from their presence, and wants to keep them coming back.
When they want to buy, he noted, it is easy. Down to Shop has a slick checkout flow for the consumer, without rerouting them away from what they are watching or doing. Yet, from learning things like the fact that curated nostalgia does well sales wise to what kind of programming does best at what time of day, he noted, all the interactions are useful, and help the company to ultimately build better content.
Moreover, it does so in a way that is transparent for the consumer.
Tapping The Power Of Transparency
There is a saying in tech that has grown common, Summerlin said, and is a little misleading: “If the product is free, it is because you are the product.” The problem is that, in most cases, even if the product isn’t free, one is still probably also the product.
“As you look at the landscape today, everyone is using data, and I think we are seeing cases like Facebook with the most noise, and not the best kind when it comes to how data is taken and how it is used,” he said.
Down to Shop is happier to, instead, present to its customers the reality that everyone is using its data, then offer to “cut them in on the action” by giving them clout points. The company doesn’t hide the fact that it shares the information it gets from customers with the brands it works with — partnering with brands that have data services, and for a cut of its sales revenue, is how Down to Shop’s business model works.
Instead of hiding that from consumers, which Summerlin says is unethical, the company gives them a choice, lets them choose how much they want to interact, then offers them rewards in the form of clout when they choose to interact.
“We are entertaining, we want our site to be engaging and we invest a lot of time and talent into that. And we think we can tell our customers the truth — and, so far, we’ve been rewarded for that with continuous growth,” he said.
The customers win by seeing more products they like, and by being rewarded for sharing their data. Brands get to learn more, and make more sales — and Down to Shop keeps getting to be the wildest home shopping site on the web, and make money while doing so. It’s a win for all involved, Summerlin noted, and a pretty good time is had by all to boot.