A little under a year ago, a strange rumor began to make the rounds in the commerce ecosystem: Amazon was about to buy a TV home shopping network. Specifically, stories emerged that the eCommerce company was in acquisition talks with Evine Live, a cable home shopping network beamed live into about 87 million households per day.
The deal never went anywhere, but at the time, it left plenty of people scratching their heads: What on Earth would Amazon want with a small, questionably profitable cable home shopping network? Amazon had more Prime members than the network had viewers. What would a company as innovation-focused as Amazon want with something as outdated and unfashionable as cable home shopping? Had they suddenly come into a lot of Diamonique jewelry they needed to unload?
But because it’s easy to take shots at cable home shopping with jokes, it can also be easy to forget that good old-fashioned, host-driven, televised shopping programs actually work when it comes to moving merchandise. QVC Retail, Inc. – the parent firm to 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. And, far from being displaced in the digital age, QVC shoppers seem to have transitioned smoothly. The majority (59 percent) of QVC’s revenue in the U.S. came via online sales in 2017, and by 2018 that had grown to 62 percent. Of those digital sales, 66 percent came in via mobile app.
Customers still like getting the TV’s stamp of recommendation, but they are mostly migrating away from phone orders.
And the format is gaining traction outside of the traditional cable channels. QVC’s Jill Martin reportedly brought in $60 million in eCommerce revenue for the Today Show last year via her “Steals & Deals” segment, according to Fast Company. During Thanksgiving week alone, she reportedly pushed $12 million in online sales. And for those who wonder whether she is getting too much credit for generating those sales, NBC’s in-house analytics show that purchases on its eCommerce platform go up whenever a product is associated with an image of her face.
“People want to buy something from someone they trust. I have established that trust with the viewer,” Martin said.
Trust is an invaluable commodity in retail these days – particularly as Instagram is increasingly choked with influencers of uncertain bona fides and sometimes questionable honesty. The bright line cases make the headlines: the Instagram influencer who marketed “influencing classes,” took payments for them and then never showed up to teach, or the USC student whose contracts with sponsors were yanked after it turned out her parents may have purchased her a seat at USC. But even beyond the more shocking cases, consumers increasingly have questions about the influencers they watch, and the effects their relationships with sponsors have on their recommendations and product reviews.
Televised home shopping, on the other hand, can’t help but come off as incredibly genuine, as a Vox reviewer found after watching several hours of Martha Stewart Live on QVC. The experience wasn’t exciting, she noted, but it was highly watchable and, over time, incredibly convincing.
“It was so informative, it was almost as though you didn’t have a choice,” she wrote.
The reviewer didn’t want to purchase any of the flameless candles or ceramic Easter eggs on offer, but she couldn’t help but believe every word Martha said about them, as well as the rapturous praise heaped upon the items by the callers.
“An elderly woman who introduces herself as Nancy calls into the show to attest to the beauty of several of the objects Stewart is selling, and I believe her? It’s all so workaday it’s hard to believe it could possibly be fake,” she wrote. “The exact opposite of Instagram, where everything is so beautiful and so obviously unreal.”
And while Amazon never did purchase Evine, it never quite gave up on the video home shopping experience. Last month, the company launched its answer to QVC, Amazon Live. The service features live shows from Amazon’s talent pool and from brands through an app called the Amazon Live Creator. The format is familiar to home shopping television, with expert hosts talking about and demonstrating Amazon products. Beneath the video, customers can view product details and make purchases. The launch follows the short-lived tenure of Style Code Live a few years ago, which was purely about style and beauty tips and never really found an audience.
But Amazon is persisting. The newest variation will run multiple streams at the same time, so customers can choose their preferred product types, from home goods to electronics, as well as their favored hosts.
Will it compete with QVC for the traditionalists, or Instagram Influencers for the millennials? Hard to say this early on. But if it can capture the trusted advisor roles that QVC and HSN have developed into $14 billion in sales, while perhaps injecting some of the influencers’ more modern sales techniques, they might have yet another channel to work with.
But then, Instagrammers’ audiences are pretty loyal, and even occasionally brawl with each other online. And QVC has done a very strong job of upping the level of its digital game, announcing its own streaming content just as Amazon announced their Live launch.
Though you may think of it as your grandmother’s favorite shopping innovation, you might want to keep an eye on video home shopping. It’s not what it used to be, and the race is heating up.