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IMRG Online Retailer Interview: QVC UK

A Q&A with Rob Tucker, Director of Digital Commerce, QVC UK

Rob leads QVC UK’s Digital Commerce operation.

A key contributor to the success of QVC’s digital platforms since 2005, Rob has been responsible for directing, delivering, and improving the customer experience for QVC’s UK digital platforms and creating many of its digital teams.

As QVC has grown into Qurate Retail Group, Rob continues to drive digital sales growth and transformation activities locally whilst representing QVC UK in the strategizing and delivery of global CX improvements.

We spoke to Rob about returns, brand experience, and customer acquisition and retention.

Could you give us an overview of QVC, for those who may not be familiar?

Essentially we’re a digital department store. QVC has changed a lot over the years, the reach has grown, and we’ve definitely evolved with the digital times.

We originated in the US. The UK was the second market, and that was back in the mid ‘90s. We were online in 1998, so we’ve had a web presence for quite a long time as well. Over the last few years we’ve been expanding globally: we’re now in about seven markets, and in the last year or two we’ve been acquiring other business as well. So Zulily, which is quite a female-driven retailer, in the US, and recently the Home Shopping Network, which is the biggest competitor to QVC in the US.

In March this year we rebranded that group, so we’re now part of the Qurate Retail Group, which has a reach of 370 million homes globally. It puts us at number one for video commerce and number three in North American ecommerce after amazon and Wal-Mart. So pretty big globally.

And then in the UK we continue to do well. We don’t publish all the stats up to the minute, but the 2016 number was about £485 million in sales, and we’ve been growing since then year-on-year, into this year as well.

QVC filming an advertisement

Do you find that not having a store network offers any advantages or disadvantages?

The answer is ‘both’. Not being on the high street, I think, for QVC, means that we’re not always top of mind. The UK shopper is not always aware of us as a brand, or has a potentially outdated perception that we’re just about TV shopping, and we’re a lot more than that.

So, we have that challenge to overcome. We have to improve awareness, and challenge any outdated perceptions of what QVC offers.  Not having a high street presence can limit us doing that a little bit.

But then on the flip side, digital is continuing to deliver the majority of the growth, and we are a virtual, global retailer. So we have more advantages than disadvantages. We don’t have that real estate to manage like some competitors have struggled with in the last year or so, and we keep our brands and content, and our messaging, much more consistent across those digital channels.

QVC showroom

How do you align the TV and online experience for QVC customers?

It’s the same challenge that other retailers face, keeping consistency across various customer contact points. But we’re aiming to deliver a third way of shopping across all channels. We’re aiming to deliver something different that resonates with that customer. And if you consider the bricks-and-mortar experience as the original, and online pureplay as the second, we definitely want to be something different from those.

We deliver a curated experience. We deliver it through storytelling, through brand guest presenters, product experts, and people with passion and a story to tell. Consumers keep coming back to see that curation and to discover new things. So all of that applies just as well (if not better) to digital as it does to TV.

So those things — that brand essence — we want to bring to life across the different platforms, in terms of product, price, promotion, all of those things are aligned across the channel. The TV remains and always will be the ‘showroom’, where we’re telling great stories, curating those different products.

It keeps changing and moving day by day and then with the web and our apps, it’s a broader offering. Sometimes the promotions will start a bit before they start on air, or there’s more to find online, than there is on air.

Close up of camera

Do you see a high rate of returns?

Our returns are actually lower than average. And we think that’s partly down to how we demonstrate the product.

On air we communicate all the benefits of the product: how to use an item, when to use it, who it would suit etc. Sometimes in specific categories like beauty, that also means telling the customer why that product might not be for them, to ensure all consumers are making an educated decision before buying.  Additionally, we’ve always had a thirty-day money back guarantee, which we encourage our customers to use to try the product out, and make sure they’re fully satisfied with it.

We don’t have a high street shop, so we don’t just put products on a shelf. We’ve always built a story around a product. And the good thing is that we have a platform to talk to our customer directly, and I think that’s attractive for brands. To have people like the founder or a relevant expert talking about the product, talking about why they care, what they developed it for. And it’s that passion that carries through to the customer.

In the last year or so, mobile networks have been getting faster and people are consuming more video. Our video output is content that can be on TV, or online, and on social as well, so we want to use it across all those different platforms.

Designers meeting

Since a lot of your business comes from returning customers, how much effort do you put into customer acquisition?

They’re both important to us. Like many other retailers we focus on both, but we have fantastic customer loyalty, as you say. We actually got recognised in the Nunwood Customer Experience Survey. We came first last year, but we’ve been in the top five several times before, and again we put that down to quite a personal relationship with the customer. We’re talking directly to them on the TV, we’re bringing in the brand owners and advocates to talk about their products, and share that passion.

But acquisition is just as important. We’re certainly focused on bringing in new people. We want to keep the brand fresh, we want to keep moving. We have some great brands that appeal to a younger customer than we’ve spoken to in the past. So we’re focused on bringing customers into the business through the right product deflection, and then we use different channels to do that.

We’ve very active on Facebook and have been since 2011. We’re also active and growing on Instagram. We use a variety of channels and platforms to connect with new customers and new audiences.

We don’t do a lot of above-the-line advertising. We broadcast live 16 hours a day, 364 days a year so think of that as a 24/7 adverting channel in itself; live TV still drives a lot of traffic for us.  We work with two Brand Ambassadors, Ruth Langsford and Amanda Holden, who are strong advocates for us, and harnessing their social media engagement allows the brand to talk to a wider, more diverse audience. They have two roles: Ambassadorial and Commercial with their own collections.  

Their own ranges resonate with the existing customers, but also to their own followers and audience, so we’re attracting new customers via their following and social activity.

We’re partnering with Influencers and have a number of successful campaigns driving positive results. Acquisition is certainly still high on our list, whilst continuing to engage and delight our core,  returning customers.

Bank of screens

And has there been any shift in your customer profiles. Have new types of customer appeared?

We are still engaging highly with our core audience: women, 45 years old+, based all over the UK.   Over the past 5 years our product and brand offering has widened, so we’re speaking to a younger customer than we were ten years ago. Technology and social media has also opened up this engagement.   

How do you use social media channels?

Social works in a number of different ways for us. At first we think of it as an extension of what we’re doing on TV. We want to build the experience around the show, around guests that we’ve got on the show, and the product, and that activity focuses on engagement for our core customers, whilst also extending reach and bringing that TV experience into social for a new audience.

We’re thinking about how we talk to those customers, how we keep that conversation going, and how we get those customers to talk about us, so there’s still an acquisition piece to that, but most of the activity is about retention and keeping those customers engaged with QVC. As we’ve already established, we do have a quite a loyal customer. 

I think a few years back a lot of retailers were more focused on sales and weren’t quite sure how to work social, but for us, it’s definitely always been about engagement, and it fits very well with the brand core values and what we do.

We do paid social as well of course, and we’ll do certain campaigns focusing on collections or products, where we’re driving direct product promotion as well as brand promotion. On the social side, the influencers, and connection with other brands and celebrities, our Brand Ambassadors, Ruth and Amanda, all offer and extend reach, allowing us to connect with a different audience.

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