Forget Amazon HQ2. QVC is our e-commerce giant

Behind the scenes at QVC, Program Host Jennifer Coffey sits in the company’s West Chester-based main studio.

In the nearly five years I spent covering the Philadelphia tech scene for local tech-news outlet Technical.ly Philly, I rarely thought twice about the West Chester-based retailer known for its television shopping experiences. It felt so old school. I opted to focus on more traditional tech startups. But if we’re talking local technology, QVC is impossible to ignore.

Once its $2 billion Home Shopping Network merger is finalized, the emerged QVC Group will become the third-largest e-commerce retailer in North America in terms of sales, trailing only Amazon and Walmart, according to QVC chief executive Michael A. George. That’s huge. Amid all the chatter about Amazon HQ2, it seems important to note that the region has an e-commerce player like QVC in its midst. With a few caveats: It’s not actually within city limits and only a tiny fraction of its soon-to-be 27,000 employees will work in the region. (Might QVC open an office in the city to attract tech talent, the way suburban companies like Vanguard and social network MeetMe have?) And of course, the merger is still pending so it’s too early to say if QVC could truly challenge Amazon or Walmart.

Still, the company is worth watching. That was one of my takeaways while reading Philadelphia Magazine’s recent feature on QVC, on whether it could win over the thirtysomething set. The company’s merger with HSN was also the subject of a story on Racked about the future of TV shopping. Here’s what else you should pay attention to from those stories.

E-commerce sales made up nearly half of QVC’s 2016 revenue.

As one point of comparison, e-commerce sales made up one-third of Urban Outfitters’ revenue in 2016, according to eMarketer Retail. (In 2012, Urban Outfitters told me it aimed to be at 50 percent e-commerce sales by 2017.)

QVC employees refer to their customers as “she.”

That’s intentional, as Racked notes that “QVC describes its base as one that ‘spans virtually all socio-economic groups,’ [according to its website] but more often than not, she’s a 35- to 65-year-old woman with a ‘somewhat above-average income,’ somewhere between $50,000 and $250,000.”

That language, the language of “she,” speaks to the company’s larger mission of trying to create an emotional relationship with its customers. 

QVC senior vice president of digital commerce Alex Miller told Philadelphia Magazine that sometimes it’s not always about the sale. (Of course, in a roundabout way, it is.)

“We don’t try to shove the commerce part of it too far up the funnel, because sometimes she really is just coming to be educated and entertained,” he said.

HSN takes a similar tack. From the Racked story:

“Crucially, HSN dialed down the pushiness of its pitches and focused on engaging its audience with an aspirational ‘best girlfriend’ attitude. ‘It’s not just a transactional relationship. It becomes an emotional relationship,’ [former HSN exec Mindy] Grossman told Forbes.”

QVC’s parent company, Liberty Interactive, owns Zulily, the online women’s clothing store with spammy ads.

Liberty Interactive bought the company for $2.5 billion in 2015. But people don’t like those ads. QVC, are you listening? Can you handle?

QVC has downsized its West Chester office in the last year.

The employee count at headquarters is 2,220, down from 2,600 in September 2016, when my colleague Joseph M. DiStefano reported that QVC would cut 100 Philly-area jobs. QVC employs 17,000 but the HSN merger would mean its workforce would grow to 27,000, pre-merger layoffs at least. It’s not yet clear how the West Chester headquarters will be affected by the merger, though the companies said they planned to cut at least $75 million in yearly spending “by eliminating duplication in management, administrative, and information technology spending,” according to an Inquirer report.

QVC is broadcasting more than 100 hours of content on Facebook Live every week.

If you’re wondering who’s actually going live, it’s QVC.

Amazon had a failed televised shopping effort called Style Code Live.

The show, live-streamed for free on Amazon’s site, was canceled after just 15 months.

QVC is tapping beauty vloggers as new school hosts on its year-old beauty channel, Beauty iQ.

Vloggers are the highly influential women who take to YouTube and Instagram to talk about makeup. It certainly seems like a natural fit, but it remains to be seen if the approach is working — the way vlogging works, viewers usually go straight to the source. Will they turn to a middleman to curate the content? My colleague Suzette Parmley wrote about Beauty iQ’s launch last year.

Despite what they might think, millennials have not escaped the pull of legacy companies like QVC.

Miller, QVC’s digital commerce exec, told Philadelphia Magazine’s Emily Goulet that QVC as a brand isn’t focusing too hard on attracting millennials. They’ll find their way to QVC, he said, through avenues like Zulily or BeautyiQ. Which brings Goulet to this point:

“’Millennials and the Gen Z generation are rebelling against and disrupting legacy companies in bolder ways than we’ve seen previously. But the legacy companies aren’t standing still,’ says [Wharton marketing professor Barbara] Kahn. To wit: Unilever bought Dollar Shave Club; Walmart acquired Jet.com, which in turn bought indie-clothing e-tailer ModCloth and trendy men’s apparel company Bonobos. ‘There are ways to buy cool,’ she says.”

One final note: Goulet’s story is called “Can a Style-Conscious 30-Something Like Me Ever Become a Fan of QVC?” and finishes (spoiler alert) with a scene of Goulet buying a $119.98 crocodile ring online, in what can only be described as a QVC trance. Tell us, style-conscious thirtysomethings of the world: Would it work on you?