A QVC host stood by a clothing rack with blouses and a tank top set one morning. She told viewers that they would get 30% Off if they ordered right now. She urged them not to wait.
Behind the scenes, one of the producers was monitoring two screens. One showed call volume, and the other displayed the colors and sizes left. The showcased wine-colored blouse was the most popular option that morning. A real-time dashboard assisted in boosting this sense of urgency with shoppers. The producer whispered into the host’s earpiece that the wine-colored blouse was in high demand. Soon, the host’s cheery voice, reaching over 100 million homes, exclaimed, “The wine is flying out of here!”
That's exactly what happened. As soon as the host said that, they were sold out.
Many people associate QVC with an older demographic. What's interesting about home shopping networks is that they've taken steps to attract a wider audience over time.
I want to dive deep into what contributes to the success of the QVC business model. The home shopping industry is worth billions of dollars. Three underlying principles are at play. Each of these principles can be applied to our businesses to get more customers and sales.
I want to give you a little history lesson about the QVC home shopping network. QVC started in 1986 and was carried on 58 cable systems. It reached around 7 million people. The company expanded quickly; it had $112 million in sales in the first year—a lot of money in the 1980s.
QVC became the number three home shopping destination, which was already a crowded market at the time. QVC surpassed Home Shopping Network and Cable Value Network. In 1989, QVC purchased the Cable Value Network for about $380 million and
eventually purchased the Home Shopping Network, as well.
This big company has amassed a huge sum of money in sales. But is it still relevant today?
We know that customer preferences and buying habits are changing. Could QVC possibly still be thriving? Looking at where they are right now, they are. Undoubtedly, technology has changed the business, yet QVC continues to thrive.
Here's where adaptability comes in. Adaptability is the ability to pivot and change as new technology comes up. The home shopping networks have embraced eCommerce, with online sales soaring to nearly half their revenue. As I mentioned, QVC eventually bought the Home Shopping Network. When they did that, they became the third-largest e-commerce retailer in North America, behind Walmart and Amazon. They really do know how to draw people in.
Today, one of the big technologies is video commerce. That's also something that QVC has embraced—they’re one of the first livestream shopping channels on Roku, which reaches an estimated 80 million people in the US alone.
Not only did QVC come on the scene and move to the top right away, but they were also watching the movement of consumers. They paid attention to consumer behavior and how it was evolving. Much of that has to do with how we, as consumers, consume content and how we make purchases.
Your business needs to be adaptable. You must pay attention to customer behavior. Back then, some companies didn't want websites because they didn't feel it was the way to go. Because of changes in customer behavior, we now know this sounds ridiculous.
Are you adapting to what your customers are doing? If doing the same thing isn’t going well, it’s time to take a closer look at how you serve your customers. Are you using the right platforms? Are you talking to customers how they want to be talked to, whether through text messages, emails, or another method?
If you've ever watched a QVC shopping episode, you’ve seen the sense of urgency firsthand. You knew how many people were buying the product on sale and how many items were left, making you want to act now.
When I began to study the QVC business model—and home shopping networks in general—I decided to reach out to Kevin Harrington, one of the original sharks on the TV show Shark Tank. He's also the creator of the infomercial (yes, that’s correct). He was one of the pioneers of the “As Seen On TV” industry and is also very involved with the home shopping networks.
When I talked to Kevin, he was very open about how this all works. He even mentioned his early days with the Home Shopping Network and QVC.
Networks like these sell other people's products and order inventory in advance of a special event. Kevin explained to me that people would frequently ask him whether those types of claims were true or not on the Home Shopping Network—statements such as, “Once it’s gone, it’s gone.” In the case of the home shopping networks, these statements are 100% accurate because of marketing laws.
One such law is the Truth in Advertising Law, which sets guidelines for what claims can be made by marketers. The statements about products running out are more informative than persuasive. Yes, you read that right. They are meant to be informative.
Of course, there is the nice side effect or consequence of persuasiveness and creating a sense of urgency, but it still informs you, the viewer, as you watch.
“There are 5000. Now we're down to 2000. Oh, we have five left.”
Just reading that might have stressed you out. The idea is to inform you, but you will still take action.
Research shows that when we think something's urgent, we hyper-focus on it. We are trying to fix the urgent situation. We are likely to instantly move past the consideration stage of the purchase decision process. The urgency in the TV shopping business arises from the model of purchasing a certain quantity of products in advance.
You can create urgency in your own business but be authentic. Why should your customers buy? Why now? You need to match your approach to your business so it makes sense for your customers to take action now.
You might have heard of social proof before, as it is a psychological principle that's talked about quite often. It's also an influencing factor. When uncertain about something, people look to the actions and behaviors of others to determine their own.
Social proof dates back to our ancestors who were trying to survive. One of the great researchers of social proof is Robert Cialdini. If you haven't had a chance to read his book Influence, I highly recommend it. He likes to tell the story of social proof and hotels.
You might have noticed that hotels often put a small card in bathrooms to persuade you to reuse your towel. Most hotels accomplish this by drawing your attention to the benefits of reusing your towel to save the environment. They’re pretty effective, as they increase towel reuse by 35%. But, there's an even better way that hotels have been able to persuade people that comes with social proof.
About 75% of people who stay in hotels stay there for four nights or longer. They'll probably reuse their towels at some point during their stay. If you change up the towel message to say something along the lines of “75% of our guests reuse their towels at some point during their stay, so please do so, as well,” the social proof at play increases towel reuse by another 26% for a total compliance rate of around 61%.
Instead of relying on our company's ability to persuade others, we can point our customers to what others are already doing.
Do you have reviews on your website? Do you have reviews on Google My Business? Do you have them on Yelp? It’s important to consider multiple review sites.
You also need testimonials because they give potential customers even more depth and context. It can also elicit a response when a customer sees someone like them in a similar situation.
Takeaways From the QVC Home Shopping Network
Much can be learned from the QVC business model. We might not run home shopping networks, but we can apply many different techniques from these channels to our businesses.