Michael O'Hara and Mike George

The video platform is a great way to engage consumers, but companies need to pay attention to how to navigate the different options.

In a keynote presentation at the 8th Annual Consensus Great Brands Show on Wednesday at The Times Center in Manhattan, Mike George, president and chief executive officer of Qurate Retail, Inc., said, “The explosion of video shopping is a good thing, but we need to navigate it.”

Qurate is a video commerce firm that combines the retail, media and social platforms to reach consumers via experiences, conversations and communities. It is number-one in video commerce globally, reaching 370 million homes worldwide through 16 television networks, multiple e-commerce sites, social pages, mobile apps, print catalogues and in-store destinations. Its brands include QVC, HSN, Zulily, Ballard Designs, Frontgate, Grandin Road and Garnet Hill. The company was also the first broadcaster to broadcast on Facebook Live following disclosure of the live-streaming option.

George said the Qurate platform is focused on customer engagement, as well as on connecting consumers with brands. He said that data on engagement on the platform indicates “viewership is rising, not decreasing. At the same time, that may not go on forever.” The ceo explained that the broadcast model in general has been shrinking somewhat and that, in turn, has him thinking about other video options. He told Michael O’Hara, the founder of investment banking firm Consensus, that he’s been thinking about video on demand. That’s an option that gives consumers the ability to view content 24/7. George said he’s paying attention to how that option might impact Qurate’s current business model.

The company’s interactive model also has him pondering how to translate the brick-and-mortar experience into a digital one. An example is going into a store and having a salesperson tell the story about a product. According to George, an online “library content must be borderline infinite, so how do we use that content again?” The answer is about interaction and how to do that across different digital interfaces, he said. That could be done through programming so that there’s the live sessions, and later on the “best of the live programming of the week,” followed by a library of two-minute or three-minute videos used as informational content about a product.

Regardless of how the different video formats are used, the focus is still on live content. “We want to drive you to live content. You will be more engaged, and more likely to purchase. Video is great, but live is amazing. There’s power [in] the entrepreneur telling a story and power [in] feedback [from] other customers,” George said.

George also told O’Hara that in order to build loyal customers, “You have to be paranoid about it.…The average QVC customer makes 25 purchases a year. Some as many as 60. Our Zulily customer buys six to eight times [during the year]. We do that without a single loyalty program and we charge shipping.…We create a relationship with the customer. We create [an emotional] bond, and she wants to come back.”

In a chat with WWD, George said video as a mechanism for storytelling works well with its catalogue brands. “Telling them how to do [something] on Facebook Live has become increasingly important because they will share it,” George said. He also hasn’t seen any decrease by consumers in time spent watching video content. “If they want to learn something new, [especially if its technical information], they will want to spend more time.” George said he’s also been looking at video content for post-purchase information, such as how to set up the product; what benefits the product that consumers just bought can provide them; and, using tie-ins, subscription plans. The ceo said subscription plans, such as for refills, are a growing area for the company, particularly in the areas of beauty and food.

Other presenters at the conference include Phillip Raub, the cofounder of B8ta. Raub spoke about changing the retail model. He also said the company is in talks to have a store at Hudson Yards in Manhattan, and is eyeing other locations in Manhattan and possibly Brooklyn as well. Matthew Scanlon spoke about how he cofounded cashmere brand Naadam in 2015, and noted that over the past three years, the company has grown sales from $1.5 million to $7 million and then $20 million, with estimates of $50 million for 2018. The brand now has a store at 392 Bleecker Street in Manhattan. Connor Wilson, cofounder of Thursday Boots, spoke about how the company began as a Kickstarter campaign, raising $30,000 in one month, and how it has grown its followers to 470,000. He said the U.S. market for boots is $66 billion, with men’s footwear at $20 billion and the balance of $46 billion representing the women’s market. The company is opening a store on Mercer Street in two weeks, and will have a Manhattan showroom on 21st Street.

Universal Standard’s cofounder Polina Veksler spoke about the lack of appropriate apparel for women size 14 and above. The company now offers apparel in sizes 6 to 32, and will offer sizes 11 to 40 next month. David Rapps, director of corporate development and legal affairs at Calego, spoke about building the firm’s mass luggage brand iFly, and its partnership with Walmart. He also noted that wholesalers should use their data to help retailers on what to order for their customers. An example he gave was a spring order from Walmart for gold- and rose gold-colored luggage as a test for a subsequent fall order. Data from the brand’s own site showed the color rose gold had six times more likes than gold. IFly told Walmart about the color preference, the order was changed to rose gold and Rapps said that decision was worth “more than $30 million.” The brand has a lifetime warranty for its products, with Rapps noting the claim rate is under 0.1 percent. “The warranty is not a liability, it is a way for us to engage with the customer for life,” Rapps said.

David Roger, the cofounder of Felix Gray, spoke about the the brand’s proprietary lenses and how its eyewear options filter out blue light to help consumers avoid eye strain. Since launching in 2016, the company now has close to 130,000 customers. The company is about to start its next phase of fundraising, Roger said.


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