What Women Watch: Shopping Nets have the Goods

Nov 7, 2005  •  Post A Comment

By Lee Alan Hill

Special to TelevisionWeek

What ESPN is to the sports fan, shopping networks are to the recreational shopper.

While the sports network’s audience skews highly male, the audience for the shopping nets is overwhelmingly female. Home Shopping Network’s audience is 75 percent women. It’s the same for Shop at Home, and even higher at Shop NBC (80 percent) and Jewelry Television and powerhouse QVC (both 90 percent).

But Nielsen is hardly where it’s at for the shopping networks. Joyce Richman, VP of programming for Jewelry Television, spoke for her rivals when she said, “Our measurement is sales, not ratings.”

Using that criterion, QVC is the market leader, doing a whopping $5.1 billion in sales last year. Jewelry Television, based in Knoxville, Tenn., managed $400 million in sales over that same period.

Doug Rose, VP of merchandising and brand development for QVC, said his audience is not defined by demographics. “It’s a love of shopping,” Mr. Rose said. He’s not oblivious to the makeup of his viewers, though.

“QVC’s demographic sweet spot is baby boomer women in affluent suburbs,” Mr. Rose said. “These women are of above-average affluence and education. They expect impeccable product quality and they demand outstanding services.”

Each of the shopping networks wants to target those women, so their marketing tactics-such as direct mail and fliers-are similar. But their programming philosophies are varied.

While QVC is known as the network where Joan Rivers hawks her product lines, ranging from jewelry to grooming, for the most part the network is opting for “informed hosts” who are known in their field of expertise and who may write about product lines but would not be recognizable on entertainment shows.

HSN, on the other hand, is far more celebrity-driven. Emmy-winning actress Susan Lucci appears to sell her fragrances, grooming products and fashion accessories. Suzanne Somers’ airtime there may well exceed the combined daily rebroadcasts of her sitcoms as she sells lines ranging from clothing to healthful foods.

“Celebrities make a lot of sense,” said Scott Sanborn, HSN’s senior VP of marketing. “When you see Wolfgang Puck on HSN selling cookware, you know this guy knows how to cook. We have Lauren Hutton, whose credibility selling beauty products is certainly enhanced by the fact that she’s one of the top fashion models in history.”

HSN also relies heavily on experts.

“Our women customers are active, not always having the time to buy a fashion magazine,” Mr. Sanborn said. “They want us to have the editor or writer from those magazines on, talking about the latest look, the trends, the hot colors.”

Shop at Home does not include clothing lines in its product mix, but it does have home solutions, cooking and, increasingly, scrapbooks, crafts and do-it-yourself decorating, said Adam Rockmore, senior VP of marketing and interactive commerce.

Scripps-owned Shop at Home ties in heavily with the hosts and talent from other Scripps networks, particularly HGTV and Food Network. HGTV’s “Queen of Craft” Carol Duvall sells her lines, as do Food Network’s Emeril Lagasse and Paula Dean.

“We feature our products a bit longer on-air than most of the other networks,” Mr. Rockmore said. “And we put a great emphasis on giving information about the product and the uses for the product.”

Information is key for independently owned Jewelry Television.

Jewelry Television sells only jewelry and does not have celebrity hosts. As a matter of fact, for most of the round-the-clock broadcast, the audience sees only well-manicured hands.

“Our hosts are incredibly knowledgeable about the items,” Ms. Richman said. “And we produce information vignettes, many under 90 seconds, which explain the gemstone. For example, if we are selling Tahitian pearls, we offer background on why these pearls are so special: how they are made, how to properly clean them and how to properly place them in your jewelry box.

“We present passion for the product, education about the product and high value of the product,” she said.

NBC Universal has a minority stake in ValueVision Media’s ShopNBC, which does some tie-ins with feature films from Universal but eschews celebrities.

ShopNBC VP of Marketing Robb Richter said he’s “found that creating events works well: black tie events, holiday events. We do all-star events, when we bring on the vendors who sell the most and use a theme, such as things you must have for the holiday season.”

The simple mission of the commerce networks-to sell products-makes the potential for interactive purchasing extremely appealing. All of them are experimenting with some form of transactional commerce, or “t-commerce,” which will allow the preregistered customer to press a button on a remote control to buy an item.

QVC is already using a fully deployed system in the United Kingdom. Widespread rollout in the U.S. awaits upgrades in satellite and digital delivery for many consumers.

“Our job is to make QVC as fun and enjoyable a place as possible for every customer to shop, whenever the mood arises, and however she feels most comfortable doing it,” Mr. Rose said.

HSN sees the interactive technology as a way to broaden its demographic. Already the network may have slightly more male buyers because of the National Football League lines it markets.

“We’re in the retail business,” Mr. Sanborn noted. “Being able to buy the products from your remote control will mean more male customers. It will also mean more women and women from higher income brackets, and younger. Our research and focus groups tell us that these groups say they don’t always feel like picking up the phone and ordering. But pushing a button is a great opportunity that we look forward to having.”