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  Mike George '85

Alumni Profile: Mike George '85

On Web and TV, QVC customer is king, says CEO

By Adrienne Murrill

The start of each season can make or break a retailer's year. But given the array of choices available to consumers how can retailers ensure success? According to QVC's Mike George, the answer lies with the customer.

A graduate of Northwestern and Kellogg, George is president and CEO of one of the world's largest multimedia retailers. With annual revenue of more than $7 billion, QVC meets its customers in the comfort of their own homes to sell beauty and fashion accessories, jewelry and more through its television programming. George calls it "the greatest retail democracy out there."

"The customer votes on every product every second," he says. Items are for sale "on air" during a set number of minutes, and QVC gains instant feedback from the customer. Based on the number of click-throughs online and phone calls an item receives, QVC can instantly change what it is offering and how it is communicating about products.

George says he will often sit with the show's producer in the studio, or listen to service calls to gain insight into customers' needs.

Marketing directly to consumers is the most energizing and challenging marketing one can do, George says. "I'm amazed at how savvy the consumer is and how high her expectations are. You have to be at the top of your game every day, to delight her and give her something that is fresh, innovative, surprising." is another outlet to reach consumers, and George says it's ranked among the top general merchant Web sites.

"Overall the Internet is a huge positive for us, but there are some challenges," he says. Occasionally, online product reviews will be critical, but George says this is an opportunity to reconnect with the customer. "Maybe it's that we didn't communicate well how to use the product on the air or on the Web, and it's obvious that the customer's confused. It forces us to be more thoughtful about how we do what we do."

He says QVC's model lets the customer interact with the brand in different ways, which affects both their lifestyle and the product. "Some folks will watch the TV, pick up the phone, and they have us on speed dial; others may do research, and then order from the Web or buy something that is offered only on our Web site. ... In some of our markets, you can order directly from your remote control or cell phone, and customers can get an email reminder when their favorite QVC program is on the air. We use all these mediums to make it easier for customers to interact with QVC," he says.

The company takes a very personal approach in its business, which is a part of its recent "iQdoU?" campaign. "There are lots of people who buy from QVC, well over 35 million," George says. "People don't always come out and talk about that, and we joke about it and call it the Q. A lot of people Q, but they don't all admit it."

The company overcomes this in the diverse set of personalities it has used over the years, including Heidi Klum, Paula Deen, Bobbi Brown and Frederic Fekkai as its customers and vendors.

"The folks that shop QVC love us and have the highest repeat purchase rate of any retailer," George says. But for every person like that there are a few who haven't shopped and probably have a stereotype of TV shopping, he adds. When non-customers find out that QVC doesn't just sell Bobbi Brown cosmetics, but that Brown herself will be on the program, explaining her product and techniques for using it, he says their jaws drop. "People are really shocked by that. They don't realize what an additional value they get from QVC."

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