The Winning Quotient
Mike George '85, CEO of QVC, discusses how the retailing giant ensures successBy Adrienne Murrill
It's the most wonderful time of the year - or at least it can be for retailers. While visions of profits dance in their heads, those in the retail industry know the holiday season can make, or break, their business.
But in the dizzying array of choices available to today's consumer, 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 the 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 change both what it is offering and how it is communicating with customers about products instantly.
"In a very real time way," he says, "we can monitor what we're offering the customer and how we're communicating that offer." George says he will often sit with the show's producer in the studio, or listen in on customer service calls to gain insight into what the customer is responding to, and what he or she is excited or confused about.
Marketing directly to consumers is the most energizing and challenging marketing one can do, George says. "I'm always 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." Every day something new is learned, he adds, with the chance to do something special for a consumer - or to make a mistake and learn from the mistake.
"The key is to listen carefully. I'm always studying and seeing what we can learn from it."
In addition to QVC's television sales, QVC.com is another outlet to reach consumers; George says the site is ranked among the top general merchant Internet 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. So we go back and it forces us to be more thoughtful about how we do what we do."
Just as George likes to interact with the consumer, he says QVC's model lets the customer interact with the brand in many 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 e-mail 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. In many ways, George adds, QVC pioneered this community piece with its on-air testimonial calls, where customers share what they liked or didn't like. Just like with online product reviews, it provides the consumer with more information and makes the community tighter.
"There's a lot that we offer that customers don't know," he adds.
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," he says. But for every person like that there are a few who haven't shopped and probably have a stereotype of TV shopping, George 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."