by Kim S. Nash

How QVC Rings Up Sales with Mobile Commerce

Mar 17, 2010
Consumer ElectronicsMobileSmall and Medium Business

Retailer QVC, a mobile commerce leader, keeps shopping from smartphones simple.

At QVC, home shopping first meant customers watched TV and dialed an 800 number. The company added a website in 1996 and many consumers migrated online. Now QVC offers the ability to buy items in seconds by sending a text message from any cell phone.

Since expanding into mobile commerce in 2008—as one of the first major retailers to try it—QVC has learned vital lessons about what to do and what to avoid, says Angie Simmons, executive vice president of multichannel platforms. But whether to offer mobile shopping was never in question, she says. “Customers lead busy lives, but no one walks around without a mobile phone,” says Simmons. “They wanted this.”

QVC started small, by letting customers with existing accounts buy products by texting item numbers to 78246 (“QVCGO”). But that wasn’t enough for shoppers, who asked QVC to send sales pitches to them. “Mobile is truly a two-way street,” Simmons says. So early last year, QVC let account-holders sign up to receive mobile alerts promoting one-day deals on specific products, such as beauty devices and DVD players. Customers text a reply to buy. QVC could have provided a link to a website where shoppers could make the purchase, but that would have added more steps and more chances for transactions to fail on spotty cellular connections, Simmons says.

Keep Sites Simple

QVC’s most important decision, however, was to build a scaled-down, smartphone-friendly website that uses fewer graphics, links and text than the regular site. The biggest near-term potential for e-commerce comes from fast, simple mobile sites, says Ken Harker, senior manager for mobile and Internet technologies at Keynote Systems, which provides tools to test and measure Web performance. (The company doesn’t work with QVC.)

The goal, Harker says, should be to get pages to load quickly—in no more than eight seconds. This requires load-testing servers and product databases, designing pages with only a few elements and keeping page sizes under 100KB. QVC follows similar guidelines, says Simmons. The company, which earned 25 percent of its $7.4 billion in revenue online in 2009, won’t disclose its mobile sales.

Many retailers have yet to learn these lessons. A study of mobile commerce sites by Keynote during the 2009 holiday season found pages that took up to 34 seconds to load and searches that took up to 38 seconds to produce results. Such experiences may drive shoppers away, Harker says.

Not everything in mobile commerce is as obvious or as easy to implement as texting and simpler websites, however. In December, QVC launched an iPhone application that lets customers view daily specials, search for items, send e-mail about products and, of course, buy stuff. But unlike the app from competitor Home Shopping Network, QVC’s offering doesn’t stream television programs—a difference that customers have noticed.

Simmons says QVC is still adapting as it learns what works best for iPhone users. For example, the company plans to release a new version of its iPhone app that includes access to its television shows. Simmons says she plans to expand QVC’s mobile projects by “listening to customers and staying on top of trends.”