Home shopping network QVC has announced a new social shopping platform called ToGather, designed to extend its shopping-as-entertainment ethos to a digital community.
The site, which takes it look from Pinterest and other visual-based communities, lets members who start liking specific products set up a personalized newsfeed, where they see shopping recommendations from people and brands they chose to follow. The site also shows them what products are trending in the community and provides them with an integrated shopping cart if they decide to make a purchase.
Well-known QVC host Lisa Robertson and brand personalities from QVC's shows, such as clothes designer Susan Graver and cosmetics personality Josie Maran, also give their personal recommendations on the site. But users themselves also have a chance of becoming tastemakers within the community, if enough others chose to follow them. The platform has been in beta since July and currently has around 20,000 members.
The social shopping app was developed by Oodle, the creator of Facebook online marketplaces that QVC acquired late last year. Craig Donato, former CEO of Oodle and now director of social at QVC, says that it makes perfect sense for QVC to bring its unique philosophy to a social shopping platform.
"What QVC does on television bears a close resemblance to Facebook," says Donato. "When people tune in they want to be entertained, and are not necessarily trying to get something done. We asked ourselves how we could take this social DNA from the TV show and bring that to an online social shopping experience that involves serendipitous discovery."
Donato believes that as the Web has become more social, e-commerce behemoths will move in the same direction. Small, innovative e-commerce firms such as Fab have paved the way, with beautiful presentation and carefully curated products. Currently, however, most e-commerce is still intent-based, with people turning to sites like Amazon and Walmart only when they are seeking something specific.
But this overlooks another important element to the shopping experience, Donato tells ClickZ. "There's a whole chunk of commerce that never went online. That is window shopping, shopping for fun and entertainment. Sometimes you buy, and sometimes you don't."
He says that half a dozen brands thus far are participating in the platform, but that brand advocates are expected to participate as individuals, sharing their own personal tastes with the rest of the community.
"This is important because QVC is a very human social brand. We show the people behind the products," he says, noting that Michael Dell often appears on the channel to talk about his computers.
He declined to say whether sales had increased since the platform was launched, but said that the immediate focus is on making sure people have an engaging shopping experience. Still, last year QVC customers who interacted with one or more of its social channels generated more than half a billion dollars in revenue in the 12 months ending June 2013.
QVC's TV shows are watched by more than 30 million people a month, many of them females over the age of 40. It also has a strong digital following with around one million fans on Facebook. These online platforms will continue to be important for QVC but the plan is to have users clickthrough to ToGather, keeping them in a social rather than intent-based mindset, Donato says.
"This is an incredibly enthusiastic community of people," he adds, noting that some of them even visit QVC headquarters in Westchester, PA, on their vacations.
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Mary Lisbeth D'Amico is a freelance writer based in Jersey City who frequently covers digital marketing, social media, tech startups, and venture capital. She has contributed to a wide range of publications including The Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Red Herring, and Real Deals. Find her on Twitter at @mldamico.
March 19, 2014