What Home-Shopping TV Can Teach B2C E-Tailers

Forget the spotted owl. These days you’d think business-to-consumer e-commerce was an endangered species. From investors to the industry presses to highly publicized web sites running pools for the next dot-com casualty, it’s open season on the B2C Internet.

It’s so bad that some clicks-to-bricks businesses – such as the woefully named gazoontite – are bailing on clicks to become bricks-only retailers. And where the spotted owl inspired pleas from loggers to preserve their lifestyles and livelihoods, e-commerce industry groups are seeking special protections from sales taxes inherent to all other recognized forms of commerce.

Greg recently dedicated a drawer of his new bedroom dresser to the T-shirts, polo shirts, and other marketing swag of dot-coms past. Discovered among Greg’s e-shirt mausoleum is one from a former employer, Snap.com (since gobbled up by the gastrointestinal power of the NBCi peacock). The T-shirt reminded him of a trip to a home-shopping TV network that wanted to license the Snap brand – and hopefully rub off some of the NBC peacock’s credibility on its web site.

While the web site offered nothing to write home about, the TV network gave him a glimpse at the future of e-commerce. Minnesota-based ValueVision may have been a distant third in its market, trying to wean itself off the crack cocaine of its industry: jewelry. Yet its commerce operations ran circles around what e-tailers can only hope to achieve today.

What can e-tailers learn from a home-shopping TV network like ValueVision?

Real-Time Feedback

Say what you will about collaborative filtering, personalization, and targeting engines. As the pitchman waxes in front of a camera about charm bracelets, a monitor displays numeric feedback – in real time – on the number of connected callers, the number of items sold at each price, the number of items left in inventory, the elapsed time, etc. Pitchmen can alter their pitch, alter their price, or change to different merchandise – all in a real-time response to their customers’ interests.

Targeted Audiences

Many e-tailers are so fearful of alienating themselves from a potential audience – no matter how remotely interested – that they try to be all things to all people. Naturally, they instead succeed at being equally bland and uninteresting to everyone.

ValueVision knows its audience (for example, they love cheesy charm bracelets), and it boldly and unabashedly targets its viewers. Sometimes, defining your target market isn’t nearly as important as defining what isn’t your target market.

Human Touch

Rick Springfield said it best. For this coming holiday season, it seems that many e-tailer marketing departments decided that customer service might be a better investment than another obtuse Super Bowl ad. Quality commerce requires a little more human intervention than you can get from an online vending machine.

ValueVision, like its competitors, has recognized through focus groups and customer tracking that the social aspect of home-shopping television has huge sales implications. Many of its customers call just to say hello to a familiar “friend” during the day. And, yes, they’ll take one of those pendant watches while they’re at it.

User Loyalty

While dot-coms continue to scratch their heads over “stickiness,” ValueVision knows how to appeal to its die-hard junkies. Its customers know their stuff, they demonstrate brand affinities, they know the salespeople they like or love to hate, and they’re very knowledgeable about product lines and the market.

Who Needs Content?

As e-tailers such as Garden.com wrestle over how to present the false pretense of content to help sell their wares, ValueVision views that as wasteful window-dressing. Why take up precious airtime with filler and “lifestyle” stories when you could be racking up the cash register?

There’s something to be said for making no excuses about your crass commercial nature.

Market Maturity

Perhaps this is the most telling sign of maturity. While the dot-coms strap themselves to the manic-depressives of the roller-coaster market, ValueVision completely avoids these exaggerated cycles of hype and despair. It issues no press releases claiming to revolutionize the market – in sentences that strive for the triple buzzword score. Instead, its novel idea is to recognize and learn about how it makes money, and it continually seeks ways to optimize and improve upon that.

How’s that for revolutionary?

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