The Evolution of the Home Shopping World with Matt Hodlofski

TLEP 54 | Home Shopping

 

“QVC and HSN are the original influencers”

Special guest Matt Hodlofski has over 25 years of eCommerce experience within product marketing and sales. He’s worked as a writer, producer and show creator at QVC and has spent the last 14 years as a partner at e6 marketing.

On this episode, hear about the evolution of live shopping and video commerce. Uncover what the girlfriend to girlfriend sales approach is all about. Learn how different generations shop online and engage customers who are on the fence about purchases. Find out how platforms like HSN and QVC are influenced by short form video content and other digital format developments to stay current and up to date. Discover the differences between trained on-camera hosts and influencers who sell on live streams, such as using consumer product blueprints. Get tips on entertaining and educating, and how storytelling can be weaved into brand promotion. Gain an understanding of the pros and cons of appearing on HSN and QVC, and how someone like Matt can take your brand from point A to point B.

 

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The Evolution of the Home Shopping World with Matt Hodlofski

In this episode, our special guest is Matt Hodlofski, who has many years of eCommerce experience in product marketing and sales. He’s worked as a writer, producer and show creator at QVC and has spent the last several years as a Partner at e6 Marketing.

How are you, Matt? We’re so excited to have you.

I’m wonderful. Thank you very much for having me. I’m excited to be here.

We met through various conversations. I was very interested to have you on the show because you’ve been on the production end of producing QVC shows and then worked your way out or in, I don’t know how you will say that, to be a person that helped brands to get into the live shopping space from the television perspective. You’ve been in this industry for many years.

I’d like to say my entire adult life.

You see a lot in this space. You see an evolution. I’d love for you to start the conversation by telling us how the live shopping space has evolved over the years. Where did it start? Is it the same now as it was back when you started? Did you see an evolution through time in the whole perception of live shopping altogether?

Yes. It’s an amazing evolution. I’ve been around for a lot of years, though not all of them. In my team, I’ve got two primary partners, Sue Bettenhausen and Tom Castaldi. They’re the Cofounders of our company, e6 Marketing. They’re neighbors. They had a third neighbor that lives right between them that worked at QVC and introduced the concept of bringing products to the network.

They were both in transition from their careers. Tom was in finance and Sue was a serial entrepreneur that worked in telecommunications. They got together. They have children of the same age. They’re family friends. They are lifelong friends, it seems, at this point. They started a company by having a reverse interview with a buyer. They talked to a buyer and said, “What do you want? What are you looking for?” She sent them down a path. On that day, they said, “We want pet products.” Sue and Tom started the journey of looking for pet products to satisfy that buyer and learn the business.

It’s an interesting business. My partner told me that QVC and HSN are the original influencers. QVC has been around for many years. HSN is a little longer. They are a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week and 365-day selling machine. They use video commerce to tell their stories. They demonstrate, illustrate and excite the customer by showing the product, the results of the product, how it works and how it will enhance the customer’s life.

They take a soft approach to their selling strategy. They call it the girlfriend-to-girlfriend sales approach. It used to be called the Backyard Fence Sales Philosophy, which is two people talking about a product in a very conversational and educational way so she or he can make an educated decision about the product.

When I first started many moons ago, in the mid-‘90s, QVC was in a different building. They had a pie as their set. If you could picture it, the cameras didn’t move, but a circular pie would shift from one set to the other and that’s how the shows were set up. I worked backstage. I worked my way up through the production ranks of setting the product up, always on headsets, talking to the producers, interacting with the host and the guests and learning how the home shopping world worked.

It was amazing. I worked all kinds of crazy shifts, overnights, holidays, birthdays and all kinds of things like coming in on snowstorms. It’s a machine that never stops. They built a culture and a community of educating their customer and entertaining her at the same time. Most of their customers are female. I’d say more than 90% are female. She’s smart and affluent, primarily lives on the East and West Coast, and knows what value means.

QVC stands for Quality Value Convenience. If you ever watch QVC for any length of time, you’ll always hear the host who works for QVC interacting with the guest. The host gives updates on sales and talks about the price, the offer, the colors and that type of thing. You always hear a value component and that’s on purpose. They have a value component on nearly everything they offer. If you find this product at your local retailer, you’re going to pay X. On QVC, you’re going to pay Y.

TLEP 54 | Home Shopping
Home Shopping: QVC hosts always interact with the guest. They give updates on sales, talk about the price, and give a value component on nearly everything they offer.

Their primary customer is an impulse purchase customer. She didn’t wake up thinking that she was buying this Panasonic television, Samsung TV or over $1,000 TV, but she’ll watch the presentation, listen, learn about the product and decided that the decision was right for her. QVC sells and presents a product for under $20, $1,500 computers, $1,000 generators and $800 or $600 Dyson vacuums. Low price point, high price point. They’re all over the map, always trying to engage her to keep her watching and from turning the channel.

As you’re sharing the details about these customer avatars and the type of people that would make these decisions while watching these channels, I’m wondering whether or not there’s a different audience that’s going to be tuning into live shopping on a website. Versus the experience of watching it on a TV, maybe an older generation associated with that. I imagine that there’s a younger generation who would be watching live shopping on their phone or computer, but I don’t know if that’s true or not. What do you think about this, Matt?

No doubt. Their primary customer is Baby Boomers. They grew up with her as a primary customer and she’s grown with QVC, but they’re always yearning and working towards a younger customer. They’ve got a vibrant eCommerce business where more than half their sales come through their internet, QVC.com. They do live streaming and all kinds of different things.

They have an app that you could order off the phone. You could watch the show on your phone. You could watch the show live off your computer. They do traditional television still. They’re in 100% cable homes and cable saturated across the United States. They’re in five other countries too. Those other countries broadcast their network and show.

QVC is a global company. They’re owned by a company called Qurate and Qurate owns QVC and HSN, which is the other home shopping network, along with a couple of other retailers. As my partner said, they’re the original influencers. The relationship between the host, the guest and the customer is so interesting. Where they started and where they saw success in their early days and they’re bringing it back old school is called Testimonial Callers.

I’m talking about the television show. They take T callers or testimonial callers from customers that have already ordered the product and have enjoyed the product. That customer is able to enhance the conversation by endorsing the product to the customer. The host and the guests are speaking about it. They bring in Betty from Minnesota. Betty says, “I bought this a month ago. Let me tell you my experience.” They let Betty speak and that enhanced conversation. That three-way conversation engages that customer who may have been on the fence about whether or not she wants to buy the product now.

Another amazing dynamic of what they do goes along with their phone orders, internet orders or anything else. They look at their business on a dollar-per-minute metric. It relates primarily to the TV, but that’s the focus of a 24/7/365 business that they want, yearn and have goals for every minute of the day. Depending on the time of year and time of day, weekday to weekend, 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th quarter, they have a monetary number associated with that presentation. Most presentations last between 6 and 8 minutes. Some last for 25 minutes or even 1 hour. Some last for 4 or 5 minutes, but the playing field is having a dollar-per-minute metric that that product needs to meet to be successful. It’s a real dynamic selling marketing machine. It’s fun.

Hearing you speak, it’s something that we haven’t seen much at the moment, at least from the live shopping perspective and the conversation we had. You have a very strong experience with live shopping. You talk about the shopper as she or he and you have a very precise subset of who that person is. Who is on the other side of the screen? What does she like? What does she do? How can I address her? What can I do that will meet her needs?

In some way, I feel that this is the conversation that any marketer will have about their product when they go to retailers, but we haven’t seen any of that conversation yet on the video side. The fact that you bring that up demonstrates that the space itself has a lot to progress and mature to get to that level because that conversation will happen. I do feel that we will get into a meeting room with marketers that are going to say, “Here’s my marketer. When I talk to her on my live stream, these are the things that I want to say and how and why.”

We are seeing that with QVC. You are already there. I feel like it’s part of the success, too, knowing how to address her and have that conversation. That’s fantastic. I do have one question for you. The short-form video content, like vertical format, has disrupted the whole way people consume video. First of all, everyone watches from their cell phones in a vertical format. People want to have less and less attention to consuming video content. Have you seen any changes in the way QVC or HSN approach their video content because of that? Is there no shift that they have addressed on that dynamic that’s going on in the market?

They’ve been around for so long. They’ve adjusted on the fly throughout. At any given moment, they don’t know who their customer is. She’s ordering the product. She’s not ordering the product. It’s exciting for her. They could tell by the sales. It’s not exciting for her. That sales aren’t so strong. They read and react at the moment. They have what’s called line producers that watch the show that is in the host and guest’s ear and is watching sales in real-time.

If something’s not in the productivity standard, they’ll cut that presentation short because that product will meet its dollar-per-minute or have a better chance to meet that metric, but they’re not going to waste a minute of airtime on a product that she’s not responding to. On the other side, if it’s doing very well and it was scheduled for 8 minutes and they need 2 more minutes to exhaust all the inventory, they’ll give it that extra 2 minutes.

TLEP 54 | Home Shopping
Home Shopping: If a product in a QVC is not in the productivity standard, they will cut the presentation short. It will meet its dollar-per-minute but they will not waste airtime on something people are not responding to.

It’s a live interaction, read and react. “What is she doing now? What is exciting her most to grab this product?” Your question about video and the format stream was born in a linear space. Over the years, they’ve evolved the graphics and how much the customer sees on the screen. They’ve evolved through third-panel graphics for HD. They put content in that. They evolve what they put on the bottom of the screen, which is mostly customer ordering processes or information about what colors or sizes are available.

All of this has evolved over the years and they’ve tried to stay current and relative. Honestly, I haven’t been an employee there for too long, but their control room at one point and their graphic packages were state-of-the-art. They didn’t spare any money to stay current and up to date. As this customer and eShopping or video shopping has evolved and now it’s on your phone and computer, you can order it from anywhere. They talk about those stories. They know she’s not always sitting on her couch dedicated to listening. They know she’s tuning in and out.

I’ve learned this from QVC. Everything QVC, the host and the guest say is by design, but none of it is scripted. There are no words behind the screen. There are no people getting in their ears telling them what to say or do. It is truly live. They go into each presentation with a game plan but no script. They want to engage her whenever she tunes in. As an example of that eight-minute presentation, they know the customer’s going to tune in and tune out, so they make sure that they repeat the most valuable and relevant things about that product at least three times in that presentation.

TLEP 54 | Home Shopping
Home Shopping: None of what the hosts or guests say in a QVC is scripted. They go into each presentation with a game plan and just focus on the engagement.

We call it the top three selling features. The host and guests might have fifteen things to say about the product, talk about, go off on tangents and things like that, but they’ll always come back to the top three things because they know whether they’re watching on the phone, their computer or TV that she mainly is tuning in and out. If she tunes in three minutes into the presentation, they want to make sure that she understands the most relevant things about that product. To answer your question, Nicolas, I’m sorry I went on a tangent, but their technology has evolved with the entire category of entertainment and television.

Speaking of evolutions, you’re sharing about these experienced hosts who either have a script, have memorized something, created some game plan based on an outline and marked the hit. I’m curious how that relates to the world of working with content creators and influencers who might be more used to doing things on the fly. They might not have a background or training. They’re just building their platforms based on who they are as individuals.

It might not be as professional as that host experience. I would imagine somebody who’s trained. Maybe they’ve worked as an actor or actress. I’m curious about your thoughts on the different types of personalities that can do well with this live shopping world that we’re in, whether it’s through the traditional formats of HSN and QVC or the newer digital formats on the phone or computer through a platform like eStreamly.

We tend to be drawn to influencers, but we’re seeing the value of more experienced hosts like Patti Reilly, for example, who’s got all this on-camera experience. She knows how to sell, whereas maybe the average influencer doesn’t know how to sell in the same ways or show up on camera in the same way. What are the pros and cons to you, Matt? Do you think that the industry is going to shift to training influencers so that they can be more like the traditional hosts we’ve seen on the traditional platforms?

From my perspective, I hope it evolves as the whole television shopping world has evolved, so the influencers are more seasoned. In this world that I work in, they have a metric of every minute of the day. Take a breath and think about that. They need to monetize every minute of the day. A casual viewer is watching them talk and then I’ve got an affiliation with this host or that host. I love them and they make me laugh. I love their family because they reference their husband, wives or children.

She’s genuine. She’s my age. She’s an athlete. I’m an athlete. She’s a beautiful girl and I love beauty products. All those things that are affectionate and relative to her, the consumer, gravitate to these hosts. These hosts are charged with engaging and presenting the products in an educated way, never speaking down to the consumer and having her feel good about making a considered purchase that day.

It’s an impulse purchase, but it’s considered. She needs to educate. She needs to not waste her time. She can’t speak down to her. A random chatter would be a waste. From a passive consumer, these guys have known each other for 25 years. They’re talking back and forth. They’re not saying anything that’s relative about this blouse or lipstick, but they are engaging her. They’re connecting with each other, the host and the guests and in turn, connecting with that viewer.

They’re educating her in a way that she’s going to arc where she’s interested and they’re informing. There’s a point of reference where she can make an educated decision on buying the product. There’s truly an arc in the presentation. Where an influencer might be on the air for 30 minutes and sell 2 to 3 products by design, QVC sells a lot more in those 30 minutes on a normal basis.

That influencer should think about how to approach that half hour with her customer. Her followers are essentially her customer. That influencer cannot waste her customer’s time or that customer won’t come back. She needs to entertain and educate all at the same time. Anytime I say QVC, I mean QVC and HSN and my experience with QVC.

They’re sister networks and they’re very similar in their approach. Their most valued commodity is storytelling. They’ve learned how to weave a story so well that their customer stays engaged and gets off the couch or gets away from the computer and orders the product right then and there. They can order it through the computer.

That’s a pretty amazing thing. They will engage her strongly enough and well enough that she’s entertained enough and says she stays tuned and then she’ll buy the product. From a new influencer’s point of view, I would say never speak down to your audience and the potential customer that you have. Don’t waste your time. Be entertaining, energetic, informative and prepared. Know what you want to say and how you want to say it.

Never speak down to your audience and potential customers. Do not waste your time. Be entertaining, energetic, informative and prepared. Know what you want to say and how you want to say it. Click To Tweet

We call it the product blueprint. A product blueprint is essentially a Word doc that has all the information about the product and includes all the most valuable components of that product. The host, the guests and the vendor reps like me or the vendor themselves, the brand, put together this blueprint with all the information anyone would need a QVC about a said product.

Let’s say it’s lipstick. Anybody that opens this blueprint at QVC will know everything they need to know by reading this blueprint. In that blueprint, there are the most important things to talk about, like the top three selling features. That host reviews the blueprint before the presentation. It might be 1 day or 2 before the 8 minutes. It might be 2 hours before the 8 minutes. They take that knowledge into the presentation and almost sometimes regurgitate it word for word.

They’ve got a little blue card in front of them, which has handwritten notes and all it has is the product description. They write down a few different things on that card and go on the set, either standing next to the guest or virtually through Skype. They act like they know this product inside and out, as well as the guest. That guest invented it where that guest is the CEO of the company or has been training for months for these eight minutes. They interact in such a way that it flows beautifully.

It’s amazing. I’ve got the utmost respect for anyone that does live television in any way or this particular way when there are dollars associated with everything you do and say. With the pressure of those hosts, they can’t put it in perspective, but it’s great. They weave their stories through the presentation so well that you would never know the background of what they’re doing and the knowledge that they have to have to make those eight minutes successful.

Despite the pressure on live television hosts, they still know how to weave their stories through the presentation. Click To Tweet

This conversation is amazing. I’m sure if the CEO of QVC is reading this show, he will want to give you a call to hire you back. You’re passionate about this. It’s clear. It’s interesting. I’d love to go to what you’re doing every day. In some way, your role in your company is to help brands. They come to you and say, “I would love to be on QVC.” If they qualify or not, you help them to go to QVC. First of all, I’d love to understand going through the QVC model. Everyone wants to go to QVC but is it for everyone? If it’s not for everyone, who is it for? Can you comment about that for the brand and the retailers that are maybe reading like, “How do I get in?”

The format is not for everyone or every category. It’s consumer products that have a story to tell. That’s the easiest way to say it. In my team, we are vendor reps and there are a lot of wonderful vendor reps that work through QVC and HSN that have just as much experience as we do. We’re meant to be guides for the brands on becoming successful through the format.

We educate on the format. We teach them the dos and don’ts of how to sell products through this visual medium and then talk about the whole business side of things, how to get claims through their legal department, how to get products through QA, where to send your inventory and all those very important factors. Also, teaching them how to sell the product.

What our business does and how I’ve always looked at what we do is that we chase airtime. What I mean by that is the products that come out of the categories with the most airtime have the best opportunity to grow and be successful. As an example, in 2022 and for the last several years, QVC Food has been the number one category by a long shot.

They sell all types of food. They sell center plates, snacks, desserts, healthy products, not healthy products and all types of wonderful food products that come from all over the world. If you were a vendor in the food category, I would be excited to speak with you. I would love to speak with you about your product and then I would help you determine if it’s right for you.

If your brand is six months old and you’ve never drop shipped anything, meaning your eCommerce doesn’t exist or it’s getting off the ground and an average initial PO from a QVC purchase order scares you a little bit, I would say that QVC is not right for you. I’m not saying it’s not right for you ever. It’s not right for you now because it would be a waste of your energy and efforts to go about it without being prepared to be successful.

I have a phrase about fear of failure. You have to understand that if your product presentation is not successful, it doesn’t work and essentially it fails, it will be a blip on the screen of your brand. If you put all your eggs in the QVC basket and you think this is the most important opportunity of the brand’s existence, then I would say QVC is not right for you. It’s just not that kind of format.

My team and other teams like us work with large brands, international brands and small brands. Sometimes they’re called mom-and-pop brands. Both brands have stories to tell. Large brands like Dyson, Givenchy, Philosophy and Smithfield Foods got 60-plus years of existence. They know their customers, how to weave a story, their product and how to tell a story about their product.

That young brand that’s just getting off the ground might be at the Bed Bath & Beyond level of retail. They might not be in the big boxes yet, but they’re in a number of different distribution points across the country or world. They think they have a great unique story to tell. They’re an ideal scenario. Honestly, I love growing brands through this opportunity. I love taking brands from point A to point B, watching them grow and becoming a big part of their overall brand.

When QVC first started, it took on a lot of brands that put all their eggs in that basket. I have a fictional story of a guy getting a second mortgage to fulfill that PO. He goes on QVC and it doesn’t work. All that inventory comes back to his garage. He’s bankrupt and it’s horrible. QVC never did that, but that’s my example. If you’re too small for this opportunity, but your eyes are big, I would talk you out of it and if you’re coming from a category that doesn’t get a lot of airtime.

I have a good example. Crafting products like sewing machines, embroidery and all that type of products used to be very big at QVC. It’s very big at HSN now but not big at QVC. If you were a crafting brand, I would honestly steer you toward another opportunity where you could be successful. Even if you had the best crafting product in the world, we’ll have to fight so hard to get you on the air. Even if we get you on the air, getting you back on the air and building an opportunity from a business perspective is going to be hard because the category struggles and it doesn’t even exist at QVC. I would turn you away.

If you’re in food, beauty, wellness, home, cleaning or so many other categories where QVC thrives, I would honestly encourage you to try it and explore the opportunity. Any established brands in the consumer space that understands eCommerce should be a part of video commerce. In the middle of this pandemic or early on in the pandemic, everyone was stuck in their offices, including me. I used to go to QVC 5 or 6 days a week, all different times of the day and then all of a sudden, I was stuck in my office.

Any established brand in the consumer space that understands eCommerce should be a part of video commerce. Click To Tweet

I then was just working from home like everyone else. Part of my job is to look at websites, research, make phone calls and learn about brands, products and categories from brands. The more I learned early in the pandemic, the more it smacked me in the face on how little video is used in eCommerce or with websites. Some of the websites I still look at are poor in telling their brand story and illustrating what makes them special.

QVC and HSN’s discipline turned around eCommerce in a large way. Most eCommerce sites entertain the video aspect of it or at least have a video component to what they do. They understand the power of storytelling. It’s like when QVC first started and all these cable channels. A customer is flipping through the channels and she stops. She picks her thumb up and watches QVC for 10 minutes, 5 minutes or 3 minutes. All of a sudden, she’s enamored and engaged. She might have the baby in her arms or she might be doing something else like cooking or doing homework with the kids. She’ll watch that and then order in real time right then and there. That’s an amazing dynamic like, “How can that happen?”

Many of these eCommerce sites have learned over the last few years that the video component and storytelling are what sets you apart. How do you highlight and illustrate what you do to a passive customer, a man or a woman, who’s searching on the World Wide Web and looking at different things like TikTok and all these other things streams coming at them? What’s going to grab her attention? The video component, to me, is the primary thing. It’s what makes QVC, HSN and eCommerce special, turning eCommerce into video commerce.

This is so wonderful, Matt. Your experience and ability to articulate it, too, have been so impressive. You feel like a natural for being on camera, maybe. Is that because you’ve watched so many people do it that you picked up on these speaking skills?

Yeah. I’m a better coach than I am a player. I’ve never gone on QVC on purpose. When I work backstage, it’s called dogging a camera when you walk in front of the camera that you’re not supposed to. I’ve done that many times. I’ve never sold a product, but I do understand how to.

It feels like you’d be great at it because you’ve been a phenomenal guest for us. We’re so grateful for all your knowledge, experience and everything you’ve brought us. It has been wonderful to learn from you, hear your insights and offer this up to our readers. They might be thinking about HSN or QVC and/or, hopefully, maybe using a platform like eStreamly where they could do it right from their home, experiment, practice and take into consideration everything that you’ve brought up. This has been eye-opening. We deeply appreciate your time with us.

I’ll end by saying that if you have an eCommerce site or an eCommerce business and you don’t use video, you’re selling yourself short. You need to figure out the video component on how to engage your customer. The storytelling aspect is what she needs. It’s the best way to connect with your consumer. eCommerce and video commerce are blowing up. QVC is the godmother of the whole dynamic, but there are so many great things that are happening with eStreamly and other brands like eStreamly and QVC. It’s an exciting time to present a product and show off what you do, how you do it and what makes your product so special.

TLEP 54 | Home Shopping
Home Shopping: If you have an eCommerce site or an eCommerce business and you don’t use video, you’re selling yourself short. It’s the best way to connect with your consumer.

We couldn’t agree more, Matt. It’s so well said. You’re a natural at explaining all of these things. Thank you for spending time with us. To the readers, we hope that you found this valuable. I imagine you’re feeling very inspired to check out e6 Marketing. We would love from the readers any support or feedback. If you want to leave a review, send us a private message and get in touch with us, we’re here for you. We want to keep adding lots of value and bringing on amazing people like Matt. Thanks again for your time. We’ll be back with another episode.

 

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