February 11, 2014, 9:06 AM

What she wants, when she wants it

Mobile devices enable TV and web retailer QVC to tailor shopping to a customer's context, a QVC executive explained today at the IRCE Focus mobile commerce conference. She can shop quickly on her phone while picking up the kids, and curl up later with QVC’s iPad app.

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A woman waiting to pick up her kids from school may have just a few minutes with her smartphone to finish buying that mascara she saw earlier in the day on a QVC TV shopping show, so buying on the phone must be fast and easy, explained Todd Sprinkle, vice president of content and platform innovation for QVC.

But after the kids are in bed and she’s curled up with her iPad she may want to explore a new jewelry or kitchenware selection, or watch her favorite QVC shopping show: And so QVC designs its iPad app with those moments in mind, Sprinkle said today in a keynote address to the IRCE Focus: Web Design + Mobile Commerce conference in Orlando, FL.

“Each device serves a unique role,” Sprinkle said. But all must serve the central purpose of engaging the customer and drawing her into a closer relationship with the retailer, whose motto is “we like shopping too.”

“Our customer wants to have a relationship, she wants to be engaged,” he added. “That’s what we’re leveraging mobile for, to continue to deepen the relationship with our customer.”

The QVC customer, Sprinkle explained, is typically a woman between the ages of 35 and 65, and relatively affluent. And she’s not afraid of new technology. In fact, he said, “She’s an early adopter of technology, as long as it enriches her life.”

That shows up in QVC’s financials. In 2012, the last full year for which parent company Liberty Interactive Corp. has reported its results, e-commerce accounted for nearly $3 billion of QVC’s $8.5 billion in sales. And in its most recent quarter, 32% of QVC’s e-commerce sales came from mobile devices, with consumers shopping the web site via tablets representing the fastest-growing sales channel, he said.

The increasing importance of mobile devices led QVC late last year to bet on a new approach to designing web sites: responsive design. Using this approach a retailer creates a single set of code and then modifies what the consumer sees based on the device she is using, as opposed to creating separate web sites for PCs, tablets and smartphones. QVC, No. 5 in the Internet Retailer 2013 Top 500 Guide and No. 3 in the 2014 Mobile 500, has become the largest online retailer to begin a full revamp of its e-commerce site using responsive design techniques.

The reason, Sprinkle explained, is that consumers will inevitably shop across a growing range of devices, beyond the personal computers, tablet computers and smartphones they use today. Responsive design lets a retailer adapt to a screen of whatever size, while still operating a single web site that, for example, only requires a new product to be added once for it to show up on any device.

“Device fragmentation is not getting better, there are going to be more devices connected to the Internet,” he told conference attendees. “Today’s problem is a four-inch screen, but tomorrow our web site may have to display beautifully on a 70-inch monitor in the living room. Having a single code base that anticipates screen size and orientation felt like an investment in the future for us.”

At the same time, QVC is moving deliberately, hoping to avoid the kind of customer confusion that often follows a wholesale redesign of an e-retail site. Initially, only the shopping cart, checkout process and the My Account page of QVC.com are designed with responsive techniques. Customers who reach those pages are motivated and likely to continue, Sprinkle said, and using responsive techniques on those sections will help them get used to the change.

While those pages will render differently on a PC, tablet and phone, QVC is minimizing the change by not redesigning the site; instead, it is trying to replicate the site, but using responsive techniques to alter how those pages display based on the screen size of the device and its orientation, that is, whether she is holding it vertically or horizontally.

Despite the initial caution, QVC is committed to redesigning all of QVC.com using responsive principles before the holiday shopping season, Sprinkle said. That’s in line with the retailer’s commitment to using technology to make shopping not simply a transaction, but an emotional, fun, engaging experience. As Sprinkle put it, “We believe the power of technology and the explosive growth of mobile are redefining the world of retail.”

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