October 15, 2008, 12:00 AM

QVC takes an unconventional approach to redesigning its web site

At QVC the big redesign every couple of years with the latest bells and whistles is history. Instead QVC is building an online retail community with ongoing enhancements that will tie together its TV and Internet channels under a single lifestyle brand.

QVC Inc. is taking an unconventional approach to redesigning its e-commerce site.

These days web design at QVC.com is all about building on to its emerging community strategy rather than rushing out a major overhaul of the home and product pages every few years. “We don’t think about trying to reinvent our site design every other year,” says QVC senior vice president of platforms and broadcast technology Bob Myers. “We are following a strategy of adding to the web site the features and functions that build on our community of users.”

QVC rolled out the latest version of its e-commerce site in late 2007. The new home page for the retooled QVC.com, No. 11 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, shows large graphics, which depict a deal of the day and upcoming shows and sales. An improved navigation bar across the top of the page features categories that include fashion, jewelry, beauty, for the home, cooking and dining, electronics, and sports and leisure.

To promote a deeper sense of community QVC.com also added customer reviews, interactive polls, blogs, live chats with QVC hosts and celebrities, and moderated forums. Since the new design went live, QVC has added 41,000 new community members which altogether have generated about 219 million page views, Myers says. “We aren’t going to do any full-scale site redesigns any longer,” he says. “We launch new features and functions after extensive usability testing tells us our members are ready for it. We couldn’t launch a new community with this much new technology until we knew there was enough broadband implementation and acceptance of social networking among our customers.”

A key aspect of the recent redesign is better use of video. Whereas the old site featured video viewers on product pages, the new site’s home page provides buttons in the central window that allow visitors to access a variety of videos, including what’s on the air at the moment, today’s specials and best sellers, Myers says. The current video player is twice the size of the previous player and provides a crisper picture, he says. Video also is available on more pages, such as the program guide.

Since the new video player went live early this year the number of videos now archived on QVC.com–mostly product and “how to” videos showcasing specific merchandise–has exceeded 41,000. As a TV retailer, QVC has access to more than 94 million homes with cable TV. But a big part of its current design strategy is using the web and its community tools to build consistent brand messaging across multiple channels.

“At QVC the TV interacts with the web at all times and vice versa,” Myers says. “A conventional retailer may redesign the web site one year and then stores the next, but that sends an inconsistent branding message to shoppers. Our long-term strategy is community-oriented and doing multi-channel upgrades at the same time.”

Today QVC’s web site is more closely integrated with its TV broadcast. In each broadcast, a producer will continually scan an e-mail in-box during a particular product pitch and send along certain messages for hosts to read on the air. QVC also has redesigned its product pages with new features and functions that generate better upselling and cross-selling opportunities during a specific TV show. On the air a customer may see a model showcasing jewelry from designer Judith Ripka. At the same time on QVC.com a reconfigured product page now allows a shopper to watch the same broadcast, but also check out related merchandise, see the merchandise in greater detail and view archived videos. “When the original web site was designed, it was a way to support the TV programming and give customers another ordering option,” Myers says. “By stressing a community approach, we see a better chance to promote a multi-channel platform and also generate higher average orders and conversion rate.”

QVC introduced several new web features in July that generate closer ties between its web and Internet platforms–the right side of all product pages have been redesigned with new categories such as today’s features and special values, what’s new, hot picks, items on air, items recently on air, watch live TV, and program guide. In January QVC.com will be updated with new live streaming content that showcases niche events, what’s happening behind the scenes at niche events and special clearance events.

QVC launched its new approach to digital content in September with live content from fashion week in New York. Online at QVC.com viewers could view live exclusive programming, shop online for the fashions and accessories worn by models and view archived video segments on fashion. They could also shop for a specific designer or a particular look, read daily blog updates from QVC staffers attending fashion week events and view a photo gallery. The fashion week experience also helped QVC put the finishing touches on its new online community and multi-platform strategy, particularly for its core shopper: women ages 35 to 64. “By creating compelling content, multi-platform distribution, differentiated service and an engaging brand, we’re creating a lifestyle destination online,” Myers says.

Another key to enhancing QVC’s new approach to building a digital community is through product reviews. Since launching customer reviews using an application from Bazaarvoice in April 2007, QVC.com, which generated about $1.14 billion in U.S. web sales last year, has posted about 700,000 reviews. “We’re generating about 1,200 reviews each day,” Myers says.

Ivy Chin, Vice President Architecture, Design & Video, QVC, will speak at Internet Retailer Web Design Conference, Jan. 19-22, 2009, in Miami. Chin’s session will be on Jan. 20.

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