Quick, who was the first electronic retailer? If your answer started with an “A” and ended with a “.com,” you’d be wrong.
Actually, it was HSN, formerly Home Shopping Network, which pioneered over-the-air retail with its broadcast debut in 1977.
Since then it has grown into a $4 billion, three-screen global retailer, with live 24-hour TV programming that reaches more than 95 million households, and e- and m-commerce sites that offer more than 50,000 product videos.
Meanwhile, HSN’s tech business, run by electronics and culinary senior VP Sandy Conrad and pitched by on-air personalities, is a Top 30 contender on TWICE’s Top 100 CE Retailers ranking, and bucks the industry trend by appealing to a largely female audience.
We recently had the opportunity to put seven questions to Conrad, who herself bucks the industry as a senior CE merchant in a male-dominated category.
TWICE: What’s your background, and how did you make your way to HSN?
Conrad: I started out in a traditional department store environment; however, early in my career I transitioned to direct-to-consumer retailing, and haven’t looked back.
Leveraging technology to form a more direct relationship with the end consumer — and seeing the immediacy of their response — is infectious.
In addition to HSN, I have worked in terrific organizations like AOL, Scripps Networks and at other direct-to-consumer retailers. At the time, each of those cultures was very entrepreneurial, and provided an opportunity to chart your own course.
I was approached by HSN shortly after Mindy Grossman took the helm, and I quickly realized her vision to transform HSN would provide that same entrepreneurial experience I enjoy.
TWICE: How does HSN differ from rival broadcast retailers?
Technology is a very important category for us at HSN, and as a result, we provide more opportunities for our partners. For instance, twice a year we feature our Innovation Event, where we feature technology for 24-plus consecutive hours.
It is a complete takeover of our television network, as well as our website. Our viewers get an in depth look at innovative products, and the benefits these products can bring to their lives.
TWICE: Who is your primary customer?
I love this question, as we deliver a unique and very important customer to our partners — women, 35 to 45, who either make or strongly influence the purchase decisions in their household.
We know our partners are challenged to reach this demographic, and our platform provides a direct connection to this very valuable sector.
Our customer is a professional woman with a very busy schedule. She embraces technology, and appreciates the curated assortment of products we feature, as she feels we narrow down options and provide choices that are right for her.
TWICE: Describe the tech assortment.
We feature a variety of categories including PCs, TVs, mobile phones, audio, video, home office and smart home. New categories such as wearables, drones and even hover-boards play an important part as well.
We have an amazing portfolio of trusted partners like HP, Samsung, Bose, Dell, Canon and Amazon.
We focus not on price, but on price/value, and aim to deliver a complete solution when our customer opens the box.
TWICE: What are the biggest advantages, and challenges, of selling via TV?
Our clear advantage is the ability to tell a story and to demonstrate the experience. Our partners invest in traditional multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns that at best create awareness. They are excited about our platform because we provide the opportunity to tell the entire story in a way that’s conversation, demonstrable — and transactional.
Another benefit our TV network provides is the ability to take those live TV demonstrations and repurpose that content for HSN.com. Content is the new currency in digital, and our ability to create our own content provides our website and mobile platform with unique advantages.
As a result, our digital penetration is 50 percent of our total business. The only disadvantage that comes to mind is price point. The cost of shipping creates challenges for lower price-point items.
TWICE: What were your top sellers for the recent grads & dads cycle?
We saw success in smart home, wearables, imaging, TVs, GPS and PCs.
TWICE: What new products or categories hold the most promise for Q4?
We expect the wearable category will continue to grow, as will streaming video and multiroom audio. Smart home continues to build momentum, as do drones. And the importance of key drivers like mobility, TVs and PCs can’t be underestimated.