HSN's omnichannel transition: From TV first to digital customer first

Ryan Ross

Coming from a traditional retail background working for brands such as Gap, Pottery Barn and Harrods, Ryan Ross, the Home Shopping Network's (HSN) senior VP of digital commerce, discovered a unique opportunity to use TV as a retail platform when he joined HSN in August of 2013. HSN is a TV-based, customer-centric retailer, and although TV retail may be the company's bread and butter, HSN has been steadily evolving toward new horizons. 

Now, HSN is so much more than television: It's an omnichannel shopping experience that includes online and mobile platforms. Ross compares HSN's channel expansion to a brick-and-mortar retailer going from a print catalogue to a digital catalogue.

"It's truly that idea of great product, great idea, great storytelling," he said. "It's about creating a seamless, frictionless customer experience through all touchpoints."

And in fact, at HSN the team has trademarked the experience as "boundary-less retail."

While HSN has no plans to open any brick-and-mortar stores any time soon, Ross suggests the company doesn't seem to have completely ruled it out—"Never say never," he said. For now, the company is toying with the idea of launching a kiosk-oriented experience in collaboration with a brand partner that already has an established physical footprint.

FierceRetail sat down with Ross to discuss strategic agility, knowing the customer, and the loyalty perks of arcade-based reward programs.

FierceRetail: What have been some of your biggest challenges in digital commerce at HSN?

Ryan Ross: I would say one of the biggest challenges, like any other retailer, is the speed with which things change. We could be selling a product in the morning and then if it's not performing well, switch to another, just like that. So we need to be agile, be able to re-strategize on a dime. Our strategy in the morning may not be the same for the afternoon.

FierceRetail: What defines the HSN customer and is he or she changing?

Ryan Ross: We know our customer. She's female, between 35 and 55, and typically has a family. Her average household income is between $75,000 and $100,000. She loves to shop, loves to share. She is fanatical about the shopping products she buys, which is important for us when we create stories and experiences. She's very loyal and loves the brand. We have an active social community, and our customers speak out a lot in that community.

FierceRetail: I was surprised to learn that women in this demographic are active in Arcade—HSN's online gaming platform that allows shoppers to earn tickets and enter to win prizes.

Ryan Ross: Yes, surprisingly it's the 55-year-old women that are gaming. And these women that are active in our Arcade, they are the most loyal. They are on multiple times a day and typically shop more and spend more money than other customers.

FierceRetail: What role does digital play in today's HSN shopping experience? Do consumers primarily use the platform for research or for sales as well?

Ryan Ross: Many of our customers are doing both digital sales and calling in to make purchases. But it's still the core base that likes to call and talk to someone on the phone that's strongest. There is definitely a migration to digital and the younger demographic is migrating to mobile. Our app customer is our most loyal base and it's the highest converting channel aside from desktop.

FierceRetail: Is HSN following the retail trend of increasing customer personalization? 

Ryan Ross: We've had discussions about personalization. It is a massive opportunity for everyone. But the question is, 'What is the right amount of personalization without invading her privacy?' So we're testing to learn how we can dip into personalization without freaking people out—what's the right balance with new technologies, particularly beacons and geo-fencing. There was a time not so long ago when we were concerned about people opting in to get an email. That philosophy of opting in is almost gone.

Currently, if you have our app open, you will get notifications, and through SMS texting and the app, we [use] push messaging. We also notify [the customer] if she has favorite categories and a new brand or product comes into play. We haven't gotten into localization yet, the lowest hanging fruit.

FierceRetail: What have been the biggest changes for HSN in the last few years?

Ryan Ross: The biggest change has been that we talk less about what TV is going to do and what digital is going to do and more about what the brand is going to represent in all of the formats in which we contribute content.

They are different processes. TV is still the lion's share and has the largest audience. So how do we leverage TV and the power of marketing and not replicate this experience exactly online? So we're becoming less of a digital-first to a customer-first and brand-first retailer. Like any other retailer, there's been a shift to single or omnichannel learnings along the way and being able to understand how the channels work together.

We did the biggest redesign of our digital platform in 2013. We are learning from that and doing more testing and changes. We've decided fine-tuning is better than creating something all new. If the customer is used to something and then we completely change it, the transition can be difficult. So we're tweaking what we're doing.

FierceRetail: Can you see the success of your omni- or one-channel strategy working?

Ryan Ross: Absolutely. If something aired on television then on digital there will be a lift. Cross-channel activity is happening, especially when we look at the app. We see [the customer] is looking at a tablet when she is watching television rather than phoning the call center. But it's still a big opportunity for us—pulling all of that information together into a single view, or one truth.