Parent brand Qurate launches social-media focused micro-brands, an Alexa skill and a podcast series to cater to younger shoppers. With large teams and a studio in place, developing new features and content happens fast for the TV and online retail company.

Qurate Retail Inc. has launched a cornucopia of new initiatives to target younger shoppers, including creating a voice-activated Alexa skill, launching micro-brands on social media and developing marketing podcasts and a few social video series.

Qurate—which includes the online and TV brands QVC and HSN, and flash-sale e-retailer Zulily.com—is the 11th-largest online retailer in North America, generating more than $5.8 billion in online sales in 2017, according to Internet Retailer estimates on Top500Guide.com.

In 2017, 60% of online visitors to Qurate sites were over age 45, according to Top500Guide.com. Qurate knows it needs to give more attention to the 45-and-under group. This younger cohort is discovering Qurate’s brands on digital channels—such as their websites and social media—instead of on TV, says Alex Miller, senior vice president of digital commerce and marketing at Qurate. Consumers 18-34 watch 47% less TV than consumers 35 and up, according to a 2016 Nielsen survey. Plus, the survey finds that consumers 18-34 spend 24% of their digital time on social media, compared with consumers 35-49 who spend 22% of digital time on social media.

What’s more, shoppers who find out about Qurate on social media are its fastest-growing new customer segment, Miller says. Plus, these shoppers are some of its “best quality” of new customers, or have a high lifetime value, Miller says.

“We realized we need to challenge ourselves to develop content that reaches that part of our audience,” Miller says. “Our fastest group of new customers are discovering us on a social platform, so what does our social content need to look like? What does best-in-class social commerce look like?”

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Social-first micro-brand

To cater to this audience, Qurate recently launched two beauty-focused “micro-brands” called Ellie Sugar and Fuss Beauty that it is marketing exclusively on social media.

With the beauty micro-brands, Qurate is targeting the millennial woman—shoppers who are 35 and younger—using social media. Qurate is using paid media to target these shoppers on Instagram and Facebook and is working to have “more edgy” ads than what QVC or HSN would traditionally have, Miller says. For example, the content features brands that appeal to younger shoppers—such as Urban Decay—and focuses on how the products make shoppers feel. Qurate is working to have the content look like something a social media influencer might post, Miller says.

“Can we effectively reach different groups of customers with different types of content?” says Miller of what Qurate will be looking for.

Qurate is calling the e-commerce sites marketplaces, as they sell merchandise from QVC, HSN and Zulily. When a shopper goes to check out, she is redirected to the shopping cart page of whichever brand carries the product. Qurate is open to the idea of making the sites into a traditional marketplace where retailers beyond Qurate would be allowed to sell on the site, Miller says. However, that is further down the road, and Qurate is still testing out this platform.

Qurate created an in-house team to develop these micro-brands. Miller says it is the first time Qurate’s given a team access to all the merchandise carried by QVC, HSN and Zulily at one time. From “idea to birth,” it took 90 days to launch Ellie Sugar and Fuss Beauty, Miller says.

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Next, Qurate is planning on launching two fashion-focused micro-brands in the first quarter of 2019. The focus of these brands—called Du Jour at QVC and Curations at HSN—will be to promote private-label apparels brands Qurate sources and manufactures itself.

Qurate develops an Alexa skill for HSN

To further appeal to younger shoppers, Qurate also developed a skill for Amazon.com Inc.’s smart speakers that use the voice-activated Alexa software.

“It’s an important time to experiment. We’re piloting new capabilities to understanding how the consumer wants to engage with us,” Miller says.

Qurate has a panel of 1,500 consumers it uses for feedback on beta projects like this one, Miller says. The majority of that group is under the age of 45, he says. The panel includes Qurate customers and non-customers.

Currently, Qurate only has one skill that allows users to voice-request their Echo Show device (which is the Amazon device with a screen) to watch HSN live.

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Usage has been “relatively light” since the skill’s launch in October, but Miller is not concerned. Qurate’s focus is learning how consumers interact with the device and how they speak to a retail brand. Then, down the road, it may apply what it learned to its other brands, and other smart speakers or devices shoppers might talk to, such as their smartphone or TV, he says.

“It’s one of those really early retail commerce platforms that clearly has popularity with consumers using them for timers, music, alarms. And just based on the amount of items we are selling in this category, we know it’s an important platform for the future,” Miller says.

Qurate tapped its large in-house mobile development team to develop the skill, Miller says. It took about 30 days to develop, including testing, says Miller, without revealing how many employees worked on it.

“We have developers for apps in seven countries, across multiple brands so we have a lot of talent in house that allows us to get into these newer platforms faster,” Miller says.

Marketing initiatives

To get the word out about the QVC, HSN and Zulily brands to younger shoppers even further, Qurate is launching a few podcasts and social video series.

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The Shop Culture and Basic Beauty podcasts already began. Its social video series, One on Wine and All Made Up, will begin in November and be viewable on YouTube, IGTV, Facebook Watch and Roku.

Overall, it doesn’t take a lot of incremental resources to pull off these new initiatives, as Qurate already has an in-house marketing and content team and a large studio, Miller says.

“We feel like a great influence in our community and [we have] a great ability to do storytelling. We’re looking to reach a new and different consumer, leveraging stuff we do really well but in a different way,” Miller says.

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