I interviewed HSN.com’s (Home Shopping Network) Director of Digital Content Emery Skolfied, following his presentation at the 2010 Video Commerce Summit titled, “How HSN advances its video commerce leadership.” Emery talks with me about HSN’s own patented technology for online video in retail e-commerce, tips based on their own experiences using video with customers, and challenges they have overcome with better understanding customer behavior.

HSN & E-Commerce Video

  • Origins in television – HSN is the first-ever television retailer. They launched 33 years ago, and are live 24/7/364. HSN’s own “Shop by Remote” proprietary technology lets television viewers use your remote control to purchase items – an effectively means of blurring the lines between “lean-back” and “lean-forward” video experiences.
  • Mostly female audience – Emery says that 83% of HSN’s audience are female, with the majority of them in the 40-60 year old range. “Our standard customer is a 54-year old woman.” Says Emery. “We’re looking to move to a younger demographic with some of the new brands we’ve added. We feel we have to do that because with YouTube, there needs to be a bit of a change in our personality, because we know (our current market) not going to be around forever.”
  • Interactive multi-channel video retailer – HSN streams HD video live to 3 channels – television, web, and mobile. “HSN brings an editorial, lifestyle-based customer experience to life across all of these different channels.” Says Emery. “Multi-channel (Web) customers are more fully engaged and spend more than twice as much as a TV customer.” HSN estimates that 60% of their audience are people who are watching TV while surfing the HSN.com website.
  • Tops E-Commerce destination – HSN.com is a Top-10 trafficked e-commerce website, and #25 on Internet Retailer Top 100, with 2nd highest traffic growth behind only amazon.com. HSN.com gets 200,000 unique users daily and 5 million page views per day.
  • Vast video library – HSN.com has a huge library of 13,000 online videos on their site (and over 12,000 video demonstrations of products available for sale), fed from their broadcast feed. They also have 58,000 videos loaded to their YouTube channel, generating a total of 38 million videos. (With 13,000 active SKUs on their website, HSN.com actually has far more videos than they have actual products for sale.)
  • Automated and manual production – HSN.com’s has it’s own dynamic video content generator which constantly cranks out new stuff, as well as having people able to produce videos on-location/on-site. “We maximize their facilities and facilitators around video content,” says Emery, including: crew on staff, producers, editors, hosts, personalities, and celebrities.
  • Video-guided shopping – HSN.com has created create its own immersive, unique technology for video they call 360-degree fashion. “360-degree fashion is a big part of HSN’s goals of creating new experiences for customers using online video.” Says Emery. It’s a combination of a sales tour by a fashion personality, a product video series, and an interactive guide for having a model make a full turn in the featured clothing you select.

HSN’s Strategies & Tips For E-Commerce Video:

Here are some tips shared from Emery’s presentation and from his own experiences with e-commerce video at HSN.com:

  • Think of how to create new experiences for your customers – “(Online video) enables engagement on the customer’s terms.” Says Emery. “Online video is one of the reasons we want to offer something unique and different. Video has and will remain a primary driver of that transaction and innovation…”
  • Create a sense of urgency – Visitors need to always have a call-to-action device easily available at all times, to capture whenever they are ready to make their purchase. HSN.com’s videos also have the added benefit of featuring calls-to-action directly within the video content as well – both with the graphics and from audio announcements by the show hosts.
  • Content, community, and commerce – Emery says these are HSN’s 3 main reasons people engage with their brand, which should pass on to most any e-retailer. How this translates to any business – 1) Build lots of content with video, 2) Create a community around the video – both with use of technology and fostering participation, and 3) Make the purchasing points within the video or easily accessible from the video. Emery does also mention that having the ability to continually produce on-air footage that they can dynamically transfer to online video on their website lends an air of familiarity. Also, HSN does an excellent job of capturing brands that are not just based on product lines, but on celebrity personalities and fashion trends.
  • Be everywhere – “With the emergence of social and mobile media, every time we produce a video, we should always be thinking about how that video will plan on multiple platforms,” including the iPhone and iPad, says Emery.
  • Take advance of your social circles – Emery mentions that HSN has many social circles built around their product categories and host personalities, but also with their guest celebrities. “It’s important to consider how to leverage familiar faces in tune with our brand and theirs.” He says.
  • Tell a story, and make a connection – Emery says you should take consumers behind the product or label, and have them get to know the personalities behind the brand. This will make the customer’s experience intimate and more authentic. Emory explains that HSN does this with their video blogs, and the ability for users to share feedback and ask questions, and have them answered on video.

  • Offer tips and how-to’s – Not all video should be just around direct sales or branding. Offer some real-life help for how people would use these products.
  • Create video-centered events – Emery shared the example of how HSN partnered with recording artist Mary J. Blige to promote her own fragrance. “HSN created online video segments for Mary dubbed ‘Life Chapters,’ that captured various facets of Mary J. Blige’s compelling life story, including her philanthropic, music, and beauty projects.” Says Emery. “The segments were seeded on HSN.com and through social media such as Facebook and Twitter.”

  • Avoid long-form videos – People have much shorter attention spans for watching video online than they do with television. Emery shared an experience from a few years back, where his company tried to build their own 35-minute event, broadcast exclusively on HSN.com  “People just weren’t willing to watch online video for that long, and the ROI was terrible.” He says.

HSN.com’s Obstacles With Existing E-Commerce Video Model

  • Limited video ROI metrics in place – What I found rather surprising to learn was that despite HSN’s massive efforts into online video, Emery explained that the only benchmark they are using to measure success is impressions and length of videos watched on their website. “Right now we are just comparing video viewers with non-video viewers.” He says. “I admit, (right now) we don’t have a ton of (measurable) video data at HSN.com. For us, it’s really about how much can we produce and get it out to consumers, and ways we can produce it well. But when we have measured it, we have broken it out into how long people watch: Like, who watched for 45 seconds, and who dropped out after periods of time.” So while they don’t yet have a system in place that could be much more conducive to direct ROI tracking – such as direct traffic vs. paid vs. organic vs. referral, or some kind of “dollars per minute” metric, they can measure time of video watched on their product pages. “That does helps us understand some of it.”
  • No Video SEO program – yet.
  • No on-site search for videos – HSN does feature a good directory of videos, but you can only search the site by item or keyword, and not by media type. Many product pages are already accompanied by videos, but you can’t filter a search for products with videos.
  • No user generated video content in place (yet) – “We’ve done a little bit of UGC a couple years ago. But we didn’t do it well and it wasn’t user-friendly, so it didn’t generate a lot of traffic. But UGC is one of the things we’re going to focus on more, and video has to be part of that. The challenge is what’s the best way on making people understand how to do it.”