In the past few years department store chains have shown active interest in the home shopping industry. JC Penney tried starting a channel of its own in the 1980's, but it flopped, as did their second attempt, Telecon, that folded in April (Zinn 59). JC Penney is trying their luck again this year with an interactive video service, TV Answer, through which customers are able to order by remote control. Other retailers including Nieman-Marcus, Crate & Barrel, Willians-Sonoma, The Sharper Image, and The Nature Company are teaming up with Spiegel to serve the upscale, specialty customer that they feel has been neglected by current home shopping networks. Macy's and Saks Fifth Avenue's channels are also due on the air waves later this year. The increase of upscale retailers beginning home shopping channels only fuels the demand for visual merchandising talent. All discussion of future programming neglects to discuss how the sets will look because no one is sure. Currently, home shopping sets are like large display cases designed whether by visual merchandisers or the television prop people. These "home-grown" sets of QVC and HSN do not provide a representation of where home shopping will be visually even in the near future because the industry is developing so quickly (O'Leary Tube 96). Store designers are following the evolution of home shopping with interest because many new jobs are developing. Tony Camilletti, director of Jon Greenburg & Associates, said that his company has had contact with several electronic entities because they want to stay current with the new technologies emerging from home shopping channels. It is evident to all visual merchandisers that the current set design will not hold up against the competition of Macy's and Saks Fifth Avenue.
TV Macy is currently assembling a creative team to display merchandise on its show. The store chain plans to be as faithful as possible to the physical shopping tradition of a Macy's store. Macy's Laura Melillo stated, "As far as visual merchandising is concerned, we will be calling upon a number of types of experts to make sure that we create within the studios the same feeling as shoppers find in the Macy's environment." According to Melillo, the company is currently relying on internal visual talent, supplemented by outside resources mostly for production.
HSN president Gerry Hogan recently announced that HSN is looking to upscale and develop a new visual image with the shows Q2 and On Q. This is good news because HSN is currently looking for designers to update their set. Clayton Gsell, director of broadcast communications at Q2 said that they want to combine the looks of television and traditional retail environments. Gsell feels they need to satisfy both the retail aspect and the television medium for the viewer(O'Leary Tube 96).
Electronic shopping represents an enormous opportunity for designers with the right combinations of skill and initiative. Creating set designs for home shopping channels requires a variety of talent. Computer graphics and visual merchandising is combined to yield a final set design. Finding creative talent who understand what retail is all about is much more difficult than finding computer graphics people. This combination of needed skills sends out a demand for merchandiser skilled on computers.
It is very important that visual merchandisers keep up to date with new technological developments as computers and television open two more doors to the visual merchandiser. Ken Walker, a partner in Retail Options Inc., believes that the future designer will need skills in merchandising, display, computer-generated graphics and "would be well served by exposure to Monty Python animations,"(O'Leary Tube 96).
One of the first tangible glimpses of the nature of future upscale television shopping formats can be seen in Spiegel's Catalog One tester video, presented at the NRF super-session. It is unlike anything ever produced before for a home shopping ad. Spiegel's swimsuit segment features a combination of news magazine hosts, hip electronic graphics, and beach location style presentation edited in the way of MTV videos, and it is only three minutes long.
This quick paced technology is keeping up with today's fast paced society. We want immediate gratification and demand simplicity and efficiency in our shopping.
The profile of home shoppers is surprising to many because they are not old aunts or losers. According to a study conducted by Deloitte & Touche, twenty-six percent of home shoppers are between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-four and seventeen percent make at least $34,900 a year. It has always been stereotyped that women were the home shoppers, but this is evidently not the case since an amazing forty-eight percent of shoppers are men. Visual merchandisers need to focus even more attention to men in their television ads. I watched QVC for thirty minutes and I did not see a single ad focused on men.
Shrinking leisure time and increased numbers of women on the work force mean fewer people have the time or patience for a nice long shop. We need to make shopping a luxury to attract customers to our stores. We can do this by offering efficiency, information and entertainment to the customer. Customers want to be able to enter a store and immediately find what they are looking for. The increase of television videos played in stores reflects the desire for entertainment. Customers want simplicity in their shopping experience, but they also want to feel valued.
Individual attention is a must since one of the main reasons shoppers turn to home shopping channels is because they feel bonded to the host. The host makes each watcher feel valued like a special friend. Weekly, hosts receive anywhere from five hundred to one thousand pieces of fan mail. There is no single department store clerk with that level of popularity. The trust in a television host is absolutely necessary because if the customer cannot kick the tire or feel the dress, their trust in the seller must be that much greater. While visual merchandisers cannot compete with the personalities of show hosts, we can make both home and television shopping a more pleasant experience. Visual merchandisers must now look to more than just mannequins as props for displays. We can incorporate whole room settings on television sets to evoke a certain emotion or mood. For example, if a variety of cotton summer dresses are being advertised on Macy's TV channel, festive music, summer scenery and even a little romance between the models could be included. Perhaps a male model could be giving the female a flower or pushing her on a swing. This kind of silly role playing really does appeal to people because it hits their emotions. With the emergence of electronic shopping visual merchandisers become set designers and directors and models double as "actors."
Home shopping will begin to mirror the local shopping mall when the ultimate home shopping vision, a video mall, appears on HSN this summer. Shoppers will browse through channels as through individual stores, ask for information and advice, order, and pay, all without leaving the comforts of home. Many feel that this is taking American couch-potato-ism to an extreme and that Americans will never leave their homes when this comes about(Anderson 77). We would be impoverishing ourselves if this were to become the case, but home shopping will never take over all retail sales. Electronic retailing will certainly change physical or store-based retailing, but will not likely replace it. TV's Macy's Vision is an example of electronic retailing acting as a part to their entire retail operation. Likewise, John Shea indicated that both Spiegle and its Catalog One partners all sold through both catalogs and retail operations and had found over the years that such media support each other. Stores that encourage shoppers to exchange merchandise in the store will attract greater numbers. This will benefit visual merchandisers as well as the store itself because greater volumes of shoppers means that more people will see their displays and also that greater numbers of visual merchandisers will be employed because store profit will increase. Designers such as Diane Van Furstenberg have stopped turning up their noses at the concept of television shopping because of the enormous profit they made. Home shopping networks made over two billion dollars last year and Van Furstenberg made $1.2 million dollars in two hours in 1992(Fellingham 129). Diane Von Furstenberg was the first well-known designer to launch a clothing line on QVC. At the suggestion of vice president of fashion merchandising Darlene Dagget, Von Furstenberg based her collection on silk and "core" colors and added elastic waistbands. The designer stated, 'It's an incredibly efficient way to do business," She says, "You reach 47 million women in one hour-and QVC really knows its customer,"(Fellingham 129).
Some designers are also wary of home shopping channels. Most do not feel the quality of the networks is up to their standards yet, but they are waiting. Donna Karan says she's monitoring the networks and waiting for the aesthetics to develop. She is excited because, "this is a very modern way to shop,"(Fellingham 129). If visual merchandisers can help home shopping channels develop a positive image designers and merchandisers will be eager to sell their products on television. This is the most recent challenge of visual merchandisers. We cannot change an image on our own, but our initiative will speed the upgrading of television selling.
Some retailers also feel that TV shopping may be headed upscale, but it's not there yet. Bloomingdales Inc., thinks television has a ways to go before it becomes an appropriate medium for their message. Michael Gould, CEO of Bloomingdales says, "I think you have to be careful. I don't think the environment QVC has today is right for the way Bloomingdale's has to be positioned." Arthur Martinez, CEO of Sears, Roebuck & Company, shares Gould's wait-and-see attitude even though Sears has been selling its Craftsman tools on QVC for years. "It's not clear what the underlying merchandising strategies are that will be needed to be successful in that environment," says Martinez(Zinn 57). These two may also be remembering JC Penney's trial and failure. What they should be doing is looking at the phenomenal statistics surrounding home shopping.
Television shopping is growing so quickly it is hard to get exact numbers regarding its viewers. Today it is an industry raking in over two million dollars annually. This is a drop in the bucket when one considers that total retailing brings in over one trillion dollars, but television shopping is growing fast, twenty percent each year(Zinn 54). By the end of the decade it is estimated that home shopping will total ten billion dollars. Already, HSN and QVC reach more than one hundred households and by the end of the decade forty percent of all households are predicted to have tried electronic shopping(O'Leary Beyond 25). This does not mean that those forty percent will shop exclusively by television, and it also leaves the sixty percent majority who will be shopping exclusively through mail order or retail store. There are some customers that refuse to even consider the idea of shopping by television. A reporter form a national business publication said, "I don't care what they do, I'll never buy anything off the tube. I like to go shopping,"(O'Leary Beyond 22). Elizabeth Fenner, writer for Glamour magazine thinks home shopping channels are an annoying way to shop and said that items she ordered from the show didn't look as good in real life as they did on TV. This is a common complaint and one that is not easily remedied by visual merchandisers. Customers want quality for a low price, and this is what they expect from home shopping channels. It is not possible to really know how something will fit or feel unless it is right in front of you, and paying return postage for unwanted items ordered through TV shopping channels can become costly.
If stores encourage customers to return television-purchased merchandise to their retail stores both parties can benefit. The customer does not have to pay postage and can choose a substitute or correct size and the retail benefits because the customer is brought into the store and may decide to make additional purchases. This is where the job of the visual merchandiser becomes of great importance. If the visual merchandiser has done a good job creating displays and store layouts it is much more likely that the customer will be attracted to the merchandise.
Home shopping can actually increase store sales, says HSN president Gerry Hogan. This statement is supported by some retailers' early experience. August Max Woman's test programs on QVC resulted in increased post-program traffic in its stores and Saks Fifth Avenue's shows, though low in profitability, were seen to have exposed the retailer to new customers(O'Leary Beyond 25). Even break even efforts such as Saks' are profitable because they are a form of advertising.
Customers' needs today are different than they were ten years ago. Most of today's "progressive" retailers have already begun to identify and address consumer demands for entertainment and efficiency in store-based shopping. According to Watts Wacker, consumer's attitudes are no longer in sync with their behavior and traditional signs are becoming harder and harder to read(O'Leary Beyond 22).
Video shopping will never exceed retail store sales because retail stores "transcend" shopping by providing entertainment. "(Television shopping) will never take away from shopping in stores," predicts Patrick Adkisson, Nordstrom's operations and business development manager. He believes that people like the social experience of shopping and may go into the store to buy something seen on TV(Zinn 59). He may be right, after all when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.
Sociologists can identify a long list of hidden dimensions involved in the store-shopping experience that solitary button-pushing cannot satisfy. The companionship of a mother and daughter who shop to purchase a new dress, or the bonding teenagers experience while hanging out at the mall every Friday night can make shopping a special event. Shopping always signaled a special event when I was growing up and I can remember skipping school to go shopping for a prom dress with my mother. Visual merchandisers are responsible for making that shopping event memorable. Organized racks and eye-catching displays can make all the difference of where that prom dress will be bought. When I went out to buy a prom dress I was shopping for an illusion. For one night I was going to be beautiful and Sears stark fitting room would never have fulfilled my fantasy.
William Wilkie, marketing professor at the University of Notre Dame and author of the textbook Consumer Behavior believes that the desire for sensory stimulus such as light, color, movement, scent, and sound is a major motive when people go shopping(Warner 60). This gives credit to visual merchandisers who orchestrate much of what the customer experiences while shopping. If Wilkie is correct, the need for visual merchandisers will never diminish because they are trained in controlling lights, color and scents in the store. The only stimulus they cannot physically control is other shoppers.
From now on it is going to be the job of retailers, show hosts, and visual merchandisers to attract new customers to television shopping. The bribing, anxious shopping club hosts must evolve into informative pitches that allow customers to make unhurried decisions they won't regret and the shopping club sets must evolve into tasteful designs that reflect the high-end shoppers television shopping channels will begin catering to. With the emergence of so much new technology, visual merchandisers must learn how to best reach the customer and attract his/her sales. Visual merchandising is becoming a challenging and exciting field. The TV stations that once sold us cubic zirconia cocktail rings are becoming the focus of the entire retail industry. It is up to us to make retail stores and TV shopping channels thrive side by side.
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