The Evolution Of Home Shopping, From Radio To Live Streams

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Lowell W. “Bud” Paxson, the owner of a radio station in Florida, had a challenge one day in the 1970s: He was short on money and payday was approaching. Paxson decided to pay a visit to one of his advertisers to try to collect a late payment. The advertiser couldn’t pay him in cash, but offered to give Paxson 118 electric can openers instead, as reports noted. Paxson accepted the merchandise –which, according to one estimate, was worth $20 a unit – and advertised them on the air for just under $10. Listeners would only have to show up to the radio station with cash in hand – and they did.

As Paxson Communications Corp. Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Arthur Tek recalled in a 1995 Florida Trend article, “He sold them all out the same day … he said, ‘There’s something to this.’” According to one source, he sold them in a matter of three hours. The success sparked a radio show dubbed “The Bargaineers,” which evolved into a show on cable television that became known as the Home Shopping Network (HSN).

Lively hosts advertised products such as cooking pots and costume jewelry on the channel. By the middle of the 1980s, the channel had more than 75,000 recurring customers on national television. But HSN would not be the only home shopping network for long – in that same decade, they came to have 17 different competitors. One of the network’s biggest rivals was QVC, short for Quality, Value, Convenience. But QVC and HSN did not cater to the same target market: According to encyclopedia.com, “QVC tends to appeal to a younger, wealthier audience than HSN.”

Over time, home shopping channels have become living laboratories that continually learn and evolve to find the best strategy for selling on television. Forrester Research Principal Analyst Josh Bernoff told Broadcasting Cable in 2000, “They find co-hosts who are successful at selling things. They find a particular screen layout that works best. They find out what really sells at a particular price point. They have all these techniques that are very effective at turning viewers into buyers.” Today, that concept comes to a different (and digital) channel.

Live Streaming Home Shopping

In the digital age, home shopping television has been arguably reborn with live streaming shows through digital devices. News came last week, for instance, that Amazon was rolling out a brand-new video streaming service called Amazon Live, which offers shows from the talent pool at the eCommerce retailer and via brands through the Amazon Live Creator app. The shows are said to be similar to QVC’s in the sense that hosts discuss and demonstrate the products. In a more interactive sense, customers can view product details and buy things beneath the videos.

Products on Amazon Live are said to range from home goods to electronics to toys. Multiple streams run simultaneously, which allows shoppers to choose the best fit.

The venture is not Amazon’s first foray into live streaming: Two years ago, the company had Style Code Live, a short-lived program that focused on beauty and style tips.

Additionally, Amazon mobile shopping game shows have emerged, such as Gravy. The show’s audience vies for discounts on new products with the added incentive of cash prizes and charity donations. Each product has a limited quantity that is unknown to the audience, and the price drops as the show goes on. Shoppers who wait too long to buy an item might no longer be able to buy it.

Gravy CEO Brian Wiegand thinks of it as “QVC meets Price is Right.” This model also differs from other platforms, as the products it promotes are in the life cycle. As Wiegand told PYMNTS in an interview last year, “The traditional discounting platforms are more for [the] end-of life product … we’re really on the other end of the funnel, where we’re trying to create a lot of buzz and awareness of a new product.”

From HSN to QVC, and from Amazon to Gravy, shop-at-home channels have evolved from radio to television to digital live streams. But some factors remain constant, like an evolving array of products and engaging content, as home shopping platforms continue to evolve into the future.

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