In fiscal year 2020, QVC US and HSN shipped 463000 packages per day, on average, via fulfillment centers and drop-ship partners, making them true industry powerhouses. Owned by Qurate Retail Group, the brands are sister companies to Frontgate, Garnet Hill, and Zulily among other names. While they sell across a variety of categories, both shopping channels dominate the home space through their partnerships with celebrities including the Scott Brothers, Giuliana Rancic, and most recently fashion designer Jason Wu.
I recently spoke with Rob Robillard, Senior Vice President of Merchandising, Home & Culinary for both companies. We talked about his incredible career, the Jason Wu launch, working with celebrities, where both brands are going in the home space and so much more. He was enthusiastic and generous with his time.
Amanda Lauren: Your background is in the beauty industry with an impressive resume that includes not just QVC but also Kiehls, L’Oreal, and Living Proof. How does that experience translate to home and culinary?
Rob Robillard: At the core, I’m a product person. I don’t think there’s anybody in the beauty industry that can’t compete and play— if you’re not a product junkie. And so, when you think about the transition over to the home category, being a product junkie is equally as important, right? Because particularly when you think of home decor, and you think of culinary, home innovations, and electronics, you have to be completely obsessed with the product.
Having founded Living Proof, it was all about performance and innovation combined with beautiful packaging and inspiring women. And that’s kind of the approach that I’m trying to take with QVC, which is that innovation will always win.
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Lauren: Speaking of innovation, I’m really impressed by your recent launch with Jason Wu. Take the rice cooker, for example, it’s the only rice cooker I’ve ever seen that has a “sexy” look to it.
The aesthetic of the entire line is like that.
Robillard: The consumer has been evolving for a while around the idea that her kitchen is an extension of her home decor. So we’ve been playing that a lot with retro products and things that people are happy to display.
The first thing that we loved about Jason is he was authentic, and he could go on the network, and tell people about his passion for cooking and the tools that he used. He has a classic, beautiful, high-end style. I don’t think there’s anybody we could have picked better to partner with.
Lauren: What is the overall aesthetic of QVC, particularly in the home category?
Robillard: When I first started with QVC, we did a ton of studies around the evolving aesthetic of our customers. We were trying to figure out where we wanted to go for growth. What’s really interesting is, maybe five years ago, our customer was super traditional.
And we still have a really strong traditional style. But what we found in this study is that she was moving just like everybody else into other places. So transitional was becoming far more important to her. She’s ready to start buying more contemporary pieces. We also found that she was incorporating farmhouse into her overall aesthetic and modern pieces.
Lauren: What do you look for when choosing celebrities to collaborate with for home and other lines? Jonathan and Drew Scott and Candace Cameron Bure come to mind.
Robillard: When you think of the Scott brothers for example— who is a better authority and has a passion for the idea of home design that we could partner with to bring really awesome innovative products?
Candace Cameron Bure actually started as a spokesperson for Lancer when I was running beauty. She told the team that she was really passionate about style and helping women find affordable fashions. She also has a gift line for us which has Bibles and inspirational jewelry, which are all super important to her. So every celebrity partnership always starts there.
Lauren: QVC and HSN started on television before the internet and the days of everyone having computers on their desks and then in their pockets. The brands were selling through video and also using celebrity spokespeople as “influencers” before the term existed. How does the brand use social media and the Metaverse to sell today?
Robillard: Over the past 30 years, we secretly have transformed into a social and digital powerhouse, but nobody really knows it because the perception is certainly that the cable network is our business today. But when you look at our sales, and we’re selling more than 60 percent of our business digitally, and of that, 60 plus percent of that is through mobile apps.
From a social media standpoint, we’ve also been super pioneering. We were the first broadcast network to use Facebook Live to generate content, we’re now expanding that out into every platform we possibly can, whether it’s YouTube, Instagram, or TikTok. We know that in order to reach the customer and create the kind of connection that we used to just create by having a great guest and host on our cable platforms, we need to translate that human connection into all these other platforms because this is where she’s spending her time.
Sandra Bennett hosted an incredible Facebook live for the Jason Wu launch inviting customers to basically engage in a longer format and find out more about Jason and his personal story that wasn’t just about selling products. It was about kind of creating that connection.
Lauren: What are your favorite home products on HSN and QVC right now?
Robillard: I am really focused on smart homes and of the really interesting things you can do in your house that I never thought possible, from Sonos to Nest and automated lights you can program.
I am also obsessed with linens. I’ve been buying a ton of throws because it’s something that changes the look of the room without having to change the furniture or buy something super expensive.
Taking on this job, I wasn’t as familiar with all the awesome food that we sell on the network. So, I’ve been dabbling with a lot of the gourmet foods that we sell, and testing and trying different things.
Lauren: A lot of the sheets and bedding sold on HSN and QVC have the same thread counts, if not higher than a lot of upscale brands, as well as being made of premium materials like Egyptian cotton. How is this possible?
Robillard: We have a lot of talent in the direct sourcing arm of our home business. So a lot of what you see that’s at those great prices is basically us direct sourcing from the factories.
I don’t know if you saw the Northern Nights 400 Thread Count 100 Percent Supima Cotton Sheet Set. It is so high quality, and our teams have been working with the factories directly for the last 24 months to negotiate good long-term contracts to give everyone the best value because prices are fluctuating so much.
Lauren: Any interesting launches in the home space coming up?
Robillard: We’re partnering with awesome influencers and celebrities. It’s a big focus. So the Jason Wu launch is part of a longer-term strategy to keep going down that path.
I think there are a lot of fresh designers, new ideas, great influencers. So, we’re really focused on finding the best ones, have that authenticity and are really committed to our platforms.
Lauren: What is the difference between the QVC and HSN customer?
Robillard: They’re more nuanced than they are super different. From a demographic standpoint, and socio-economic standpoint, they’re quite similar. I always look at the QVC customers as someone seeking solutions. She wants beautiful things, but she’s not necessarily somebody who wants to show off.
The HSN customer is a little bit more of a peacock. She likes a little more bling, she likes people to ask her about stuff. Look at August and Leo, [Giuliana Racic’s line] which is at HSN. It’s got a lot of glitter, crystal, metallics, and beaded items. Then go to QVC, and you see Valerie Parr Hill, which is more traditional. That’s a good contrast between the two customers.
The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.