When nascent beauty brand Bloomeffects had to cancel its first-ever QVC appearance scheduled for March 20, it was a major blow to co-founder and CEO Kim van Haaster. The tulip-inspired skin-care line had just debuted in October, with Bluemercury, and was expanding distribution to QVC, Credo and Neiman Marcus in March. With 8.1 million U.S. customers, QVC was meant to be a boon for sales and national brand awareness.
“Being oversees in Amsterdam, and also being from Australia and of South East Asian descent, we realized that coronavirus was going to get much, much worse. We decided to move tougher decisions to the forefront than some other companies, ” said van Haaster. With QVC’s blessing, she canceled her trip to the states just as President Trump was instituting coronavirus-related travel bans to the U.S.
As of mid-March, QVC had yet to determine whether remote recordings would be possible and what they would look like. (The first step was on-air guests and hosts standing six feet apart, per CDC guidelines.) Prior to coronavirus, all on-air segments were recorded in the company’s West Chester, Pennsylvania studios. Some founders including Josie Maran, who do the bulk of their sales with QVC, have moved their entire lives across the country to better balance on-air recordings with their families. But as live formats of Instagram, Facebook and TikTok are increasingly becoming routes to sales for beauty retailers such Sephora, QVC knew it had to adapt.
According to Rob Robillard, vp of integrated beauty at parent company Qurate Retail Group, categories that have been naturally performing on QVC and HSN are food (seeing March sales growth of 66% year-over-year and 48% year-over-year, respectively), freezers (1,000% annual sales increase, across both sites), dumbbells (5,000% increase) and weight benches (600% increase). In the beauty and wellness world, “phone soap” (sanitizer for one’s phone) sales grew by more than 2,000% on both sites, and sales of wellness products encompassing beauty and health products rose 143% on HSN.
A seemingly small tweak QVC made in the last month has been a big sales and engagement for both big and small beauty brands: It’s allowed its best-selling lines, like Tatcha, Elemis and Beekman 1802, to take a stab at recording its segments remotely via Skype. Robillard said Tatcha, It Cosmetics and Isle of Paradise have been top drivers to QVC’s website because of this; Isle of Paradise’s appearance on March 20, for example, sold out of products pegged to its next scheduled promotional day [Today’s Special Value] and had to deliver an additional two orders worth of product to QVC to support additional demand. A smattering of less-known businesses, too, have been allowed to brave remote segments: Kendra Kolb Butler of Alpyn Beauty shot her appearance last week from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and van Haaster hosted her segment from Dutch tulip fields.
“We know brands see a lift once they’ve been on-air. Even though we haven’t had the experience to be at QVC’s studios or gotten to know that environment personally, we thought we could tell a strong story from the tulip fields, which bloom best only one time a year. That is now,” said van Haaster. She made sure to remind viewers of the brand’s clean positioning and self-care benefits, two themes that QVC has been promoting and that will resonate long after coronavirus.
Thanks to Bloomeffects’ four different takeovers across QVC’s social channels prior to its TV debut, the brand saw 500,000 social media impressions (likes, comments and shares). Its Earth Day-timed Facebook Live segment in line with its TV segment saw 232,000 views, which was 5.9x better compared to historical averages. Van Haaster would only state that sales from the its on-air segment were “very successful,” despite Skype delays. Bloomeffects is awaiting its next scheduled QVC on-air segment, but QVC buyers have been in touch around scheduling, said van Haaster.
Robillard said QVC is continuing its commitment to small brands at this time, as Qurate Retail Group’s “broadcast and digital platforms enable brands to efficiently reach large audiences of shoppers in their homes.” This is important as QVC tries to steal market share from Sephora, Ulta and department stores, which remain closed nationally. Plus, the ability to see these smaller beauty brands in non-studio environments is likely to be more engaging for viewers. Recognizing this, in the last month, the company has started a #HostsAtHome and a #HomeWithQ QVC Instagram Live series, that are both focused on beauty. In both series, founders discuss their nighttime skin-care routines or play games like “Would You Rather?” Beautybio’s Jamie O’Banion’s children have even made unexpected appearances.
Still, Beekman 1802’s Josh Kilmer-Purcell said there is a camaraderie between hosts and founders that is lost in Skype environments. “Viewers love seeing the QVC hosts and how we interact with them, but right now, we have to find ways to continue to be disruptive and make people want to tune in. Maybe that’s them seeing one of our baby goats or a cat run across the screen, or seeing our Mercantile store upstate,” he said. Robillard said QVC has provided all brand partners with Skype best practices, that factor in lighting and even delays.
“In our latest visit [to QVC], which was after coronavirus really took hold here, we thought soap was going to blow the doors down and skin care and hair care would be softer, but what we saw was that it sold like a pretty normal product on QVC that exceeded goals,” said Kilmer-Purcell.
Like Bloomeffects’ van Haaster, Beekman 1802’s founders have been supplementing their on-air appearances with Instagram and Facebook Lives on their farm, which feature Purcell and co-founder Brent Ridge foraging for wild leaks and cooking dinner. “There is always something happening at the farm,” said Ridge.
But perhaps because Beekman 1802 is a body brand in its roots, the nature of coronavirus and the larger beauty industry pivot toward self-care hasn’t change the brand’s strategy or its appeal with QVC customers.
“Our customers are looking for a little bit of normalcy and they already know us, so all of a sudden talking about self-care and our lives doesn’t feel new or weird to them,” said Kilmer-Purcell. “It’s what they expect and want.”