Adapting in times of crisis with Qurate Retail, Inc.’s Mike George

After leading QVC, Inc. for 12 years, Mike George took on an expanded role in 2018 as president and CEO of Qurate Retail, Inc. In this role, George leads a select group of retail brands — QVC, HSN, Zulily, Ballard Designs, Frontgate, Garnet Hill, Grandin Road and Ryllace — combining retail, media and social platforms to curate exceptional products, experiences and communities for consumers. George, also chairman of the NRF Board of Directors, has many years of experience in the retail industry, developing new ways to engage customers over television, ecommerce, mobile and social platforms.

We sat down with George to discuss Qurate Retail’s new Small Business Spotlight, and how the company has adapted to keep consumers and employees safe and healthy during the health crisis.

This is part one in a two-part Q&A series. Read part two here

The safety of consumers and employees is the top priority for all retailers. How has Qurate Retail altered its normal operations to protect its teams right now?

Mike George, President and CEO, Qurate
Mike George, President and CEO of Qurate Retail, Inc., at NRF 2020: Retail's Big Show.

The health, safety and well-being of our team members, customers and community are our top priorities in this extraordinary time. We are staying in close contact with the appropriate government and trade entities and following appropriate protocols as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and our state and local Departments of Health.

Like many businesses, we have moved quickly to keep our team members as safe as possible — changing virtually every aspect of how we operate, on a global basis, in just a few weeks’ time. Our commitment is simple: First, ensure everyone who can work from home does so, to minimize the number of people in our buildings; second, create as safe an environment as possible for our on-site team members, with particular focus on social distancing; and third, give every on-site team member the choice to stay home, while offering options to help ease the financial burden of that choice.

We are taking a variety of additional health and safety precautions across our fulfillment centers, studios and other sites, including procuring masks and other protective gear for team members, increasing sanitation efforts, enhancing screening for business-critical guests, and other steps.

Within our studios, we have made a variety of changes to how we operate both on-camera and behind the scenes. For example, we have temporarily eliminated the participation of on-air guests in our studios — and with many of our guests now joining us via Skype, we have also changed how we present food items to minimize food prep backstage and eliminate food tasting on air. Our QVC and HSN hosts are producing more live social content from the safety of their homes, and our Cornerstone Brands and Zulily teams are finding new ways to produce and edit creative content from team members’ homes.

As this situation continues to create uncertainty, we are committed to operating with transparency, both internally and externally. In addition to open lines of communications with our teams on health and safety, we are leveraging our corporate newsroom to share the specifics on our protocols and response plans for COVID-19.

Qurate Retail offers essential items like food, cleaning supplies and home electronics. How are you seeing customer response in these categories?

As a multicategory retailer, we are seeing category trends consistent with the needs of consumers right now. We’re seeing increased interest online in food, cooking supplies, cleaning supplies and devices, wellness products, home office products and home fitness items — as well as crafts, garden and other items that are helpful to the home. In March 2020, for example, page views for food rose 66 percent on QVC.com and 48 percent on HSN.com (compared with March 2019). As restaurants close, grocers reduce hours and delivery services become stressed, we continue to offer a wide selection of convenient foods for every meal, available for purchase from home.

In addition, page views in March for home office rose 77 percent on QVC.com and 234 percent on HSN.com, and page views on HSN.com rose 143 percent for wellness, and 126 percent for health and fitness.

We’ve seen high numbers of visitors to our “Home Checklist: Smart Ideas for Challenging Times,” a cross-category online store featuring select products from more popular categories. As of March 29, the checklist had generated about 230,000 clicks across HSN.com and QVC.com.

We continue to listen closely to the customer on what they need and want right now to keep them safe and healthy, but also to provide a respite and community during these unprecedented times.

We’ve seen retailers step up in extraordinary ways to help their communities. What are some things Qurate Retail is doing on this front?

We believe in the power of relationships — now more than ever. While we all try to navigate social distancing and other impacts to our day-to-day lives, we think it’s also important to stay connected and use our resources and the power of our reach to help.

We recently announced an expanded global relief effort to support those who have been impacted by COVID-19, including a $10 million commitment to monetary and in-kind donations made directly by our brands, along with donations we are facilitating from customers, team members and vendors, and $19 million in COVID-19-related emergency pay and benefits we are offering to our team members.

Here are a few highlights:

  • We will soon launch two initiatives to further support our team members worldwide: an Emergency Assistance Fund, which will offer one-time grants to team members who are most impacted by the pandemic; and an expansion of our Alternative Work Arrangements, which will offer a variety of temporary schedule options where possible to help team members manage unexpected pressures in their personal lives.
  • We have provided an inaugural grant to nonprofit Nest for its personal protective equipment purchase initiative, a program designed to help artisan businesses come through this period by shifting to produce high-quality PPE.
  • To help meet urgent food needs, we announced a fundraising awareness campaign benefiting Meals on Wheels America and No Kid Hungry. Qurate Retail has already met its pledge to match customer and team member donations up to a total company contribution of $1 million, so we are raising the cap for our total company contribution to $2 million.
  • To help distribute important health and safety information in the U.S., QVC and HSN are donating airtime to show public service announcements from the nonprofit Ad Council, and we will soon begin sharing PSAs shot at home by a variety of actors and celebrities. We’re committed to running COVID-19-related PSAs multiple times a day through the acute phase of this crisis.

I am proud of our team for their quick and innovative work to bring these important initiatives to life. I am also inspired by how the retail industry as a whole has responded during this difficult time. Retailers are stepping up to reduce the shortage of masks and other PPE for frontline healthcare workers. Companies like Under Armour and Brooks Brothers are pivoting operations to produce masks, gowns and face shields in their own factories and facilities, while other brands including Nordstrom and Gap are tapping into their expansive supply chains and long-standing vendor relationships to immediately source PPE for hospitals in need. We’re also seeing retailers like Albertsons, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Target and Walmart reserve exclusive shopping hours for at-risk groups, front-line health care workers and first responders.

How is Qurate Retail using its platform to help small businesses?

This health crisis has also become an economic crisis for many small businesses. Retail is a critical driver for our economy and it’s important that we, as an industry, continue to come together to support the small business and entrepreneurial brands that help retail to thrive.

Qurate Retail has a long-standing history of launching and fostering the growth of brands and small businesses, and we continue to provide exposure and distribution for many small businesses impacted by the current crisis. The National Retail Federation also has a long tradition of supporting small business retailers, so it’s only natural that we would partner with NRF to help these businesses in this difficult time.

Our QVC and HSN brands are deepening our support of small business through our Small Business Spotlight initiative, in collaboration with the NRF Foundation. We are providing a visibility platform and other support to approximately 20 small businesses, jointly identified with the NRF Foundation. We will use our production resources, television broadcasts and digital platforms to help each participating business share its story with millions of consumers nationwide. In addition, each business can tap Qurate Retail team members for advice on solving a business problem related to COVID-19 through a newly formed virtual mentoring initiative.

QVC and HSN will additionally be highlighting the many small businesses within their current assortment through a dedicated landing page on QVC.com and HSN.com in the U.S.

Zulily and QVC’s international teams in the U.K., Germany, Italy and Japan remain committed to providing much-needed distribution platforms for small businesses and are exploring ways to deepen that support as this crisis continues.

Hear more from George in part two of this interview

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