QVC shops for ideas for future sales

"As your core customer base ages, you need to refresh the franchise," Rayport says. Though, he adds, "how to do that without losing the audience that is sustaining you now — and for the foreseeable future — is a very tough problem."

With that problem in mind, QVC is avoiding wholesale changes to chase new buyers in favor of gradual, well-researched shifts in merchandising and marketing.

"We can't take a walk on the wild side with our customers," says marketing chief Charney.

Among QVC's endeavors:

•Expand and upgrade the product mix. QVC has bulked up on brand names.

Its jewelry selection now has more prestigious brands such as Tacori — which has created rings for stars such as Grey's Anatomy's Ellen Pompeo — and less generic gold and silver.

In clothing, lines from couture designers such as Marc Bouwer (who has created fashions for Angelina Jolie and Halle Berry) are sold alongside more folksy choices, such as holiday sweaters with sequined Santa Clauses.

Bouwer, who also sells a glamorous gown line at high-end department store Neiman Marcus, says he's not worried that a budget-conscious clothing line will blemish his brand.

"The whole climate in fashion has changed," he says, citing renowned designer Karl Lagerfeld's collections for mass merchant H&M. "It's become exiting and cool for designers to do high and low end."

•Make over QVC.com. QVC.com is in the midst of a face-lift. It now has host blogs, customer product reviews and streaming video that shows the item currently on the air.

Coming are more video and interactive services, says George. He wants to woo more online shoppers, because those who order via the Web and phone buy about twice as much as those who buy by phone alone.

•Be more entertaining. QVC is getting out of the studio more often to broadcast from remote locations. It has sold hair care products from an upscale Manhattan hair salon, Yankee memorabilia from the team's famed stadium and National Football League merchandise from pro football stadiums.

It's also airing live musical acts. On April 28, American Idol alumnus Clay Aiken performed songs from his new album On My Way Here. That day, QVC received more than 15,000 orders for the $19.38 CD — which also came with a five-track bonus CD/DVD.

LeAnn Rimes, the Goo Goo Dolls and Elton John also have performed.

•Amp up the marketing. Last fall, QVC launched a TV, print and outdoor ad campaign with the theme "iQdoU?"

The company says it's insider lingo for "I shop QVC, do you?" Ads showed such products as computers, cosmetics and cake. They also featured celebrity vendors such as Whoopi Goldberg (who has a bedding line) and Heidi Klum (who has a jewelry line).

The goal is to make QVC and QVC.com destinations for shoppers, says Doug Rose, vice president for merchandising brand development.

What does my friend say?

Even as QVC courts musical stars and spends millions on ads, one of its biggest sales drivers remains word-of-mouth recommendations, says Rose.

That's how Kathy Sklar became a customer. The Bethesda, Md.-resident didn't think she'd be "remotely interested" in QVC's wares until a friend turned her on to the channel.

She's now purchased a camera, kitchen goods, jewelry — even outdoor lights.

Sometimes, she says, she watches QVC and thinks, "I had no idea that I needed this (item) — or that it even existed."

But if something catches her eye, she doesn't hesitate.

"I've come to believe in QVC," she says, "I'll say, 'What the heck, I'll try it.' "

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