If you ask for directions in Kirkby there’s always a fair chance the response will reference QVC. It has become a local landmark and part of the fabric of the town.
“We are part of Knowsley and we are very proud to be here,” said James Keegan, VP of customer service and experience at QVC International, who started as a shift manager in the Contact Centre side of the business 21 years ago.
QVC needs little introduction. A TV shopping channel originating in the US, the company launched its UK operation in 1993 in a partnership with Sky TV. In 1998 Sky exited the venture selling its 20% stake back to the US parent.
Now QVC International is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the US parent and operates as a standalone business. It’s original footprint of UK and Ireland has now grown and the business has a loyal customer following in Germany, Italy and Japan. As well as the main TV shopping channel its output also includes QVC Beauty, QVC Style and QVC Extra.
Although its corporate headquarters are in London, its operational nerve centre is very much anchored in the Liverpool city region. It outgrew its original base at Harrington Dock on Liverpool’s waterfront in 1998 and moved to the mammoth 1.9m Sq ft complex in Kirkby where it employs more than 1,000 people.
It is, according to James, a “multifunctional site”. He explained: “People look from the outside and just think of it as a big warehouse. But that doesn’t begin to cover what goes on inside here.
“Of course the warehouse is a major part of our operation. But we also have our customer service teams here, our freight forwarders, global supply chain leadership, people teams, payroll, accounts, analytics, global cyber security teams and our IT department who, on any given day, could be working on projects and initiatives for Germany, Japan or Italy as well as here in the UK.”
Home shopping has changed beyond recognition since the early days of QVC with the increasing use of mobiles and tablets leading to the creation of online behemoths such as Amazon. However, rather than shrink back in the face of such strong competition, QVC has adapted and continued to thrive.
“Yes, we are much more of a digitally-focused business than we were,” said James. “But we always offer our customers a choice of channels. They can buy across multiple channels and they can also call us up and speak to a person. Our team members will always be easy to reach with our direct contact options easily found and you can’t always say that about other online retailers.
“There has definitely been a big change in people’s use of the digital channels, that is undeniable. And the pandemic has accelerated that. We have probably seen five years worth of change in the past 18 months. However, our customers can still speak to a real person if they wish, we’ll always be available, the service is on their terms.
“Key to our success is the long-term relationships we have with our customers. It is not just about someone coming on and making their first purchase. We want to establish a relationship so they come back for the second and third purchase, and so on.
“And it is not just about meeting demand. It is about creating demand. If I go on Amazon, I already know what I want. I order it, they send it and that is the end of the relationship. What we do goes beyond just the transactional – we use storytelling to bring innovative products into peoples’ homes. This is why our customer base is unbelievably loyal.”
QVC doesn’t just produce television to sell stuff, it aims to make good television. It offers compelling content that entertains and keeps its viewers on the channel. And those customers, James reveals, are known as Dorothea and Dotty.
He explained: “Dorothea is the persona for our most engaged customers, the ones who have been with us a long time and keep coming back. Dotty persona has a relationship with QVC but her buying habits are harder to anticipate. We have to keep innovating with new content and products to keep Dotty interested whilst ensuring we keep Dorothea equally excited and fulfilled.
“So we have to make sure we continue to look after both Dorothea and Dotty by bringing products to life through innovative storytelling. They are both important to the future growth of our business.”
James’s particular focus is on that ‘customer journey’ so he is more acquainted with Dorothea and Dotty than most. One of the big challenges faced by all retailers in the home delivery market is fulfilment – that is getting the products to the customer’s door when they say they will. It is one area where the high street still has an advantage.
QVC aims to have the product at your door within three to five days. James added: “In actual fact we aim to get it there within two or three days but that gives us some leeway. It isn’t just about fulfilment, it is about making good on a promise – that is critical.”
That promise, said James, was “stretched to its limit” during the pandemic. With non-essential retailers closed during the long lockdown periods demand for home delivery surged in the UK and across the world.
He said: “The carrier networks were obviously inundated during the pandemic. They felt the weight of the traffic and we were no exception to that. It pushed us to the edges of our limits but we were still able to fulfil our promises. We look to under promise, but over deliver.”
James and the business have come a long way during his 21 years, the changing face of retail and consumer expectations higher than ever before mean there is never a dull day. But he says QVC is a “brilliant” place to work and it has won multiple best employer awards.
Once a month, the senior leadership team addresses all the staff at the business through an “all hands” meeting. Prior to the pandemic, such events would take place in person. For the moment they are still virtual but the team, who are based across London and Kirby regularly meet the team across both sites.
“The culture here is great,” said James. “We are one of the UK’s top employers and our team members really care. They care about each other, about the customers and, of course, about the financial performance of the business. We have a strong belief that if we create a great place to work for our teams they in turn are far more likely to create a great experience for our customers therefore enabling our continued success.
“And everyone is committed to our diversity, equality and inclusivity vision. Our aim is to ensure all of our team members are able to be their true selves without fear of any negative attitudes and judgment."