HSN looks for new shoppers beyond TV's reach

HSN Inc., long a base for home shopping on TV, wants to refashion itself for shoppers more used to buying on their mobile phones.

The company still broadcasts live to more than 90 million households in the U.S., but also features more than 50,000 products on its website. Fifty-five percent of its business now comes from online sales, with almost half of that from mobile devices. But HSN, like its rival QVC, has been wrestling with sluggish sales recently for the same reasons as other retailers — Amazon's dominance online, and a preference for experiences over stuff.

HSN's fourth-quarter results, released Wednesday, showed a 2 percent decline in revenue to $1.07 billion as profit fell 27 percent to $43.5 million. That beat Wall Street expectations, and the company's shares rose nearly 8 percent. But the stock had been down 17 percent in the last 12 months.

CEO Mindy Grossman said the goal is to keep testing while implementing new strategies. St. Petersburg, Florida-based HSN wants to draw more customers, particularly women in their 30s and 40s, while still satisfying its existing shoppers, who average age is 57. It wants its mobile app to engage more with shoppers. It's also developing more exclusive products and looking at the "connected life" trend — how technology can be used to improve someone's life.

"It is about broadening the reach for our brands and being able to accelerate that," said Grossman.

She believes shoppers will remain frugal for now because of uncertainty about new government policies under President Donald Trump's administration.

"There's no question that 2016 was challenging not just for us, but across pretty much the breadth of retail for the most part," she said. "In 2017, I think consumers may feel rational, but they're still not going to spend until they're truly confident about the future. What's at the top of their mind is what's going to happen with health care, what's going to happen with taxes, what's going to happen with the economy."

The company also found itself tangled in politics as several stores dropped the Ivanka Trump brand and the president criticized Nordstrom. The store said the decision was based on falling sales, but was caught up in a boycott campaign. HSN, which didn't sell the brand, denied reports that it had also dropped it.

"I think we have to stay above the fray," Grossman said. "I can say that this is a president that communicates somewhat differently than others. And we are all in a somewhat learning phase. But at the other side, he is a businessman. So I think there is an opportunity to make progress on key issues."

Craig Johnson, president of retail consulting group Customer Growth Partners, said the big issue for HSN is that it's not drawing enough millennials as they enter a higher-spending mode.

"The brand itself is both the biggest asset and the biggest liability," Johnson said. "It needs to focus on bringing the brand more in the present."

HSN is pushing 30- to 45-second shoppable Facebook videos, and rolling out augmented reality apps to help people furnish their homes and creating more personalized offers online. It also says it's looking at artificial intelligence experiences through voice-controlled devices, but declined to elaborate.


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