The Electronic Retailing Association

Member Company Interview with Bjoern Behlau, CMO HSE24 Italy

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HSE24 launched its operation in Italy on June 1st 2011: it was the first home shopping channel of the HSE24 Group established outside Germany. The company is part of an international group that relies on the solid experience of the German shareholder HSE24 Group, which, since 1995, has been operating very successfully in the German market, where it is one of the leaders of Home Shopping in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

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Bjoern Behlau, Chief Merchandising & Marketing Officer, HSE24 Italy.

Bjoern Behlau has outstanding international experience in the multi-channel sales and TV marketing area, having worked in the TV Shopping industry in both Germany and the U.S. In 2001 he joined QVC Germany holding various positions in the Sales and Planning department until he left in 2009 to join the team in charge of successfully turning around the American TV Shopping channel ShopNBC (now ShopHQ / Evine Live Inc.). During his five years at the American channel, he held several key positions including Vice President responsible for Multi-Channel Sales and Product Planning strategies. He joined HSE24 Italy in 2015 as Sales & Planning Director and in April 2017 was appointed Chief Merchandising & Marketing Officer overseeing Omni-Channel, Planning & Sales, Merchandising & Product Development and Marketing & Creation.

Please describe HSE24 Italy's business and product portfolio. What is your business model?

BB: For 24 hours a day, HSE24 Italy presents innovative products to buy, reports, news and entertainment shows. The innovative retailer offers its customers a modern and engaging shopping experience thanks to exclusive products one can buy from the comfort of home or on the move. The modern omnichannel company offers the latest trends both on television and online (www.hse24.it) and can be found on all media platforms. It is a largely integrated media that takes shopping to all Italy, direct to the homes of millions of consumers and to their mobile devices.

HSE24 offers a wide catalogue of more than 15,000 products from the categories of Fashion, Beauty, Jewellery, Wellness, Fitness, Home and Kitchen.

How has business developed in 2017? What was new and exciting at HSE24 Italy in 2017?

BB: We are constantly developing our product portfolio and capabilities to communicate with our customers. We are very satisfied with the progress made in 2017 and are looking forward to 2018. In 2017, we focused on broadening our brand portfolio, increasing our broadcast and product presentation capabilities with a brand-new TV studio and intensifying our social media efforts. From an organisational perspective, we adjusted our structure focusing on making sure the entire value chain is properly set up for the next years as the classic TV Shopping model is up for change which offers a variety of new opportunities.

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HSE Italy will be investing in the Fashion category as it offers good growth opportunities

What can your customers look forward to in 2018?

BB: We will continue to enhance and update our product portfolio to be fully aligned with the Italian consumer and their expectations as they differ significantly from consumers in other markets. We will focus on our Fashion, Wellness / Sport and Beauty categories as well as offering problem solving items easing the life of our customers. Especially Fashion proposes more opportunities and after successfully launching brands such as Laura Biagiotti we are going to invest further in this segment.

In 2018 HSE24 customers will experience an even more integrated omnichannel environment, composed of our TV channel, our website and our social medias offering a 360 degree shopping experience. Those elements are part of a coherent whole that makes HSE24 unique.

We will expand our capabilities to be in contact with our customers by sharing personalised content and best shopping experiences. TV and Online will be an integrated landscape offering Live Show extensions, tutorials and even social media show formats. Modern technology has made it fairly easy to produce content from any place in the world offering exciting new formats on all channels, particularly on the web and in social media.

Customers will be free to experience the HSE24 brand where, when and however they want, mixing up channels as they like, and they will be able to interact actively with the brand.

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Italian Fast Forward Fashion and Capsule Collections such as the Gold Collection by the internationally known designer Franco Ciambella have developed very positively

What are your strongest/fastest growing product categories?

BB: HSE24 has gained momentum in all categories offered but we are in particular happy with our Wellness, Beauty and Fashion categories. Especially Fashion has developed very positively by offering Italian Fast Forward Fashion and Capsule Collections such as the Gold Collection by the internationally known fashion designer Franco Ciambella, with much more upscale positioning. But overall, we are very satisfied with the development of all our categories and partners that we have. We also introduced innovative ways to offer our products in order to adhere better to the Italian taste and expectation level.

What was the most successful product ever at HSE24 Italy? Is this product still in the product portfolio?

BB: We have many good and well received products throughout all our categories and brands, but success depends on a variety of KPI’s and also goals e.g. sales, new customer generation, etc. In any case, the most successful product is presented by our Fitness and Wellness expert Jill Cooper and is still part of product portfolio. It is the New Proskins Slim Leggings Plus, a high tech leggings, made with a special cosmo-textile fabric which incorporates a compressive effect and stimulates blood circulation. It is high quality product which fulfils customer needs and offers many benefits.

What does the future hold for HSE24 Italy? How are you targeting new customers and who is your target customer?

BB: In the last decade the retail world has been facing a huge change involving all consumers, independent of sex and age, which even a few years ago wasn’t predictable: everybody has been impacted by the world digitalisation. Nowadays, customers are hyperconnected, and this has completely changed their retail habits. Thanks to the rise of mobile internet access, consumers are more and more prepared to use multiple devices when shopping.

For us, digital tools are the fundamental 'ram’s head' to enlarge our customer base and to reach new potential segments, of course together with constant updating of our product portfolio. The digital marketing strategy that we are putting in place is composed by many activities that allow us to reach potential new customers, either with similar characteristics to the actual customer base or selected by interests and lifestyle.

Social commerce ... is by far under-utilised and offers incredible opportunities. For HSE24, social commerce is a key priority and plays an important role to communicate with and stay in touch with our customers

We are aware of this change, and we are working constantly to offer answers to customers’ requirements for integrated channels, flexibility and the freedom to choose where and when to buy. Our challenge is to bring the recent customer behaviours of 'Webrooming' and 'Showrooming' (or, even better, TVrooming in our case) to the next level by giving customers the freedom to move from one channel to another, without leaving the HSE24 environment.

Besides that, every day we work to guarantee our customers excellence in every field: product selection, services and post purchase assistance. In 2018 our customers can expect an even better premium service.

Social media usage in Italy is one of the highest in Europe which must make the Italian market fertile ground for all kinds of social commerce activities. How relevant is social commerce for HSE24 Italy and how are you approaching this channel?

BB: Social commerce is incredibly important for the entire retail sector. Observing Italian retail and to some extent the European retail market, this is by far under-utilised and offers incredible opportunities. For HSE24, social commerce is a key priority and plays an important role to communicate with and stay in touch with our customers.

I am fully convinced that Italy offers by far more opportunities than challenges. Italy is a still very young and unexplored market when it comes to omni-channel and distance retailing and we are quite excited to be part of this transformation.

You are correct that Italy is leader when it comes to social media usage which is strictly tied to the Italian culture based on family and community values as well as communication. This increases the need but also the opportunities and provides a perfect platform to stay close to our customers' needs. We have invested tremendously in advancing our social media efforts by offering highly differentiated content. This has been received very positively and is confirmed by our Engagement development.

In general, we are concentrating on increasing fan involvement with engaging content, such as tutorials or special presentations dedicated to them, stimulating their participation. Despite that we are using it as a second more interactive screen, via which viewers and potential customers can give their feedback and ask questions. This is then used to improve our TV content and communication. Thirdly we are also taking advantage by using social media to increase HSE24 brand awareness thanks to very sophisticated targeting which allows us to reach potential new customers, our existing customer base and our target personas. Overall TV live shopping, tape to commerce / commerce on demand, ecommerce and social media will be highly integrated in the entire customer experience.

What are the advantages/challenges of being a multi-channel retailer like HSE24 in Italy and how are you taking advantage of the increasing digitalisation in the market?

BB: Having worked in different markets and countries, I am fully convinced that Italy offers by far more opportunities than challenges. Italy is a still very young and unexplored market when it comes to omni-channel and distance retailing and we are quite excited to be part of this transformation. Digital business trends are already affecting our decisions but strategies have been developed to address this change. We are using digital media to maximise the digital landscape in the long term and are also creating a culture that establishes digital management and that can attract digital talents.

According to the 2017 Goldmedia Research Study 'The Multichannel Home Shopping Industry in Europe', distance selling has for the most part not become a well-established tradition among Italian consumers. The number of e-commerce users is noted to be still comparatively low and Italy is also slightly behind the top European markets when it comes to broad-band access. While mobile phone affinity in Italy is comparatively high, the distribution of smartphones is relatively low. Is this an opportunity or a threat for your growth strategy and how do you see the environment developing? What do you see as the growth potential for Teleshopping/Home Shopping in Italy overall and in particular how much potential do you see for the classic Teleshopping TV focused business model.

BB: The Italian distance market is still developing which offers tremendous potential for us. Culturally, Italy is still a neighbourhood shopping market but it is rapidly changing with mobile and social media increasing in usage.

HSE24 Italy have increased their broadcast and product presentation capabilities with a brand-new TV studio

The classic Teleshopping business model has already and will continue to change. This offers opportunities as we possess skill sets and capabilities web only players do not have e.g. moving content attracts 4 times higher attention and this is where our expertise lies.

The customer interaction and POS are moving to digital platforms and will continue to do so. We are in the middle of a digital transition and traditional TV is still, and will be for years, a very powerful media to attract audiences.

You have personally gained considerable experience of teleshopping in both Germany and in the U.S. In your experience, how does the Italian market and customer differ from those countries?

BB: Besides country specific tastes and shopping attitudes, I see to two main differences. Number one is the Return Rate which is far lower than for example in Germany or the U.S. Secondly, payment methods vary tremendously and Cash on Delivery (COD) is still quite important for the Italian market.

What was the first Teleshopping product that you bought for yourself and is it still in use?

BB: For sure I can. The first product I ever bought was a digestible from QVC in Germany. I bought it for my mother and the product was Spirulina. This must have been in 2001 when I started my career in TV Shopping. I had to support my first product category as I was responsible for the Health & Wellness area. Later, I shopped the entire product category as Beauty, Sport, Household and Electronics. Especially in the US I shopped Electronics as the market was very competitive and values were excellent. Nowadays at HSE24 Italy, I actually shop cross category for my entire family.

Bjoern Behlau was interviewed by Amanda Justice for ERA Europe