Home Shopping Networks

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HOME SHOPPING NETWORKS, or electronic retailing, began in the 1980s in the form of television hucksters selling cubic zirconia jewelry and various knick-knacks. Then came lengthy "infomercials," costly television advertisements, often with celebrity hosts, that gave the impression of regular programming. By the 1990s the increase in the number of two-income families with little time for leisure; new concerns about poor service and rising crime rates at shopping malls; and the desire for quality merchandise at bargain prices had boosted interest in home shopping. These changing demographics and consumer attitudes gave televised home shopping a new prestige, and the industry earned $3 billion a year and reached more than 100 million homes.

The two largest services in the mid-1990s were QVC Network and Home Shopping Network, Inc. The popularity of home shopping was evidenced by Joan Rivers's Can We Shop show; Softbank on Hand, a CD-ROM with more than a hundred commercial programs for software shoppers; and the purchase by Home Shopping Network of the Internet Shopping Network to establish home shopping via computer. Some shopping channels use high-pressure tactics, such as horn blowing and whistle blasting to get viewers' attention, while others use more low-key marketing approaches. Large retail companies, such as Macy's and Spiegel, began their own cable channels, which combined programming and entertainment with selling. These retailers expressed great interest in interactive television shopping, in which the home consumer can call up any product at will, view it from various sides, obtain detailed information about the product, order by punching in a credit card number, and have it delivered within twenty-four hours. The next stage in interactive television may be "virtual shopping," in which the viewer will be able to "try on" a garment by creating a computerized self-image on the screen, realistic to skin tone, color of hair and eyes, and body measurements.

By the end of the twentieth century, television home shopping channels continued to generate a brisk trade for retailers. However, corporate mergers between retail, media, and Internet companies had all but ensured that future innovations in home shopping would be oriented around the "information appliance," the much anticipated marriage of television and the Internet. Moreover, in the heated race to gain footholds in electronic commerce, the traditional television-based home shopping networks did not always fare well. In May 1999, investors in the profitless online portal Lycos rejected a proposal to merge with Barry Diller's Home Shopping Network, even though the latter made a profit.


Evans, David S., and Richard Schmalensee. Paying with Plastic: The Digital Revolution in Buying and Borrowing. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1999.

Kare-Silver, Michael de. E-Shock, the Electronic Shopping Revolution: Strategies for Retailers and Manufacturers. New York: AMACOM, 1999.

Wice, Nathaniel. "Lycos Shareholders Scare Off Suitor."Time Digital (May 10, 1999).

John J.Byrne/a. r.

See alsoElectronic Commerce ; Internet ; Mail-Order Houses ; Television: Programming and Influence .