Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Shopping Channel

The Shopping Channel is celebrating its 24th anniversary on air this year.

I wasn’t watching in those early years – and frankly never really understood the fascination or appeal back then. But, when you stop and think about it, it did make sense that a TV station devoted to shopping would be created. After all, we Canadians had been shopping through mail order catalogues such as Sears and Eaton’s for decades. For those of us who grew up in rural areas/small towns, catalogues were the only real option to make many purchases. So, why not a TV station devoted to the shopping genre? That way we could get more details and views of a product we may be interested in.

In those early years, TSC was known as The Canadian Home Shopping Club. They didn’t have live action as they do now. When I was speaking with host Norm Murray recently, I asked him about that. Norm said that if he were selling – say a coffee cup – he would hold the cup and a photo would be taken. He’d set the cup down and another pic would be taken. This would be done in a series of positions and then put into a slideshow on screen while the host would do live voice-overs to sell the product. TSC was finally able to do live motion video after a change by the CRTC in 1995.

Being an on air host wouldn’t be an easy job! You certainly have to have the gift of the gab. I’ve occasionally been told I talk too much and that I could sell anything, but if I don’t believe in a product or like the item I could never sell it. I did home sales with Regal and a couple of other small local area businesses years ago and I used to tell my customers the stuff that I thought was crap or not worth their money even though I was on a commission. Also, I have to be in the mood to shop and I can be a picky shopper.

A good host knows how to draw out the information from the vendor without over-talking them and does their best to prepare ahead with understanding the products and knowing the history, folklore or other pertinent info of the items. The host must also find a way to keep a presentation fresh for new viewers - yet not alienate those who have seen it several times before. That is a real balancing act and not easily accomplished.

Each host has their own unique style, but they do their best to keep it real and sincere with the items they sell. They often let us know if they use a certain product, but sometimes the up-sale or push for the product comes across a little too much. Too much gushing or sugaring of a product is a turnoff. A savvy shopper will see the difference and learns to see past the sales pitch to the sincerity and honesty of the host, the vendor and product. Granted some customers are more willing to take a chance on a new item and/or have more discretionary income to spend than others, but we aren’t fools and are all looking for a deal.

Several years ago, TSC embraced the internet and set up a website for customers to browse all the available products and order online. Too be honest, I wasn’t pleased when that first happened, as it felt like an unfair advantage to those with computers. Those of us without would lose out.

I’ll admit that I did miss out on a couple of things over the years as I didn’t know they were available in time to add it to an order. I’m too cheap to pay more S/H than I have to so multi-pack whenever I can! So five years ago, I went to a local library and asked them to log me onto the site and show me how to use a mouse so I could browse collections a day or two before air. I learned a lot about surfing over the next few weeks by doing that and had acquired my own gently used PC by that fall!

The web site has undergone a lot of changes – and in my opinion, not all are for the better. I find the pink and red lettering very hard to read – not just because I don’t like those colours – coloured lettering is harder for many of us to read. A simple black (not grey or charcoal) font on a white/off white background is by far the easiest to read. That may be boring for many, but it is the most accessible! I also find that the dropdown boxes tend to overlap in type and by clicking on a link that way, you don’t always get the page you wanted.

The program guide has also been changed. Rather than a new full page opening for listing products in any one program, it is now a small pop-up window that you must scroll down to view the items. This is much trickier to navigate. If you click on an item in the pop-up window it takes you to that page, but when you click to go back it goes to the general program guide and you have to reopen the pop-up for the hour you wanted. The only way I’ve found to avoid that is to right click the item and open in a new tab.

Even with modified screen settings/fonts for my PC, the site is still a challenge for me:

There used to be mini-bios of the hosts and some of the guests on the site, but that feature appears to have been dropped. It should be brought back as well as encouraging hosts, models and vendors to add links to follow them on Twitter or other social media.

There are a couple of things that I really like about the newer site though. The ability to view larger images of products and to read real customer reviews is great! It really helps to get a better sense of the product and whether it is worth the purchase. I’ve added reviews to several products in the last year or so.

For many years, the daily Showstopper would begin airing at 7AM eastern. That meant that those on the west coast had to get up at 4AM if they wanted to be among the first to get it. Then a few years ago, TSC switched the 24 hour special to begin at midnight eastern. That was better for the west coast who then saw it at 9PM eastern, but lousy for the east coast who had to wait till 1AM or 1:30AM in Newfoundland. Neither of these really bothered me too much as I only got up/stayed up if it was a product line I was interested in.

Then, in mid June, they did a weekend experiment where the Showstopper started at 10PM eastern. That meant that the west coast saw it at 7PM and the east coast saw it at 11PM or 11:30PM. It was a pretty good compromise to satisfy all time zones and was a real hit with customers! So much so, that as of July 1, the new launch time for the Showstopper is 10PM eastern! Great solution TSC!

Though I know there are those that would disagree, in my experience, I’ve never had an issue that TSC hasn’t been able to resolve in a timely manner. They do their best to meet the needs of their customers and make things right if an error occurs.

TSC certainly has come a long way since January 1987. It’s programming, presentation and hosts have changed and evolved over the years. They’ve adapted to new technology and have embraced social media like Twitter and Facebook. They can’t please everyone, but they really do try to fill the needs of the customers with unique and innovative products.

Thanks TSC - and here’s to at least 24 more years!


July 3 – Meeting Norm
July 17 – TSC And Me

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