On this episode, we’re joined by Brian Beitler, Founder & General Manager, Live Shop Ventures, Qurate Retail Group. Brian and his team recently launched sune, a video commerce platform looking to bring in-store magic to online spaces. Listen to learn more.
Design Mind frogcast
Episode 37: Window Shopping for the Digital World
Guest: Brian Beitler, Founder of sune, General Manager of Live Shop Ventures, Qurate Retail Group
[00:09] Elizabeth Wood: Welcome to the Design Mind frogcast. Each episode, we go behind the scenes to meet the people designing what’s next in the world of products, services and experiences, both here at frog and far, far outside the pond. I’m Elizabeth Wood.
[00:24] Elizabeth Wood: Today on our show, it’s time to talk shop. Malls, department stores, traditional brick-and-mortar—these are still a big part of everyday life. But even frequent in-store patrons are increasingly finding themselves buying more items online. And while that’s great when searching for exactly what you’re looking for, it does take some of the serendipity out of it all. Our guest, Brian Beitler, Founder of the video commerce platform sune and General Manager of Live Shop Ventures for Qurate Retail Group, has been thinking a lot about how to bring some of that in-store magic to online spaces. From using data to personalize eCommerce to putting video storytelling at the center of shopping experiences, Brian and his team are leaning into the future of retail for brands, influencers and, of course, shoppers. Here’s Brian now.
[01:15] Brian Beitler: Video is playing an increasing role in every part of our life. And product discovery, product use, product know-how is central to that. And we believe video will continue to grow in its importance, both as a vehicle outside of a retailer’s brand to discover products and as the way a retailer shares and tells stories about their brand. So we see video as an explosive part of the future of retail. Hi, I am Brian Beitler, the Founder of sune and the General Manager of Live Shop Ventures for Qurate Retail Group.
[01:47] Brian Beitler: The notion of live streaming and video, you’ve heard about it. It’s still emerging, right? It’s still fairly nascent in western markets compared to how it’s exploded in the Asian markets. But we certainly see the momentum building. Coresight Research, I think, published most recently that the live stream, video-driven, shopping industry is going to be around $40 billion by 2025.
[02:09] Brian Beitler: It’s about what’s useful to the consumer, right? At the end of the day, utility comes in a variety of forms. Entertainment and flash is one of those. Consumers certainly love to be entertained. That’s useful to us as people. We need to laugh, we need to have our spirits lifted, we need to smile for sure. But also, it’s about how do I use that tool to be more effective—that level of being practical and authentic in the storytelling is as important as being able to be entertaining and engaging. As you think about how you use video, and how you go and use live selling for your brand or platform, you have to be mindful of going, “Hey, what’s the objective that I have for the consumer?” Sometimes entertainment can be a core part of it. And sometimes it’s going, “Man, how can I just be useful and provide better understanding of my services, of my products, to the consumers and do it with people who get my consumer and can connect with them, and build a relationship?”
[03:07] Elizabeth Wood: From a young age, it was clear that Brian was a born salesperson and storyteller with a knack for making meaningful connections with his customers.
[03:17] Brian Beitler: My passion or love for consumer products started, believe it or not, when I was six years old. So I played little league baseball, and I loved baseball, but it was not my skill set. What I was really good at was selling the candy bars that we sold to raise funds in Little League. I remember we had these two chocolate candy bars: one was plain, one had almonds in it. And I still remember my sales pitch. Now to be honest, I don’t know that I came up with the sales pitches at six and seven years old. I’m sure this came from my father. But literally my pitch was, “I have this plain candy bar here, you can buy it for just a dollar. Or, I have this other candy bar and I’ll throw in the almonds for free.” And it got a laugh every time from whoever was at the doorstep and almost always got a sale and I thought this is so much fun. What I also learned is that when people got something that they loved, it made them happy and making people happy made me happy. From very early on I fell in love with the idea of being able to bring people products and services that made them happy could be an amazing career.
[04:21] Brian Beitler: One of the things that I think was so unique about Qurate Retail Group, and our parent company and a couple of companies we own—we own QVC and HSN—was their ability for our hosts, our personalities to build relationships at scale. And that’s what we think video allows you to do: to build relationships where it’s not just one person that you’re entering, interact with it that finds you interesting and valuable and important in their life, but that you can build that with hundreds of people, thousands of people, tens of thousands of people at a time.
[04:51] Brian Beitler: Me and my team are striving to build what we think will be a next-generation shopping experience that will further Qurate Retail’s leadership position in video commerce. And we hope to build something that will make us the leaders in using video to help brands and consumers make connections and fall in love. And in my current role, my hope is to build something new that continues to bring a new, fresh, more innovative way for consumers and brands to discover one another and a way that allows these young creators to build a livelihood.
[05:30] Elizabeth Wood: During our conversation, Brian shared how he and his team are extending the benefits of video into eCommerce through the platform sune—that’s s-u-n-e. You can find a link to the platform in this episode’s show notes.
[05:38] Brian Beitler: sune is the brand of our consumer-facing app. It’s now in its beta version. We launched it a couple of months ago and are just in the early forms. But what we’ve built is this short form, thumb-able shopping experience, where we can bring together emerging and undiscovered brands and products, and the founders behind those brands and products, with really talented young creatives that love to tell entertaining and engaging stories about products and engage, hopefully, with Gen Z consumers and help them discover their next favorite brand, their next favorite product, their next favorite experience. We looked out at the marketplace and how young people engage today. Gen Z consumers consume more video content than any other generation before them. They discover everything in those video feeds from the next life tip to the next best product to the next vacation that they’re going to take to the love of their life.
[06:30] Brian Beitler: Here’s what I think is interesting about video: it allows you to do some things that you can’t do on the shelf or on a flat PDP page quite as well. So let’s take a category like kitchen electrics. Imagine shopping for that. A lot of that is still bought in a retail experience in a store. Maybe you’re in a Target, maybe you’re in a Walmart, maybe you’re in a Best Buy, right? You’re in a retail environment. It’s in a box. Like I can’t see it, feel it, touch it, understand it. Video lets that thing come to life, right? You can see how someone uses it, how it might be valuable in your home, how it might fit into the way that you prepare your meals for the week. For me, we see video’s ability to give you all the information I can show you what something looks like on multiple body types or I can teach you how to apply something when you’re getting ready in the morning And so that for us is why we think video and vCommerce is the future of eCommerce is because we think it just enables getting to “yes” much easier for consumers. And we know that we know video has a higher conversion rate than flat static pages, right? So these are known realities. We know, on, you know, a couple of our sister companies, brands, QVC and HSN, we can, you know, sell a lot of product in a few minutes, when you can see the way it works, right?
[07:45] Brian Beitler: So we have evidence kind of in our business model for how this works, we think it’s going to influence everything, we think we can build a new way to have this experience that’s going to be really fun and engaging for young consumers. But we know it helps consumers make better decisions faster. And we also know it helps those who have created products tell their story better. Because sometimes there’s more than just meets the eye to the product. There is: How did they get to that decision? Why does this thing exist? Nothing is better than hearing from a founder telling you their narrative and video lets you do that. And sometimes they can do that in just a few seconds or a few minutes.
[08:25] Brian Beitler: I know there are a lot of people on the fence going, “Man, how do I think about engaging in video? How do I think about live? Should it be on my site?” The consumer always moves faster than the company. It’s just true and has been true for a very long time. And so as you see these emerging trends, I think the point that I would make here is just getting there early and finding the right people to partner with is super important.
[08:50] Elizabeth Wood: Staying at the forefront of change is important for any industry, and the evolution of product discovery and customer experiences in retail is no exception.
[09:00] Brian Beitler: So you can look over the last, you know, four decades and watch the way that retail and technologies and forms of technologies evolve. Take malls as an example. In my mind, malls were a physical but a technological innovation on the way that we engaged in shopping. We went from being in main streets and small, narrow to being able to aggregate a huge number of potential destinations. And consumers migrated to that form. It opened our choice and opened our joy of shopping in many ways, because I could walk through and see things I’d never imagined seeing before that never would have made it to my little neighborhood from a community perspective. You step forward, eCommerce then opens that door even wider. And you see the way that the behavior of discovery. You’re shopping now—instead of just shopping the few brands that are in my mall—I can shop the entire globe or the entire country from an experience perspective.
[09:53] Brian Beitler: What eCommerce is remarkable at is helping you buy stuff. So when you know you want to buy a new dress for vacation, or you need a new bag for travel, or you’ve got a new skincare concern, man, the internet made buying so amazing, because for the first time, you could aggregate information really fast, you could sort through the potential options and then you could make a decision. And so eCommerce is remarkable for buying. If you remember when you were going to a physical destination to buy, that sometimes was arduous and not fun because it was hard to find things. I had to go through a lot of stores. It was very spread out. I had to talk to a lot of people to get information because the fine print was hard to get to if I was looking at a beauty product. And eCommerce made that amazing. But I will say what eCommerce didn’t solve was the joy of serendipitous discovery.
[10:50] Brian Beitler: For a long time, If I asked people and I say, “Hey, where do you go to browse?” which was also a reason to go to a physical destination while in particular, right with some time, we had no specific idea in mind. We just had some money in our pocket and a few friends and thought, let’s go wander and see what shows up. The internet’s not very good at that. And even websites today aren’t very good at that, right? You’ve got to go point-click. It’s not like walking through a physical inspiration where there are mannequins and beautiful tables and windows. So that’s one way so eCommerce evolved and changed the way we could buy and it made buying so much better.
[11:22] Brian Beitler: There are other innovations that I think are interesting that took things that were localized and made them global. So, you know, I love the example of eBay, right? eBay, took the classifieds slash garage sales, and gave you a way to discover them across the country, right? So it was a cool innovation of allowing you to shop across the globe. And it took a core traditional behavior of buying other people’s stuff and allowed you to do it at scale and with more choice, and with some fun. Or take Etsy, right? Etsy took the Sunday or Saturday noon craft fair right at the local church or the local school and said, “Hey, if you love to buy crafts, and you have crafts to sell, you don’t just have to wait for that craft event. You can sell them to anybody.”
[12:05] Brian Beitler: And so there are things where I think digital has really been amazing. We at sune see that opportunity. And part of our vision is not just to build a video platform, we just think videos are a really great way to discover things serendipitously. We said, “Hey, where can I go window shopping online?” And you can today, but it’s more accidental, right? It happens in TikTok. It happens in Instagram, right? Because brands are putting feeds in, creators are creating, influencers are creating content. And so our hope is we can take this evolution of technology, and let you go window shopping with your thumbs. But the difference here in our window is unlike a mall, we can personalize every window over time. We can learn the kinds of things you are interested in, the kinds of things that are going on in your life. Maybe you’re outdoorsy, maybe you’re a yogi, maybe you love beauty products. We can learn what’s interesting to you and give you windows that are relevant for you every time and brands and stores that you can enter into.
[13:03] Brian Beitler: At the root of this, we want to bring joy of, you know, serendipitous discovery and even focused discovery back to the digital world, right? How can we create a place where shopping is immersive, engaging, entertaining and that you can see and find new products, new brands, things that you’ve never heard of before in a format that’s relevant, that’s familiar to current young consumers.
[13:35] Elizabeth Wood: We’re going to take a short break. When we return, Brian will share more about his team’s collaboration with frog and what he calls ‘The Four Cs’ of business growth.
[13:45] Alex D’agostino: Hi I’m Alex D’agostino, a senior strategist in frog’s San Francisco studio. To help our clients reimagine physical retail. We’re focusing on a broad set of consumer needs, from wanting emotional connection to seeking unique discovery and multi-sensorial experiences to on-demand convenience. Addressing these needs translates into lifetime value not just in stores but across channels. Check out today’s show notes to download frog’s new report, The Future of Retail: What’s in Store for Brick-and-Mortar? It’s time to elevate in store experiences.
[14:24] Elizabeth Wood: Now back to Brian Beitler, Founder of the video commerce platform sune and General Manager of Live Shop Ventures for Qurate Retail Group.
[14:33] Brian Beitler: Our engagement with frog was to help us continue to think about ways to innovate and push our experience forward. And so, for us, it was an exciting engagement. You know, really talented, progressive thinkers that understand how the consumer experience is changing, how the industry is moving, where culture is going. And the value for us was helping us think about some of our digital experiences and how we might evolve our approach as a brand in that landscape. So they’ve been super valuable in helping to push our thinking forward and to help us get more oriented to being a digital-first company in many respects.
[15:15] Brian Beitler: We’ve never had a physical presence. We’ve always been video and driven by our network channels, our cable and television channels, which have been very successful for us. And our goal here was to say, “Hey, can someone help us think about, you know, how we evolve our overall digital approach across all of our digital platforms, our website, our streaming, our, you know, potential new businesses?” So it’s been amazing.
[15:35] Brian Beitler: Some of the stuff that we’ve talked about was at the forefront of some of the work with frog, and their depth of understanding of how important interactivity is in this experience. How important crafting a personalized experience is. How important it is to enrich storytelling. All of those insights have helped us think about how we move forward across an arranged array of our businesses.
[15:59] Brian Beitler: The reality is with the explosion of marketplaces, there are more and more places as a brand or as a seller to put your products. There’s more and more places for consumers to go to discover those. It’s complicated, right? So one of the things about having a store or brand you love is it just gives you a place to go to know where you can find the joy. And as things get more fragmented, I think it gets harder to be able to create those kinds of meaningful connections and meaningful experiences with consumers. That’s going to continue to be a challenge for brands and retailers to figure out, hey, how do I find an audience? And how do I find meaning and purpose with that audience on an ongoing basis?
[16:37] Brian Beitler: I think the other thing is the pace of shift and change just continues to accelerate. So again, if we back up a few decades, moving from the Main Street to the mall was a fairly slow process. It takes a long time to build a new shopping center, right? Just when you feel like you’ve tackled the latest innovation and technology, you’re ending up in this place where you have something new going on and it’s happening so fast.
[16:55] Elizabeth Wood: Of course, in a digital world, things may seem like they’re in a near constant state of change. Yet, Brian shares that when it comes to brand and customer relationships, some things will always stay the same.
[17:04] Brian Beitler: I’d say some things are very similar from when I started my career to where we are today. You know, one of those is that you have to start with knowing and getting to know your customer. And for me, it’s one-on-one conversations with customers. And that first really developed for me not in my Mattel days, but when I moved to Toys R Us. One of the first things I did because we were right in the middle of holiday season, I went into a Toys R Us store probably for the first time to have conversations with customers. I thought I’m gonna start talking to customers, they’re gonna find out what they love. I think that’s still the same. I think so many brands, marketers, senior executives miss how valuable it is to still have the one-on-one relationship that early shop owners did when retail came into existence.
[17:56] Brian Beitler: I think the other thing that’s stayed the same is that you have to be connected to what’s going on in the culture and what’s happening. And I think you have to know how to tell a good story. Those are all the things that are true today. They were true 20 years ago. They were probably true 100 years ago. What’s evolved and what’s changed is how sophisticated you have to be in your approach. It used to be very simple. Even if I back up a couple of decades. We evolved from a world where, you know, network TV, newspapers, magazines and radio were the primary communication forums to a day where there’s an explosion of potential apps and digital outlets to be able to reach consumers. Today you have to be far more data-driven alongside that kind of personal connection, that kind of intuitive understanding that comes from connecting with your customers.
[18:39] Brian Beitler: I think the evolution of eCommerce as it sits today, there are a couple of things that really still matter and matter a lot, right? Getting your personalization engine, your ability to connect to consumers when they come on to your experience to feel like it’s for them matters now more than ever. And I think that has to be something that still remains a top priority even as these emerging things happen because consumers are becoming used to every other part of their experience fitting them, right? So if you think about Netflix and the efforts that they put to give you a personalized feed of content of you, or TikTok’s algorithm, or your Instagram feed, right? We’re becoming so used to, in some way, media-centric companies, which is a place we spend a lot of our time doubling down on getting the right content in front of us that’s raising the bar for retailers and every other service, every other sort of interaction. I want the same level of personalization and connection from my financial institution that I get in my social media feed. I think the pressure is on for retailers, to find better ways to connect with their consumers and to create more experiences that feel like it’s for me, and that it’s just for me. It’s where we think something like soon or the work that we’re doing at other parts of the Qurate Retail Group can help in that in that success factor: is by being mindful of those things.
[20:00] Brian Beitler: And I think the other thing that matters is recognising, you know, consumers love things to be quick, right? Fast and relevant matters. The notion of the short form and the six-second ad and all of these things are growing in importance. I don’t see those things changing at all. I think the ability of being able to tell really compelling stories, in a much shorter window of time, is more important today than it’s ever been, and will probably be more important tomorrow than it is today. And so having your teams focused on how can we take our powerful brand proposition, our powerful narratives, our value prop for our specific product or brand and tell it in a short, interesting way?
[20:42] Brian Beitler: If you can’t help people understand how this is going to be meaningful to them, how it might be meaningful to the world. It’s really hard to get your business to grow. Brands sometimes have a lot of meaning for a long time, then they lose that meaning because they continue to tell the same story over and over again. So there’s one first developing your story and then there’s two understanding to go, “Hey, does my story need to change? Does my story need to evolve because my audience in the world and culture has evolved?” And so at the end of the day, I think it’s not just enough to know the story that you want to tell, but you have to know, hey, is that story still connecting with your target? Are they still interested in hearing your story the way that you’re telling it? Sometimes it may be more than your story that needs to change, right? You may need to change your business.
[21:37] Brian Beitler: But we’ve learned how willing consumers or users or whatever you want to call them —people—are at getting engaged in the process, and they want to be engaged in the process. You know, we think ideas are best when multiple people are involved in the creation of something. Most of the best innovation in the world comes from people coming together and building something new. I don’t want to go on a history lesson, but as we think about urban centers coming into existence over the last two centuries, it’s what changed the acceleration of innovation. We brought people closer together, more people were bouncing ideas off another. That’s still true. It continues to accelerate, right? We look at how, you know, a platform and open platform like ChatGPT gets built and gets built so quickly. So it makes sense to me, right? It makes sense that ecosystems are developing as the future, and it was it for us at thinking about how do we innovate in the retail space at QRG? This was one of those things of going, “Hey, we have to understand and embrace the platform ecosystem model.” We know we still are gonna have to curate and build a really amazing product, but we know that that matters.
[22:43] Elizabeth Wood: Throughout his career, Brian has developed a framework he calls ‘The Four Cs,’ which are four important dimensions to consider when growing a business and staying relevant to consumers.
[22:53] Brian Beitler: The Four C’s, for me, is just a model for thinking about how businesses can connect and grow with consumers. And they’ve been a part of the way that I thought over over the course of my career. I’ve had the good fortune of working with some pretty remarkable brands—the Qurate Retail Group being the one I’m with today, and I’m so excited about the work that we’re doing here. But these ‘Cs’ are the way I think about: How do I understand and how do I find ways to connect? And so I’ll give you the Cs very quickly. So the first is what’s the company narrative? What’s the customer value? What’s the competitive landscape in which you’re playing? And what’s happening in the culture and how does it connect?
[23:34] Brian Beitler: So company narrative is super important to me. I think sometimes brands lose a sense of their narrative, right? Which is, what’s their why? Sometimes, particularly as brands mature, right? almost every company when it got started had a ‘why.’ Sometimes the why is very functional. I just need to put money on my table. And so I’m going to open a mechanic shop on the corner, right, because I got the skill to do that. But oftentimes, brands had rich narratives behind why they were started. And sometimes you’ll lose sight of that. I always find it’s valuable as a leader, as a CEO, as a CMO, you know, as someone in the organization, you can step back and go and say, “Hey, what’s our narrative, right?” There’s been a lot of talk about purpose, right? Almost every company has a purpose. And a purpose is certainly a part of your narrative. But a purpose is not your narrative, right? And narrative is a much deeper story that helps to articulate, “Hey, why are you in business? And then, what are all the specific competencies that you have that are valuable in the business that you’re in?” So that’s the company narrative.
[24:37] Brian Beitler: The customer value is to go, “Man, how well do I know what the customer values in my industry? In my segment?” If I’m in travel, if I’m in apparel, if I’m in financial services, do I have a sense of what the most important thing is in that industry for the customer? And the only way to get that is to talk to the customer. [It’s] the only way to do that–and, to talk to the customer one-on-one. I truly believe it’s so valuable when executives spend time one-on-one asking their customers about their story and about what they care about in relation to their business. So if you can get that at the core, you’ve got a good sense of your narrative. Now you’ve got a good sense of the customer narrative, at least in the way they extract value, right?
[25:24] Brian Beitler: The third piece is to go, “Hey, who’s in the competitive landscape? And what are their narratives? And what are their skills? And how are mine the same or better?” I often say you don’t have to necessarily be differentiated from your competitors to win. But you do have to be better at the things your customers value most. And so sometimes we spend so much time talking about, “How am I different from my competitors?” And I think it’s important to understand where your competitors are, but this is why you go through the whole piece—it’s because it’s not always about being different. It’s about understanding the customer narrative and can I be better? If there’s something my competitor does, and I can be better at it than them, I can still win for sure.
[26:03] Brian Beitler: And obviously, the last piece is just being aware. Customers are shaped by culture. We all are. Employees are shaped by culture. Our investors are shaped by culture. Everybody’s shaped by what’s going on in the narrative, right? ChatGPT is a cultural phenomenon right now. It’s not a practical value driving thing just yet. it is driving some value at parts, but it will be. But that phenomenon begins to shape every conversation that you’re having in your executive meetings in your boardroom with customers.
[26:59] Brian Beitler: And so for me, the reason I focus on these things is because if you can get at a point and understand these four things, then you can start to craft strategy from that and growth strategy from that. You can go, “Okay, what in my company needs to change or shift? Where do I need innovation based on things that are evolving in the culture and the way people interact with you know, products, brands, their cell phones or musicians or other things that are going on?” And so for me, when I think about those four C’s, I think they’re essential to getting to really good growth strategy or at times understanding maybe why you’ve matured and peaked in the business if you get at those. So that’s why those four Cs have been so important to me. I’ve used them in almost every company I’ve come into to find, to say, “Hey, listen, let’s as a leadership team, let’s find our narrative. Let’s find, you know, what’s most important to the customer in this value proposition? Is it speed of delivery? Is it design? Is it service? What’s most important? What’s going on in the competitive landscape? What are they best at in this space? And then what’s happening in a culture that we can tap into so that we look connected for the things that all of us are talking about?”
[27:40] Elizabeth Wood: This focus on cultural shifts has big implications. For instance, across all sectors, from retail to food, fashion, consumer goods and mobility, a commitment to sustainable products and practices is proving to be core to future-proofing your business strategy. Brian shares more on why this matters for today’s consumers and tomorrow’s future leaders.
[28:02] Brian Beitler: If you think about what’s happening from a sustainability perspective, I think, what’s good from this view is that everything that’s happening in the world and the care and the concern of consumers and companies is all focused in the world of going, “Look, let’s be good stewards as well as being profitable producers.” And so, I think there’s room for both of those things to exist, right? We’ve seen a lot of companies successfully emerge that have care and concern for humanity, care and concern for the planet, care and concern for, you know, diversity and inclusion, and still remain and still be successful. I don’t think there’s ever a world where in the future profit has to override the responsibilities of organizations to be good citizens in their communities, in their neighborhoods, in their countries.
[28:57] Brian Beitler: I think, you know, back to sophistication of retail and of operating a company, I just think things have gotten more sophisticated. So those things that’s hard to do, it’s harder when I can’t just be single-minded, focused on driving, shareholder return for the bottom line, but I also have to think about being responsible. But I don’t think we’re going to step back from that. Particularly because the rising generation of leaders, which are now our millennials, and you know, in five to 10 years will be Gen Z consumers is like, these are things they care about innately as human beings, and they’re going to be running and they’ve learned to care about those things innately, maybe different than, you know, their predecessors did, who are learning after the fact.
[29:37] Elizabeth Wood: That’s our show. The Design Mind frogcast was brought to you by frog, a leading global creative consultancy that is part of Capgemini Invent. Check today’s show notes for transcripts and more from our conversation. We really want to thank our guest Brian Beitler, Founder of the video commerce platform sune and General Manager of Live Shop Ventures for Qurate Retail Group, for sharing his perspectives on the future of a video-fueled, story-driven retail industry.
[30:03] Elizabeth Wood: We also want to thank you, dear listener. If you like what you heard, tell your friends. Rate and review to help others find us on Apple Podcasts and Spotify . And be sure to follow us wherever you listen to podcasts. Find lots more to think about from our global frog team at frog.co/designmind. That’s frog.co. Follow frog on Twitter at @frogdesign and @frog_design on Instagram. And if you have any thoughts about the show, we’d love to hear from you. Reach out at frog.co/contact. Thanks for listening. Now go make your mark.