Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Business

Why women are dialing up HSN to play games

Named one of the 40 most influential women under 40 in Silicon Valley in 2007, Jill Braff made a career digitizing games and social engagement for today's ever-changing high-tech devices. ¶ Now 43 and executive vice president of digital commerce at HSN in St. Petersburg, she brings a background ranging from marketing the Game of Life for Milton Bradley to launching computer games like Sonic the Hedgehog at Sega. ¶ She also was a player in the creation of the genealogy site ancestry.com, the Facebook photo sharing site Scrapblog, which boasts 2.5 million registered users, and was chief executive of Glu, a publisher of games played on smartphones. ¶ At HSN she oversees a dot-com that brings in a third of the St. Petersburg TV network's $2 billion in annual sales. Here's an edited version of a recent interview in which she explained that digital games are now as big a deal among women as men, where that fits in e-commerce at HSN and how she deals with the fraternity of engineering geeks that rule the tech world.

HSN research found women today buy more electronic gadgets than men (4.7 each versus 4.3 in 2010) and use them twice as often. Women outnumber men two-to-one in visiting Facebook several times a day. And they are now the majority of console game users for Xbox 360 and Wii and 48 percent on PlayStation 3.

Surprised by the research?

Yes about game consoles — but not the rest. Women have always had a special relationship with phones. They were the first to really covet cordless, then cellphones. They also for years functioned as the household CEO and were controlling or the major influence on most consumer purchases.

What are you doing with the findings?

As a network that gets 85 percent of its business and tremendous traction from women who buy their tech gadgets from us, we're trying to overcome the male mentality of consumer electronics manufacturers. Our most popular color is purple, yet at trade shows all their products come in black, white or, if they get really crazy, graphite. They focus on men's interest in processing power and the sexiness of bells and whistles. Women are more motivated by ease of use and finding tools that help them through their busy lives.

How is HSN evolving to meet a changed consumer? You're the only retailer streaming live video and video on demand on TV, online, smartphones and tablets.

She doesn't watch us just on TV. Ten years ago, she said, "I'm watching you on TV and I'll call you or check you online." Now she's changing behavior as she moves seamlessly through her day using devices that empower her to do anything anywhere. It's boundaryless retailing, because she expects us to be there in her pocketbook.

She may start out watching in her living room, but has our website up at the same time to make purchases and for research. She takes us along on her smartphone waiting in a carpool lane at school or at the airport. We built a shopping cart that follows her through all our platforms as her day goes on. One click and a password takes her back to wherever she left us.

So where do games — what e-commerce retailers have taken to calling "gamification" — fit in?

People have been playing games as part of social interaction and entertainment for centuries. What's new is we digitize them. Games can make an experience more engaging to reinforce a firmer memory of your brand and products. At HSN, we learned what women do online other than shop. They play games and spend a lot of time connecting and sharing with friends. And they play games everywhere from the subway to waiting at the DMV.

So we are evolving to be a more immersive place where they can find more product information, share information and purchase decisionmaking with friends or play a game like the "Today's Special" jigsaw puzzle. They compete for top scores with our leaderboards and can chat with other players. Digital game players are not just 18- to 34-year-old men anymore. Increasingly, it's women 25 to 55, which also is the heart of HSN.

You launched HSN Arcade eight months ago, which offers 25 free video games that can be played at HSN.com online on a smart phone or tablet. Video poker, mah-jongg, crossword puzzles, word search and some games that feature your show hosts and celebrity experts. How's it going?

Extraordinary. We've had more than 28 million game plays. It's drawn new customers. They stay twice as long, visit more often and spend more per visit. It's not adver-gaming. It's really about building an engaging relationship. Women are looking for ways to share their life with friends and trusted institutions. We can use our strength in storytelling to bring products to life.

Do you see TV shopping in five to 10 years where people just order what they see by just touching the screen?

Oh, I think it will be sooner. The technology behind XBox Kinect reads visual cues from a distance, so it might be gestures instead of a touch screen.

What got you into creating games for mobile phones?

I did a project for Sprint in 2002. Everybody in this focus group said they played a game called "Snake" on their phones every day. But none were willing to pay for it because they all said it was just a terrible game. So we put Sega games like Sonic and Daytona in their phones and the whole place just lit up. It was my epiphany.

Your husband, Joshua, the older brother of actor/director Zach Braff, is an author of two coming-of-age novels. What's he up to?

He's writing his third novel.

Mark Albright can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8252.

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