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The aggregate market value of the voting stock held by nonaffiliates of Qurate Retail, Inc. computed by reference to the last sales price of Qurate Retail, Inc. common stock, as of the closing of trading on June 30, 2020, was approximately $
The number of outstanding shares of Qurate Retail, Inc.'s common stock as of January 31, 2021 was:
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Series B common stock
Documents Incorporated by Reference
The Registrant's definitive proxy statement for its 2021 Annual Meeting of Stockholders is hereby incorporated by reference into Part III of this Annual Report on Form 10-K.
QURATE RETAIL, INC.
2020 ANNUAL REPORT ON FORM 10‑K
Table of Contents
Item 1. Business.
General Development of Business
Qurate Retail, Inc. ("Qurate Retail", the “Company”, “we”, “us” and “our”), formerly known as Liberty Interactive Corporation prior to the Transactions (defined and described below), owns interests in subsidiaries and other companies which are primarily engaged in the video and online commerce industries. Through our subsidiaries and affiliates, we operate in North America, Europe and Asia. Our principal businesses and assets include our consolidated subsidiaries QVC, Inc. ("QVC"), which includes HSN, Inc. (“HSN”), Zulily, LLC (“Zulily”), Cornerstone Brands, Inc. (“Cornerstone”) and other cost and equity method investments.
On September 23, 2011, Qurate Retail completed the split-off (the "LMC Split-Off") of a wholly owned subsidiary, Liberty Media Corporation ("LMC"). Following the LMC Split-Off, Qurate Retail and LMC operate as separately publicly traded companies and neither has any stock ownership, beneficial or otherwise, in the other.
Qurate Retail and LMC entered into certain agreements in order to govern certain of the ongoing relationships between the two companies. These agreements include a reorganization agreement, a services agreement (the “Services Agreement”), a facilities sharing agreement (the “Facilities Sharing Agreement”) and a tax sharing agreement. Pursuant to the Services Agreement, LMC provides Qurate Retail with general and administrative services including legal, tax, accounting, treasury and investor relations support. See below for a description of an amendment to the Services Agreement entered into in December 2019. Qurate Retail reimburses LMC for direct, out-of-pocket expenses incurred by LMC in providing these services and for Qurate Retail's allocable portion of costs associated with any shared services or personnel based on an estimated percentage of time spent providing services to Qurate Retail. Under the Facilities Sharing Agreement, Qurate Retail shares office space with LMC and related amenities at LMC's corporate headquarters.
In December 2019, the Company entered into an amendment to the Services Agreement with LMC in connection with LMC’s entry into a new employment arrangement with Gregory B. Maffei, the Company’s Chairman of the Board (the “Chairman”). Under the amended Services Agreement, components of his compensation would either be paid directly to him by each of the Company, Liberty TripAdvisor Holdings, Inc. (“TripAdvisor Holdings”), GCI Liberty, Inc. (“GCI Liberty”), and Liberty Broadband Corporation (“Liberty Broadband”) (collectively, the “Service Companies”) or reimbursed to LMC, in each case, based on allocations among LMC and the Service Companies set forth in the amended Services Agreement, currently set at 19% for the Company but subject to adjustment on an annual basis upon the occurrence of certain events. The amended Services Agreement provides for a five year employment term which began on January 1, 2020 and ends December 31, 2024, with an aggregate annual base salary of $3 million (with no contracted increase), an aggregate one-time cash commitment bonus of $5 million (paid in December 2019), an aggregate annual target cash performance bonus of $17 million, aggregate annual equity awards of $17.5 million and aggregate equity awards granted in connection with his entry into his new agreement of $90 million (the “upfront awards”). A portion of the grants made to our Chairman in the year ended December 31, 2020 related to our Company’s allocable portion of these upfront awards.
On August 9, 2012, Qurate Retail completed the approved recapitalization of its common stock through the creation of the Liberty Interactive common stock and Liberty Ventures common stock as tracking stocks. Effective June 4, 2015, the name of the “Liberty Interactive common stock” was changed to the “QVC Group common stock.”
A tracking stock is a type of common stock that the issuing company intends to reflect or "track" the economic performance of a particular business or "group," rather than the economic performance of the company as a whole. Prior to the Transactions, Qurate Retail had two tracking stocks, QVC Group common stock and Liberty Ventures common stock, which were intended to track and reflect the economic performance of Qurate Retail’s QVC Group and Ventures Group, respectively. While the QVC Group and the Ventures Group had separate collections of businesses, assets and liabilities attributed to them, no group was a separate legal entity and therefore no group could own assets, issue securities or enter into legally binding agreements. Holders of tracking stock had no direct claim to the group's stock or assets and
were not represented by separate boards of directors. Instead, holders of tracking stock were stockholders of the parent corporation, with a single board of directors and subject to all of the risks and liabilities of the parent corporation.
On March 9, 2018, Qurate Retail completed the transactions contemplated by the Agreement and Plan of Reorganization (as amended, the “Reorganization Agreement,” and the transactions contemplated thereby, the “Transactions”) among General Communication, Inc. (“GCI”), an Alaska corporation, and Liberty Interactive LLC, a Delaware limited liability company and a direct wholly-owned subsidiary of Qurate Retail (“LI LLC”). Pursuant to the Reorganization Agreement, GCI amended and restated its articles of incorporation (which resulted in GCI being renamed GCI Liberty, Inc.) and effected a reclassification and auto conversion of its common stock. After market close on March 8, 2018, Qurate Retail’s board of directors approved the reattribution of certain assets and liabilities from Qurate Retail’s Ventures Group to its QVC Group, which was effective immediately. The reattributed assets and liabilities included cash, Qurate Retail’s interest in ILG, Inc., certain green energy investments, LI LLC’s exchangeable debentures, and certain tax benefits.
Following these events, Qurate Retail acquired GCI Liberty through a reorganization in which certain Qurate Retail interests, assets and liabilities attributed to the Ventures Group were contributed (the “contribution”) to GCI Liberty in exchange for a controlling interest in GCI Liberty. Qurate Retail and LI LLC contributed to GCI Liberty their entire equity interest in Liberty Broadband, Charter, and LendingTree, Inc. (“LendingTree”), the Evite, Inc. (“Evite”) operating business and other assets and liabilities attributed to Qurate Retail’s Venture Group (following the reattribution), in exchange for (a) the issuance to LI LLC of a number of shares of GCI Liberty Class A Common Stock and a number of shares of GCI Liberty Class B Common Stock equal to the number of outstanding shares of Series A Liberty Ventures common stock and Series B Liberty Ventures common stock on March 9, 2018, respectively, (b) cash and (c) the assumption of certain liabilities by GCI Liberty.
Following the contribution, Qurate Retail effected a tax-free separation of its controlling interest in the combined company (the “GCI Liberty Split-Off”), GCI Liberty, to the holders of Liberty Ventures common stock in full redemption of all outstanding shares of such stock, in which each outstanding share of Series A Liberty Ventures common stock was redeemed for one share of GCI Liberty Class A common stock and each outstanding share of Series B Liberty Ventures common stock was redeemed for one share of GCI Liberty Class B common stock. Simultaneous with the closing of the Transactions, QVC Group common stock became the only outstanding common stock of Qurate Retail, and thus QVC Group common stock ceased to function as a tracking stock. On April 9, 2018, Liberty Interactive Corporation was renamed Qurate Retail, Inc. On May 23, 2018, Qurate Retail amended its charter to eliminate the tracking stock capitalization structure and reclassify each share of QVC Group common stock into one share of the corresponding series of new common stock of Qurate Retail. Throughout this annual report we refer to our Series A and Series B common stock as “Qurate Retail common stock” and “QVC Group common stock.” In July 2018, the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) completed its review of the GCI Liberty Split-Off and informed Qurate Retail that it agreed with the nontaxable characterization of the transactions. Qurate Retail received an Issue Resolution Agreement from the IRS documenting this conclusion.
Qurate Retail viewed LendingTree, Evite and Liberty Broadband as separate components and evaluated them separately for discontinued operations presentation. Based on a quantitative analysis, the split-off of Qurate Retail’s interest in Liberty Broadband had a major effect on Qurate Retail’s operations. Accordingly, Qurate Retail’s interest in Liberty Broadband is presented as a discontinued operation. The disposition of Evite and LendingTree as part of the GCI Liberty Split-Off did not have a major effect on Qurate Retail’s historical results nor is it expected to have a major effect on Qurate Retail’s future operations. Accordingly, Evite and LendingTree are not presented as discontinued operations.
* * * * *
Certain statements in this Annual Report on Form 10-K constitute forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995, including statements regarding business, product and marketing strategies; COVID-19 (as defined below); QRG Initiatives (as defined below); new service offerings; revenue growth at QVC; synergies; the recoverability of goodwill and other intangible assets; projected sources and uses of cash; repayment of debt; fluctuations in interest rates and foreign currency exchange rates; and the anticipated impact of certain contingent
liabilities related to legal and tax proceedings and other matters arising in the ordinary course of business. In particular, statements under Item 1. "Business," Item 1A. "Risk-Factors," Item 2. "Properties," Item 7. "Management's Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations" and Item 7A. "Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures About Market Risk" contain forward-looking statements. Where, in any forward-looking statement, we express an expectation or belief as to future results or events, such expectation or belief is expressed in good faith and believed to have a reasonable basis, but there can be no assurance that the expectation or belief will result or be achieved or accomplished. The following include some but not all of the factors that could cause actual results or events to differ materially from those anticipated:
|●||the impact of the novel coronavirus (“COVID-19”) pandemic and local, state and federal governmental responses to the pandemic on the economy, our customers, our vendors and our businesses generally;|
|●||customer demand for our products and services and our ability to attract new customers and retain existing customers by anticipating customer demand and adapting to changes in demand;|
|●||competitor responses to our products and services;|
|●||increased digital TV penetration and the impact on channel positioning of our programs;|
|●||the levels of online traffic to our businesses' websites and our ability to convert visitors into customers or contributors;|
|●||uncertainties inherent in the development and integration of new business lines and business strategies;|
|●||our future financial performance, including availability, terms, deployment of capital and our level of indebtedness;|
|●||our ability to effectively manage our installment sales plans and revolving credit card programs;|
|●||the cost and ability of shipping companies, manufacturers, suppliers, digital marketing channels, and vendors to deliver products, equipment, software and services;|
|●||the outcome of any pending or threatened litigation;|
|●||availability of qualified personnel;|
|●||the impact of the seasonality of our businesses;|
|●||changes in, or failure or inability to comply with, government regulations, including, without limitation, regulations of the Federal Communications Commission, and adverse outcomes from regulatory proceedings;|
|●||changes in the nature of key strategic relationships with partners, distributors, suppliers and vendors;|
|●||domestic and international economic and business conditions and industry trends, including the impact of Brexit (as defined below);|
|●||changes in the trade policy and trade relations with China;|
|●||consumer spending levels, including the availability and amount of individual consumer debt and customer credit losses;|
|●||system interruption and the lack of integration and redundancy in the systems and infrastructures of our businesses;|
|●||advertising spending levels;|
|●||changes in distribution and viewing of television programming, including the expanded deployment of video on demand technologies and Internet protocol television and their impact on home shopping programming;|
|●||rapid technological changes;|
|●||failure to protect the security of personal information, subjecting us to potentially costly government enforcement actions and/or private litigation and reputational damage;|
|●||the regulatory and competitive environment of the industries in which we operate;|
|●||natural disasters, public health crises (including COVID-19), political crises, and other catastrophic events or other events outside of our control;|
|●||threatened terrorist attacks, political and economic unrest in international markets and ongoing military action around the world; and|
|●||fluctuations in foreign currency exchange rates.|
These forward-looking statements and such risks, uncertainties and other factors speak only as of the date of this Annual Report, and we expressly disclaim any obligation or undertaking to disseminate any updates or revisions to any
forward-looking statement contained herein, to reflect any change in our expectations with regard thereto, or any other change in events, conditions or circumstances on which any such statement is based. When considering such forward-looking statements, you should keep in mind the factors described in Item 1A, "Risk Factors" and other cautionary statements contained in this Annual Report. Such risk factors and statements describe circumstances which could cause actual results to differ materially from those contained in any forward-looking statement.
Description of Business
The following table identifies our subsidiaries:
Cornerstone Brands, Inc.
On December 29, 2017, Qurate Retail completed the acquisition of the remaining 62% ownership interest of HSN in an all-stock transaction. On December 31, 2018, Qurate Retail transferred our 100% ownership interest in HSN to QVC, Inc. through a transaction among entities under common control. References throughout this Annual Report to “QVC” refer to QVC, Inc., which includes HSN, QVC U.S. and QVC International. On October 17, 2018, Qurate Retail announced a series of initiatives designed to better position its HSN and QVC U.S. businesses (the “QRG Initiatives”). As a result of changes in internal reporting from the QRG Initiatives, during the first quarter of 2019 the Company changed its reportable segments to combine HSN and QVC U.S. into one reportable segment called “QxH.”
QVC curates and sells a wide variety of consumer products via highly engaging, video-rich, interactive shopping experiences distributed to approximately 218 million worldwide households each day, through its broadcast networks. QVC also reaches audiences through its websites (including QVC.com, HSN.com and others), its virtual multichannel video programming distributors (including Hulu+, Live TV, AT&T TV and as of January 2021, YouTube TV); its applications via streaming video (Facebook Live, Roku, Apple TV, and Amazon Fire), its mobile applications, its social pages and over-the-air broadcasters. QVC believes it is a global leader in video retailing, e-commerce, mobile commerce and social commerce, with operations based in the U.S., Germany, Japan, the U.K. and Italy. QVC’s operating strategies are to (i) Curate special products at compelling values; (ii) Extend video reach and relevance; (iii) Reimagine daily digital discovery; (iv) Expand and engage its passionate community; and (v) Deliver joyful customer service. In addition, QVC is exploring opportunities to evolve the International operating model to pursue growth opportunities in a more leveraged way across markets. For the year ended December 31, 2020, approximately 92% of its worldwide shipped sales were from repeat and reactivated customers (i.e., customers who made a purchase from QVC during the prior twelve months and customers who previously made a purchase from QVC but not during the prior twelve months). In the same period, QVC attracted approximately 4.7 million new customers and the global e-commerce operation comprised $6.4 billion, or 56.2%, of its consolidated net revenue for the year ended December 31, 2020.
QVC operates fifteen distribution centers and eight call centers worldwide. In 2020, QVC's work force consisted of approximately 22,200 employees who handled approximately 115 million customer calls, shipped approximately 239 million units globally and served approximately 16.5 million unique customers. QVC believes its long-term relationships with major U.S. television distributors, including cable operators (e.g., Comcast, Charter and Cox), satellite television providers (e.g., DISH Network and DIRECTV) and telecommunications companies (e.g., Verizon and AT&T), provide it with broad distribution, favorable channel positioning and significant competitive advantages. QVC believes that its significant market share, brand awareness, outstanding customer service, repeat customer base, flexible payment options, international reach and scalable infrastructure distinguishes QVC from its competitors.
QxH's programming is distributed in the U.S., 20 hours per day of live programming, 364 days per year, to approximately 94 million television households and is distributed to approximately 99% of households subscribing to
services offered by television distributors. QxH’s televised shopping programs, including live and recorded content, are broadcast across multiple channels nationally on a full time basis, including the main QVC and HSN channels as well as the additional channels of QVC2, QVC3, and HSN2. These additional channels offer viewers access to a broader range of QxH programming options as well as more relevant programming for viewers in different time zones. QxH also has over-the-air broadcasting in designated U.S. markets that can be accessed by any household with a digital antenna in such markets, regardless of whether it subscribes to a paid television service. This allows QxH to reach customers who previously did not have access to the program through other television platforms.
QxH's programming is also available through QVC.com and HSN.com (collectively, QVC’s “Websites”), as well as virtual multichannel video programming distributors (including Hulu+ Live TV, AT&T TV and as of January 2021, YouTube TV), applications via streaming video (Facebook Live, Roku, Apple TV, and Amazon Fire), mobile applications, social pages and over-the-air broadcasters (collectively, QVC’s “Digital Platforms”). QxH’s Digital Platforms enable consumers to purchase goods offered on its broadcast programming along with a wide assortment of products that are available only on its Websites. QxH’s Websites and other Digital Platforms are natural extensions of its business model, allowing customers to engage in its shopping experience wherever they are, with live or on-demand content customized to the device they are using. In addition, its Websites and mobile applications allow shoppers to browse, research, compare and perform targeted searches for products, read customer reviews, control the order-entry process and conveniently access their account. For the year ended December 31, 2020, approximately 85% of new QxH customers made their first purchase through QxH’s Digital Platforms. QxH’s Digital Platform revenue as a percentage of total QxH net revenue has increased from 55.6% in 2018 to 59.8% in 2020. QxH, including its Digital Platforms, contributed $8.5 billion, or 74%, of consolidated QVC net revenue, $1,128 million of operating income and $1,547 million of Adjusted OIBDA (defined in Part II, Item 7 of this report) for the year ended December 31, 2020.
QVC International brings the QVC shopping experience to approximately 124 million households outside the U.S., primarily in Germany, Austria, Japan, the U.K., the Republic of Ireland and Italy. Similar to QxH, QVC’s international business engages customers via multiple platforms, including broadcast networks, websites, mobile applications and social pages. QVC International product sourcing teams select products tailored to the interests of each local market. For the year ended December 31, 2020, QVC International, including its Digital Platforms generated $3.0 billion, or 26%, of consolidated QVC net revenue, $439 million of operating income and $510 million of Adjusted OIBDA and QVC International’s Digital Platform usage generated $1,359 million, or 45.8%, of its total international net revenue.
QVC’s global merchandise mix features: (i) home, (ii) beauty, (iii) apparel, (iv) accessories, (v) electronics and (vi) jewelry. Many of its brands are exclusive, while others are created by well-known designers. QVC’s global sales mix is provided in the table below:
Years ended December 31,
Unlike traditional brick-and-mortar retailers with inventories across a network of stores, QVC is able to quickly adapt its offerings in direct response to changes in its customers purchasing patterns. QVC utilizes a test and re-order model to determine initial customer demand. Through constant monitoring, QVC manages its product offerings to maximize net revenue and fulfill current demand in large growth segments where it can gain a greater share of its customers'
purchases. QVC’s merchandising team is dedicated to continually researching, pursuing and launching new products and brands. With a mandate to deliver hard-to-find value, its merchants find and curate collections of high quality goods from manufacturers with the scale to offer sufficient supply to QVC’s existing and future customers. QVC maintains strong relationships with its vendors, which are attracted by the showcasing and story-telling elements of its programming, and the volume of sales during featured presentations.
QVC purchases, or obtains on consignment, products from U.S. and foreign manufacturers and wholesalers, often on favorable terms based upon the volume of the transactions. QVC has attracted some of the world's most respected consumer brands as well as celebrities, entrepreneurs and designers to promote these brands. Brand leaders such as HP, Dooney & Bourke, Dyson, Skechers and Philosophy reach a broad audience while product representatives share the stories behind these brands. QVC has agreements with celebrities, entrepreneurs and designers such as Isaac Mizrahi, Curtis Stone and Giuliana Rancic enabling it to provide entertaining and engaging programming that develops a lifestyle bond with its customers. These celebrity personalities and product representatives often provide pre-appearance publicity for their QVC products on their own social pages and broadcast shows, enhancing demand during their QVC appearances. QVC presents and promotes across its networks, websites, mobile applications and social platforms, allowing shoppers to engage with QVC on multiple platforms and devices.
QVC distributes its programming via satellite and optical fiber, to cable television and direct-to-home satellite system operators for retransmission to its subscribers in the U.S., Germany, Japan, the U.K., Italy and neighboring countries. QVC also transmits its programming over digital terrestrial broadcast television to viewers throughout Italy, Germany, and the U.K. and to viewers in certain geographic regions in the U.S. In the U.S., QVC uplinks its digital programming transmissions using a third-party service, or internal resources. The transmissions are uplinked to protected, non-preemptible transponders on U.S. satellites. "Protected" status means that, in the event of a transponder failure, the signal will be transferred to a spare transponder or, if none is available, to a preemptible transponder located on the same satellite or, in certain cases, to a transponder on another satellite owned by the same service provider if one is available at the time of the failure. "Non-preemptible" status means that, in the event of a transponder failure, QVC's transponders cannot be preempted in favor of a user of a failed transponder, even another user with "protected status." The international business units each obtain uplinking services from third parties and transmit their programming to non-preemptible transponders on international satellites and terrestrial transmitters. The transponder service agreements for the U.S. transponders expire at the earlier of the end of the lives of the satellites or the service agreements. The service agreements for QxH expire between 2023 and 2025. The service agreements for QVC International transponders and terrestrial transmitters expire between 2021 and 2029.
QVC continually seeks to expand and enhance its broadcast and e-commerce platforms, as well as to further its international operations and multimedia capabilities. QVC offers native high definition (“HD”) programming in addition to standard definition programming, which provides additional channel locations and allows QVC to utilize a typically wider screen with crisper and more colorful images to present a larger “storefront,” which QVC believes captures the attention of channel “surfers” and engages its customers. In the U.S., QVC’s HD programming reaches approximately 77 million households. QVC continues to develop and launch features to further enrich the viewing experience.
QVC enters into long-term affiliation agreements with certain of its television distributors who downlink its programming and distribute the programming to customers. QVC's affiliation agreements with distributors have termination dates ranging from 2021 to 2024. QVC's ability to continue to sell products to its customers is dependent on its ability to maintain and renew these affiliation agreements in the future. Although QVC is typically successful in obtaining and renewing these agreements, it does not have distribution agreements with some of the distributors that carry its programming. QVC is currently providing programming without affiliation agreements to distributors representing approximately 6% of its QVC channel distribution and 1% of its HSN channel distribution. Some of its international programming may continue to be carried by distributors after the expiration dates on its affiliation agreements with such distributors have passed.
In return for carrying QVC's signals, each programming distributor for its U.S. distribution receives an allocated portion, based upon market share, of up to 5% of the net sales of merchandise sold via the television programs and from certain Internet sales to customers located in the programming distributor's service areas. In some cases, pay television operators receive additional compensation in the form of commission guarantees in exchange for their commitments to deliver a specified number of subscribers, channel placement incentives and advertising insertion time. QVC International programming distributors predominantly receive an agreed-upon annual fee, a monthly or yearly fee per subscriber regardless of the net sales, a variable percentage of net sales or some combination of the above arrangements.
In addition to sales-based commissions or per-subscriber fees, QVC also makes payments to distributors primarily in the U.S. for carriage and to secure channel positioning within a broadcast area or within the general entertainment area on the distributor's channel line-up. QVC believes that a portion of its sales are attributable to purchases resulting from channel “surfing” and that a channel position near broadcast networks and more popular cable networks increases the likelihood of such purchases. As technology evolves, QVC will continue to monitor optimal channel placement and attempt to negotiate agreements with its distributors to maximize the viewership of its television programming.
Demographics of customers
QVC enjoys a very loyal customer base, as demonstrated by the fact that for the twelve months ended December 31, 2020, approximately 86% of its shipped sales came from repeat customers (i.e., customers who made a purchase from QVC during the prior twelve months), who spent an average of $1,327 each during this period. An additional 8% of shipped sales in that period came from new customers and the remaining 6% of shipped sales came from reactivated customers (i.e., customers who previously made a purchase from QVC, but not during the prior twelve months).
QVC experienced strong customer growth across all markets during 2020. Consolidated customer count increased by approximately 9% for the year ended December 31, 2020. On a trailing twelve month basis, total consolidated customers were approximately 16.5 million which includes 11.6 million QxH customers and 4.9 million QVC International customers. QVC believes its core customer base represents an attractive demographic target market. Based on internal customer data for QxH, approximately 44% of its 11.6 million customers for the twelve months ended December 31, 2020 were women between the ages of 35 and 64.
Ordering and fulfillment
QVC takes a majority of its orders via its websites and via mobile applications on iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Android and other devices. QxH and QVC International customers placed approximately 40% and 34%, respectively, of all orders directly through their mobile devices in 2020.
QVC has three customer contact centers in the US and five international customer contact centers that can direct calls, e-mail contacts and social contacts from one center to the other as volume mandates. Many markets also utilize home agents to handle calls, allowing staffing flexibility for peak hours. In addition, QVC utilizes computerized interactive voice response order systems for telephonic orders, which handle approximately 25% of all orders taken on a worldwide basis. QxH has eleven distribution centers and QVC International has four distribution centers. QVC’s distribution centers and drop ship partners shipped, on average, 463,000 units per day at QxH and 192,000 units per day at QVC International during 2020. Refer to Item 2. “Properties” for further details.
QVC has built a scalable operating infrastructure focused on sustaining efficient, flexible and cost-effective sale and distribution of its products. Since its physical store locations are minimal, QVC requires lower inventory levels and capital expenditures compared to traditional brick-and-mortar retailers. In recent years, QVC has made and continues to make significant investments in its distribution centers that it believes will accommodate its foreseeable growth needs. Further, since QVC has no set “floor plan” and can closely manage inventory levels at its centralized warehouses, QVC believes it has the flexibility to analyze and react quickly to changing trends and demand by shifting programming time and product mix. QVC's cost structure is highly variable, which QVC believes allows it to consistently achieve attractive margins relative to brick-and-mortar retailers.
Third party carriers transport QVC's packages from its distribution centers to its customers. In each market where QVC operates, it has negotiated long-term contracts with shipping companies, which in certain circumstances provides for favorable shipping rates.
QVC operates in a rapidly evolving and highly competitive retail business environment. QVC has numerous and varied competitors at the national and local levels, ranging from large department stores to specialty shops, e-commerce retailers, direct marketing retailers, wholesale clubs, discount retailers, infomercial retailers, and mail-order and catalog companies. Some of QVC’s competitors, such as Amazon and Walmart, have a significantly greater web-presence. QVC believes that the principal competitive factors for its web-commerce operations are high-quality products, brand recognition, selection, value, convenience, price, website performance, customer service and accuracy of order shipment.
QVC believes that QxH is a leader in video shopping, e-commerce, mobile commerce and social commerce by curating quality products at outstanding values, providing exceptional customer service, establishing favorable channel positioning and multiple touchpoints across digital platforms and generating repeat business from its core customer base and that it also compares favorably in terms of sales to general, non-video based retailers due to its extensive customer reach and efficient cost structure. QxH's closest video shopping competitor is ShopHQ and QVC International operations face similar competition in their respective markets, such as Jupiter Shop Channel in Japan, HSE (formerly referred to as HSE 24) in Germany, Austria, and Italy, and Ideal World in the U.K.
QVC also competes for access to customers and audience share with other providers of broadcast, digital and hard copy entertainment and content. The price and availability of other programming and the conversion to digital programming platforms may unfavorably affect the placement of its programming in the channel line-ups of its distributors, and may affect its ability to obtain distribution agreements with small cable distributors. Competition from other programming also affects the compensation that must be paid to distributors for carriage. Principal competitive factors for QVC include (i) value, quality and selection of merchandise; (ii) customer experience, including customer service and speed, cost and reliability of fulfillment and delivery services; and (iii) convenience and accessibility of sales channels.
QVC regards its tradenames, service marks, patents, copyrights, domain names, trade dress, trade secrets, proprietary technologies and similar intellectual property as critical to its success. QVC relies on a combination of tradename, patent and copyright law, trade-secret protection, and confidentiality and/or license agreements with its employees, customers, suppliers, affiliates and others to protect these proprietary rights. QVC has registered, or applied for the registration of, a number of tradenames, service marks, patents, copyrights and domain names through U.S. and foreign governmental authorities and vigorously protects its proprietary rights against infringement.
Domestically, QVC has registered tradenames and service marks including, but not limited to its brand names and logo, "QVC," "Quality Value Convenience," "Find What You Love, Love What You Find," the "Q Logo," and "Q" and tradenames for its proprietary products sold such as "Arte D'Oro," "Cook's Essentials," "Denim & Co.," "Diamonique," “Nature’s Code,” "Northern Nights" and "Ultrafine Silver." Similarly, foreign registrations have been obtained for many tradenames and service marks for its brand names, logo and propriety products including, but not limited to, "QVC," the "Q Logo," "Q," "Cook’s Essentials," "Denim & Co.," "Diamonique" and "Northern Nights."
HSN has numerous tradename registrations or pending applications in the United States which help to expand HSN’s brand awareness. These registrations and applications include the “HSN” brand name and the “HSN logo” as well as registrations for HSN’s proprietary products and services, including, but not limited to, “HSN Shop By Remote,” “Technibond,” and “Concierge Collection.”
QVC considers the "QVC" and “HSN” names the most significant tradenames and service marks it holds because of their impact on market awareness across all of its geographic markets and on customers' identification with QVC. As with all domestic tradenames or service marks, QVC's tradename and service mark registrations in the U.S. are for a ten
year period and are renewable every ten years, prior to their respective expirations, as long as the tradenames or service marks are used in the regular course of trade.
QVC's business is seasonal due to a higher volume of sales in the fourth calendar quarter related to year-end holiday shopping. In recent years, QVC has earned, on average, between 21% and 24% of its global revenue in each of the first three quarters of the year and 32% of its global revenue in the fourth quarter of the year.
On October 1, 2015, we acquired 100% of Zulily. Zulily is an online retailer offering customers a fun and entertaining shopping experience with a fresh selection of new product styles every day. The Zulily website was launched in January 2010. Through its app, mobile and desktop experiences, Zulily helps its customers discover new and unique products at great values that they would likely not find elsewhere. Zulily’s merchandise includes women’s, children’s and men’s apparel and other products such as home, accessories and beauty products. Zulily sources its merchandise from thousands of vendors, including emerging brands and smaller boutique vendors, as well as larger national brands. Zulily has built a large scale and uniquely curated shopping destination.
Every morning, Zulily launches a variety of flash sales events. These events feature thousands of product styles from different vendors and typically last for 72 hours. Product offerings are typically only available for a limited time and in a limited quantity, creating urgency to browse, discover and purchase.
Before Zulily launches an event, Zulily obtains photographs of the merchandise and its editorial team writes about the merchandise based on the product details provided by the vendor. Zulily strives to offer the lowest price points for its customers, with the average item offered for a significant discount off the manufacturer’s suggested or comparison retail price. Zulily then uses its proprietary technology, data analytics and personalization tools to segment its audience, offering each customer a curated and optimized shopping experience that features brands, products and events that it believes are most relevant for that customer.
Zulily acquires new customers through a diverse set of paid and unpaid marketing channels, including affiliate channels and partners, customer referrals, direct navigation, display advertising, key word search campaigns, search engine optimization, social media and television ads. Core to its business model is that Zulily acquires customers via paid and unpaid sources, and then drives engagement and repeat purchases from those customers over a long period of time through diversified marketing channels.
Continual innovation through investment in technology is core to Zulily’s business. Zulily uses its technology platform to improve the experience of its customers and vendors, increase the purchase frequency and average order size and optimize the efficiency of its business operations. Zulily’s technology team is focused on rapid innovation through advanced agile software development processes. Investment in machine learning and data science helps place the right product in front of the right customer at the right time. Zulily’s scalable platform uses custom-built and third-party technologies to support its specific customer and vendor requirements, including handling significant spikes in site traffic and transactions on a daily basis, and the rapid and complex order supply chain needs that are unique to Zulily’s flash sales and minimal inventory model. Zulily believes it can quickly scale its infrastructure to accommodate significantly higher volumes of site traffic, customers, orders and the overall growth in its business.
To best serve its customers and vendors, Zulily has a custom, fully integrated fulfillment infrastructure consisting of receiving, sorting, inventory management and repackaging systems which are driven by proprietary fulfillment management software. Zulily’s supply chain solution efficiently handles the small-to-medium lot sizes and high inventory turnover required by constantly changing, limited-time product offerings. Zulily operates a minimal inventory, intermediary model where it typically takes customer orders before purchasing inventory from vendors. As a result, Zulily is able to offer a much larger selection of products to customers and to generate greater sales for vendors, who are able to match a broader range of their product supply to actual customer demand. In addition, Zulily also offers third party
fulfillment services to its vendors which allows vendors to store their inventory in Zulily’s warehouses and fulfill orders for Zulily’s events or other retail channels and has helped reduce shipping times to Zulily customers.
Zulily views its target market broadly and competes with any retailer where its customers shop. It faces significant competition from both online and offline retailers, competing on: product curation and selection, personalization, price, convenience, ease of use, consumer experience, vendor satisfaction and shipping time and cost.
Zulily relies on laws and regulations, contractual restrictions, copyrights, and tradenames to protect its intellectual property and proprietary rights. Zulily’s employees and contractors also typically enter into agreements to assign to Zulily the inventions and content they produce in performing their jobs. Zulily controls access to confidential information by entering into confidentiality agreements with its employees, contractors and third parties, such as vendors, service providers, individuals and entities that may be exploring a business relationship with Zulily. Despite the protection of general intellectual property law and its contractual restrictions, it may be possible for a third party to copy or otherwise obtain and use Zulily’s intellectual property without Zulily’s authorization.
Zulily has registered numerous Internet domain names related to its business. In addition, Zulily pursues the registration of its tradenames in the U.S. and certain other locations outside of the U.S.; however, effective intellectual property protection or enforcement may not be available in every country in which Zulily’s products and services are made available in the future. In the U.S. and certain other countries, Zulily has registered or has applications pending for its key tradenames, including: Zulily, the Zulily design mark and designs associated with its mobile applications and branded social channels.
Zulily’s results are impacted by a pattern of elevated sales volume during the holiday shopping season in the fourth quarter. The fourth quarter accounted for approximately 30.7% and 28.8% of Zulily’s revenue for the years ended December 31, 2020 and 2019, respectively.
Cornerstone consists of a portfolio of aspirational home and apparel brands. Although there is some overlap in the product offerings, the home brands are comprised of Ballard Designs, Frontgate, and Grandin Road. Garnet Hill focuses primarily on apparel and accessories and is categorized as an apparel brand. There are also 21 retail and outlet stores located throughout the United States.
Frontgate features premium, high quality indoor (including bed, bath, kitchen, dining and living room) and outdoor (including patio, garden and pool) furnishings and accessories. Ballard Designs features European-inspired bed, bath, dining, outdoor and office furnishings and accessories, as well as rugs, shelving and architectural accents for the home. Grandin Road offers an affordable style assortment of products ranging from occasional furniture, accessories, holiday décor and outdoor furniture.
New editions of full-color catalogs are mailed to customers several times each year, with a total annual circulation in 2020 of approximately 166 million catalogs. The timing and frequency of catalog circulation varies by brand and depends upon a number of factors, including the timing of the introduction of new products, marketing campaigns and promotions and inventory levels, among other factors. Branded catalogs are designed in-house, which enables each individual brand to control the process.
Cornerstone also operates websites for each of its featured brands, such as BallardDesigns.com, Frontgate.com, GarnetHill.com, and GrandinRoad.com. These websites serve as additional storefronts for products featured in related print catalogs, as well as provide customers with additional content and product assortments to support and enhance their shopping experience. Additional content provided by these websites, which differs across the various websites, includes decorating tips, measuring information, online design centers, gift registries and travel centers, as well as a feature that allows customers to browse the related catalog online.
The Cornerstone brands differentiate themselves by offering customers an assortment of innovative proprietary and branded apparel and home products. In many cases, Cornerstone seeks to secure exclusive distribution rights for certain
products. Cornerstone employs in-house designers and partners with leading manufacturers and designers to aid in the development of its unique, exclusive product assortment. The Cornerstone brands use their respective websites and e-mail marketing to promote special offers, including cross-promotions for other Cornerstone brands. Cornerstone believes that these affiliations enhance the awareness of the Cornerstone brands among consumers as well as strengthen its various brands overall. Cornerstone has also been extending its distributed commerce platform through both its experiential and more traditional retail and outlet stores, as a marketing tool to increase demand in the overall regions where the stores reside.
Programming and Interactive Television Services
Although QVC, a wholly owned subsidiary, markets and sells consumer products through a variety of outlets, it does so, in large part, through live video programming services distributed by cable television systems, satellite systems and over-the-air broadcasters. Consequently, regulation of programming services and the entities that distribute them can affect QVC. In the U.S., the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) regulates broadcasters, the providers of satellite communications services and facilities for the transmission of programming services, the cable television systems and other multichannel video programming distributors (“MVPDs”) that distribute such services, and, to some extent, the availability of the programming services themselves through its regulation of program licensing. Cable television systems in the U.S. are also regulated by municipalities or other state and local government authorities. Regulatory carriage requirements also could adversely affect the number of channels available to QVC.
Regulation of Program Licensing. The Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act of 1992 (the “1992 Cable Act”) directed the FCC to promulgate regulations regarding the sale and acquisition of cable programming between MVPDs (including cable operators) and satellite-delivered programming services in which a cable operator has an attributable interest. The 1992 Cable Act and implementing regulations generally prohibit a cable operator that has an attributable interest in a satellite programmer from improperly influencing the terms and conditions of sale to unaffiliated MVPDs. Further, the 1992 Cable Act requires that such affiliated programmers make their programming services available to cable operators and competing MVPDs such as multi-channel multi-point distribution systems and direct broadcast satellite system (“DBS”) distributors on terms and conditions that do not unfairly discriminate among distributors, and the FCC has established complaint enforcement and damages remedy procedures. FCC rules attribute the ownership interests in Charter and the cable operator subsidiaries of the former GCI Liberty, Inc. of Liberty Broadband, and Liberty Latin America Ltd.’s ownership interest in Liberty Cablevision of Puerto Rico LLC to us, thereby subjecting us and satellite-delivered programming services in which we have an interest to the program access rules. Our subsidiary QVC is subjected to program access rules as a result of the foregoing attributable interests under FCC rules. We are also subject to the program access rules as a condition of FCC approval of Qurate Retail’s transaction with News Corporation in 2008.
In 2014, the FCC released a notice of proposed rulemaking seeking comment on a proposal to revise the definition of MVPD in its rules to include services, such as Internet-based services, that make available for purchase by viewers, multiple linear streams of video programming, regardless of the technology used to distribute the programming. However, the FCC has never adopted rules pursuant to that proposal. If the FCC were to adopt its proposed definition and determine that the program access rules apply to such MVPDs, QVC potentially would be required to negotiate with, and license its programming services to, such MVPDs and to comply with other related regulatory requirements.
Regulation of Carriage of Programming. Under the 1992 Cable Act, the FCC has adopted regulations prohibiting cable operators from requiring a financial interest in a programming service as a condition to carriage of such service, coercing exclusive rights in a programming service or favoring affiliated programmers so as to restrain unreasonably the ability of unaffiliated programmers to compete. The FCC has established program carriage complaint rules. Our subsidiary QVC is subjected to program carriage rules as a result of our attributable interests under FCC rules discussed above.
Regulation of Ownership. The 1992 Cable Act required the FCC, among other things, (1) to prescribe rules and regulations establishing reasonable limits on the number of channels on a cable system that will be allowed to carry programming in which the owner of such cable system has an attributable interest and (2) to consider the necessity and appropriateness of imposing limitations on the degree to which MVPDs (including cable operators) may engage in the
creation or production of video programming. Although the FCC adopted regulations limiting carriage by a cable operator, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (“D.C. Circuit”) vacated the channel occupancy limits adopted by the FCC and remanded the rule to the FCC for further consideration in 2001. In response to the D.C. Circuit’s decision, the FCC subsequently issued further notices of proposed rulemaking to consider channel occupancy limitations, but has not adopted any rules.
Regulation of Carriage of Broadcast Stations. The 1992 Cable Act granted broadcasters a choice of must carry rights or retransmission consent rights. The rules adopted by the FCC generally provided for mandatory carriage by cable systems of all local full-power commercial television broadcast signals selecting must carry rights and, depending on a cable system's channel capacity, non-commercial television broadcast signals. Such statutorily mandated carriage of broadcast stations coupled with the provisions of the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984, which require cable television systems with 36 or more "activated" channels to reserve a percentage of such channels for commercial use by unaffiliated third parties and permit franchise authorities to require the cable operator to provide channel capacity, equipment and facilities for public, educational and government access channels, could adversely affect QVC by limiting the carriage of such services in cable systems with limited channel capacity.
Closed Captioning Regulation. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 also required the FCC to establish rules and an implementation schedule to ensure that video programming is fully accessible to the hearing impaired through closed captioning. The rules adopted by the FCC require substantial closed captioning, with only limited exemptions. Regulations adopted by the FCC pursuant to the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 require, among other things, that video programming owners to send caption files for IP delivered video programming to video programming distributors and providers along with program files. In 2014, the FCC adopted closed captioning quality standards regarding captioning accuracy, synchronicity, completeness and placement, and captioning best practices for programmers. In 2016, the FCC amended its closed captioning regulations to assign captioning compliance responsibility to programmers jointly with distributors, and to adopt certain registration, certification and complaint procedures applicable to programmers. The video programmer registration and compliance certification requirements of the amended rules have not yet become effective. As a result of these captioning requirements, QVC may incur additional costs for closed captioning.
Our online commerce businesses are subject, both directly and indirectly, to various domestic and foreign laws and governmental regulations. Certain of these businesses engaged in the provision of goods and services over the Internet must comply with federal and state laws and regulations applicable to online communications and commerce. For example, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act ("COPPA") prohibits web sites from collecting personally identifiable information online from children under age 13 without parental consent and imposes a number of operational requirements. The Federal Trade Commission ("FTC") has adopted regulations implementing COPPA. Certain email activities are subject to the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003, commonly known as the CAN-SPAM Act. The CAN-SPAM Act regulates the sending of unsolicited commercial email by requiring the email sender, among other things, to comply with specific disclosure requirements and to provide an "opt-out" mechanism for recipients. Both of these laws include statutory penalties for non-compliance. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act limits, but does not eliminate, liability for listing or linking to third party websites that may include content that infringes on copyrights or other rights so long as our Internet businesses comply with the statutory requirements. Various states also have adopted laws regulating certain aspects of Internet communications. In 2016, Congress enacted a permanent moratorium on state and local taxes on Internet access and commerce.
Our online commerce businesses also are subject to laws governing the collection, use, retention, security and transfer of personally-identifiable information about their users. In particular, the collection and use of personal information by companies has received increased regulatory scrutiny on a global basis. The enactment, interpretation and application of user data protection laws are in a state of flux, and the interpretation and application of such laws may vary from country to country. For example, the European Union’s (“E.U.”) General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”) which established new data laws that give customers additional rights and impose additional restrictions and penalties on companies for illegal collection and misuse of personal information, took effect in May 2018. Further, in 2015, the Court of Justice of the E.U. invalidated the “Safe Harbor Framework,” which had allowed companies to collect and process
personal data in E.U. nations for use in the U.S. The E.U.-U.S. Privacy Shield which replaced the Safe Harbor Framework became fully operational on August 1, 2016, provided a mechanism to comply with data protection requirements when transferring personal data from the E.U. to the U.S. On July 16, 2020, the Court of Justice of the European Union invalidated the E.U.-U.S. Privacy Shield, and imposed new obligations on the use of Standard Contractual Clauses ("SCCs") - another key mechanism to allow data transfers between the U.S. and the E.U. It is unclear when the U.S. and the E.U. will adopt a new data framework to replace the E.U.-U.S. Privacy Shield. The European Commission has proposed draft revised SCCs, which may be adopted in 2021. The European Commission proposed new regulations in 2017 regarding privacy and electronic communications, which remain pending, including additional regulation of the Internet tracking tools known as “cookies.” Finally, countries in other regions, most notably Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America, are increasingly implementing new privacy regulations, resulting in additional compliance burdens and uncertainty as to how some of these laws will be enforced.
Goods sold over the Internet also must comply with traditional regulatory requirements, such as the FTC requirements regarding truthful and accurate claims. Other Internet-related laws and regulations enacted in the future may cover issues such as defamatory speech, copyright infringement, pricing and characteristics and quality of products and services. The future adoption of such laws or regulations may slow the growth of commercial online services and the Internet, which could in turn cause a decline in the demand for the services and products of our online commerce businesses and increase their costs of doing business or otherwise have an adverse effect on their businesses, operating results and financial conditions. Moreover, the applicability to commercial online services and the Internet of existing laws governing issues such as property ownership, libel, personal privacy and taxation is uncertain and could expose these companies to substantial liability.
In 2015, the FCC adopted open Internet rules that reclassified wireline and wireless broadband services as Title II common carrier services and regulate broadband services offered by Internet service providers (“ISPs”) under Title II, Title III and Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Among other things, the regulations prohibited ISPs from: (1) blocking access to, or impairing or degrading, legal content, applications, services or non-harmful devices; and (2) favoring selected Internet traffic in exchange for consideration. In 2017, the FCC adopted a Declaratory Ruling, Report and Order and Order (“2017 Order”) that, among other things, eliminates these prohibitions. The 2017 Order does require ISPs to disclose information to consumers regarding practices such as throttling, paid prioritization and affiliated prioritization. In 2019, the D.C. Circuit ruled on numerous appeals by interested parties and largely upheld the 2017 Order. However, the D.C. Circuit vacated that portion of the 2017 Order that preempted inconsistent state and local regulations
and remanded the 2017 Order for further consideration of its effects on public safety, pole attachment regulation and the Lifeline support program. On October 27, 2020, the FCC adopted a report and order on remand which affirmed its prior conclusions regarding these issues. The change in administration and the new Congress may lead to new regulation and/or legislation regarding the open Internet rules.
Proposed Changes in Regulation
The regulation of programming services, cable television systems, DBS providers, Internet services, online sales and other forms of product marketing is subject to the political process and has been in constant flux over the past decade. Further material changes in the law and regulatory requirements must be anticipated and there can be no assurance that our business will not be adversely affected by future legislation, new regulation or deregulation.
Our businesses that engage in video and online commerce compete with traditional brick-and-mortar and online retailers ranging from large department stores to specialty shops, electronic retailers, direct marketing retailers, such as mail order and catalog companies, and discount retailers. Due to the nature of these businesses there is not a single or small group of competitors that own a significant portion of the overall market share. However, some of these competitors, such as Amazon and Walmart, have a significantly greater web-presence than our e-commerce subsidiaries and equity affiliates. We believe that the principal competitive factors in the markets in which our electronic commerce businesses compete are high-quality products, brand recognition, selection, value, convenience, price, website performance, customer service and accuracy of order shipment. Our businesses that offer services through the Internet compete with businesses that offer their own services directly through the Internet as well as with traditional offline providers of similar services. We believe that the principal competitive factors in the markets in which our businesses that offer services through the Internet engage are selection, price, availability of inventory, convenience, brand recognition, accessibility, customer service, reliability, website performance, and ease of use.
Headcount. As described above, our Company is party to a Services Agreement with LMC, pursuant to which 84 LMC corporate employees provide certain management services to the Company for a determined fee. As a result, our Company is not responsible for the hiring, retention and compensation of these individuals (except that our Company does grant equity incentive awards to these individuals). However, our Company directly benefits from the efforts undertaken by LMC to attract and retain talented employees. LMC strives to create a diverse, inclusive and supportive workplace, with opportunities for its employees to grow and develop in their careers, supported by competitive compensation, benefits and health and wellness programs, and by programs that build connections between its employees and their communities. Our Company fully supports these efforts.
Additionally, as of December 31, 2020, our consolidated subsidiaries had an aggregate of approximately 26,424 full and part-time employees. Employment levels fluctuate due to seasonal factors affecting our business. Additionally, our consolidated subsidiaries utilize independent contractors and temporary staffing agency personnel to supplement their workforce, particularly on a seasonal basis. We believe that our employee relations are good and a key factor in our workforce strategy.
Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (“DEI”). We are committed to fostering an inclusive culture that ensures fairness and a sense of belonging for our employees, business partners and the customer experiences we offer by leveraging diversity in all its forms to deliver on our promise to continuously exceed expectations. Our DEI commitments focus on the following areas: representation, leadership accountability, culture, consumers & marketplace, community impact, and transparency. We serve a broad and diverse range of customers around the world and we strive to understand the lives they lead in order to deliver authentic customer experiences with meaningful curated products. For this reason, we embrace the benefits that the diverse backgrounds, perspectives and experiences of our employees bring to our culture and the decisions we make. We aim to ensure that we consistently apply a lens of inclusion and equity in our processes and decisions relating to our employees, business partners, products, and customer experiences. We are taking steps to help employees discover new perspectives, build empathy, have critical conversations about race, and support each other. We have launched and
expanded Team Member Resource Groups to promote employee connections, career development, community impact and consumer and marketplace growth. We are delivering our DEI training to all employees via online modules, videos, and e-learning experiences. We are also continuing our efforts to attract and grow diverse talent and suppliers, offer inclusive product assortments, and ensure broad representation in our marketing, digital, and on-air activities.
Employee Engagement and Enablement. To improve employee engagement and enablement, our consolidated subsidiaries conduct an annual employee engagement survey and various pulse surveys throughout the year on topics such as company direction, leadership, culture, performance and rewards, and change management. The results of these surveys are used by management to improve the overall employee experience and retention, as well as help to inform our approach to company programs and practices.
Health and Safety. As a result of the spread of COVID-19, most local, state and federal governmental agencies have imposed travel restrictions and local quarantines or stay at home restrictions to contain the spread. In an effort to minimize the risk of COVID-19 to employees working for our consolidated subsidiaries and the communities in which they operate, the Company mandated that all non-essential employees work from home. For employees who need to perform their jobs on-site, including warehouse and studio production teams at our consolidated subsidiaries, the Company took precautions to protect their health and safety. This included reducing the number of people on-site to allow for more social distancing; limiting visitors and screening all people who come into the Company’s work sites; in addition to elevated cleaning protocols in alignment with the recommended protocols from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Our consolidated subsidiaries have also taken measures to support their employees’ ability to make a living. In addition to offering flexible hours and expanding work-at-home policies, our consolidated subsidiaries have made changes to their attendance policies and are offering additional paid time off options to support certain COVID-19 related absences. Additionally, our consolidated subsidiaries have expanded programs to support their employees, including alternative work arrangements to help families juggling competing work and personal challenges, greater access to home care help, added resources to support mental health, and paid special bonuses for many employees, among a number of other initiatives.
All of our filings with the SEC, including our Form 10-Ks, Form 10-Qs and Form 8-Ks, as well as amendments to such filings are available on our Internet website free of charge generally within 24 hours after we file such material with the SEC. Our website address is www.qurateretail.com.
Our corporate governance guidelines, code of business conduct and ethics, compensation committee charter, nominating and corporate governance committee charter, and audit committee charter are available on our website. In addition, we will provide a copy of any of these documents, free of charge, to any shareholder who calls or submits a request in writing to Investor Relations, Qurate Retail, Inc., 12300 Liberty Boulevard, Englewood, Colorado 80112, Tel. No. (866) 876-0461.
The information contained on our website and the websites of our subsidiaries and affiliated businesses mentioned throughout this report are not incorporated by reference herein.
Item 1A. Risk Factors
The risks described below and elsewhere in this annual report are not the only ones that relate to our businesses or our capitalization. The risks described below are considered to be the most material. However, there may be other unknown or unpredictable economic, business, competitive, regulatory or other factors that also could have material adverse effects on our businesses. Past financial performance may not be a reliable indicator of future performance and historical trends should not be used to anticipate results or trends in future periods. If any of the events described below were to occur, our businesses, prospects, financial condition, results of operations and/or cash flows could be materially adversely affected.
Risks Related to Our Financial Condition and Business
Our subsidiary QVC depends on the television distributors that carry its programming, and no assurance can be given that QVC will be able to maintain and renew its affiliation agreements on favorable terms or at all. QVC currently distributes its programming through affiliation or transmission agreements with many television service providers, including, but not limited to, Comcast, AT&T/DIRECTV, Charter, DISH Network, Verizon, and Cox in the U.S., Vodafone Kabel Deutschland GmbH, Media Broadcast GmbH, SES ASTRA, SES Platform Services GmbH, Telekom Deutschland GmbH, Unitymedia GmbH, Tele Columbus and Primacom in Germany, Jupiter Telecommunications, Ltd., Sky Perfect and World Hi-Vision Channel, Inc. in Japan, A1 Telekom Austria AG and UPC Telekabel Wien GmbH in Austria, British Sky Broadcasting, Freesat, Freeview and Virgin Media in the U.K., and Mediaset, Hot Bird and Sky Italia in Italy. QVC’s affiliation agreements with its distributors are scheduled to expire between 2021 and 2024.
As part of normal course renewal discussions, occasionally QVC has disagreements with its distributors over the terms of its carriage, such as channel placement or other contract terms. If not resolved through business negotiation, such disagreements could result in litigation or termination of an existing agreement. Termination of an existing agreement resulting in the loss of distribution of QVC’s programming to a material portion of its television households may adversely affect its growth, net revenue and earnings.
The renewal negotiation process for affiliation agreements is typically lengthy. In some cases, renewals are not agreed upon prior to the expiration of a given agreement while the programming continues to be carried by the relevant distributor without an effective agreement in place. QVC does not have distribution agreements with some of the cable operators that carry its programming. In total, QVC is currently providing programming without affiliation agreements to distributors representing approximately 6% of its QVC U.S. distribution, and approximately 1% of its HSN distribution. Some of QVC’s international programming may continue to be carried by distributors after the expiration dates on its affiliation agreements with such distributors have passed.
QVC may be unable to obtain renewals with its current distributors on acceptable terms, if at all. QVC may also be unable to successfully negotiate affiliation agreements with new or existing distributors to carry its programming and no assurance can be given that they will be successful in negotiating renewals with these distributors or that the financial and other terms of these renewals will be acceptable. Although QVC considers its current levels of distribution without written agreement to be ordinary course, no assurance can be given that QVC will be successful in negotiating renewals with all these operators or that the financial and other terms of renewal will be on acceptable terms. The failure to successfully renew or negotiate new affiliation agreements covering a material portion of television households on acceptable terms could result in a discontinuation of carriage that may adversely affect its viewership, growth, net revenue and earnings.
The COVID-19 pandemic is negatively impacting our business, key financial and operating metrics, and results of operations in numerous ways that remain unpredictable. In December 2019, a novel coronavirus, COVID-19, was reported to have surfaced in Wuhan, China and has subsequently spread across the world, including to countries in which QxH, QVC International, Zulily and Cornerstone operate. As a result of the spread of COVID-19, most local, state and federal governmental agencies have imposed travel restrictions and local quarantines or stay at home restrictions to contain the spread, which has caused a significant disruption to the global economy. Ongoing or heightened resurgences of COVID-19 in the future or the occurrence of another disaster or crisis could recreate and/or exacerbate the risks and adverse impacts described below. In response to these restrictions and in an effort to minimize the risk of COVID-19 to employees and the communities in which our businesses’ operate, our businesses’ mandated that all non-essential employees work from home
and QVC has reduced the number of employees who are allowed on production sets and has implemented increased cleaning protocols, social distancing measures and temperature screenings for those employees who enter into certain facilities. In some cases, the move to a work from home arrangement for QVC’s non-essential employees will be permanent, which may result in the reduction of office space. QVC has also mandated that all essential employees who do not feel comfortable coming to work will not be required to do so. As a result of these resource constraints, QVC included fewer hours of live programming on some of its secondary channels and has experienced some delays in shipping at certain fulfillment centers. As a result, QVC’s ability to create new content has decreased, and our businesses have had to limit the number of products they are able to promote. Our businesses’ operations could be further disrupted if any of their essential employees were suspected or confirmed of having COVID-19 or other illnesses and such illness required our businesses’ to quarantine some or all such employees or disinfect their locations. In certain markets, our businesses’ temporarily increased the wages and salaries for those employees deemed essential who do not have the ability to work from home, including production and fulfillment center employees, resulting in additional costs to these businesses company. The inability to control the spread of COVID-19, or the expansion or extension of stay at home restrictions could negatively impact our businesses’ results in the future.
Government restrictions may also have an adverse impact on our businesses’ supply chain due to factory closures and labor shortages, resulting in shipping delays and other resource constraints related to the products our businesses import and those our businesses produce domestically. As a result, manufacturers and vendors may be unable to produce and deliver the products our businesses sell, either on a timely basis or at all. Additionally, these factory closures and labor shortages may result in our manufacturers and vendors experiencing financial difficulties, including bankruptcy, or otherwise ceasing to do business with us. The inability of manufacturers and vendors to meet our businesses’ supply needs in a timely manner, or at all, could cause us to shift product promotion to items which are available, but possibly not in demand, which could have a negative impact on sales. Delays by manufacturers and vendors could also result in delays to delivery dates to our businesses’ customers, which could result in the cancellation of orders, customers’ refusal to accept deliveries, a reduction in purchase prices and ultimately, termination of customer relationships. While we believe our businesses can manage their exposure to these risks, we cannot be certain that they will be able to identify alternative sources for their products without delay or without greater cost to them. Although we and our businesses are assessing the impact of these and other macroeconomic trends related to the pandemic, the extent to which COVID-19 impacts our results and financial condition will depend on future developments, such as any new information that may emerge concerning the severity of COVID-19, new strains of the virus and the actions to contain and treat its impacts, among others. There can be no assurance that we will be able to accurately predict or plan for any long term effects on our businesses, and thus the ultimate impact of the pandemic on our businesses, financial condition and result of operations remains uncertain.
These government restrictions, including stay at home restrictions, as well as the various actions we have taken in response to COVID-19, may adversely impact our ability to comply with various legal and contractual obligations and may expose us to increased litigation, including labor and employment claims, breach of contract claims and consumer claims by our customers. Our insurance coverage may not be applicable to, or sufficient to cover, all claims, costs, and damages we may incur as a result of these COVID-19 related claims, which would result in our bearing these costs and which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
In addition, there are several potential adverse impacts of COVID-19 that could cause a material negative impact to our financial results, including our capital and liquidity, for 2021 and beyond. These include the impacts of any recession and other uncertainties with respect to the continuity of government stimulus programs implemented in response to COVID-19; and increased currency volatility resulting in adverse currency rate fluctuations. While the impact is currently uncertain, the inability to control the spread of COVID-19 could cause any one of these adverse impacts, or combination of adverse impacts, to have a material impact on our financial results.
Further, the extent of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our businesses remains fluid and the likelihood of an impact on us that could be material increases the longer the virus impacts activity levels in the locations in which we operate. In particular, the widespread distribution, acceptance and effectiveness of vaccines is highly uncertain and cannot be predicted at this time. Delays in the widespread distribution of vaccines, or lack of public acceptance, could lead people to continue to self-isolate and not participate in the economy at prepandemic levels for a prolonged period of time. Further, even if vaccines are widely distributed and accepted, there can be no assurance that the vaccines will ultimately be
successful in limiting or stopping the spread of COVID-19. Even after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, the U.S. economy and other major global economies may experience a recession, and we anticipate our businesses and operations could be materially adversely affected by a prolonged recession in the U.S. and other major markets.
Our businesses are subject to risks of adverse government regulation. Our programming business QVC markets and provides a broad range of merchandise through television shopping programs and proprietary websites. Similarly, our online commerce business Zulily markets and provides a broad range of merchandise and/or services through its proprietary websites. As a result, our businesses are subject to a wide variety of statutes, rules, regulations, policies and procedures in various jurisdictions, including foreign jurisdictions, which are subject to change at any time, including laws regarding consumer protection, data privacy and security, the regulation of retailers generally, the license requirements for television retailers in foreign jurisdictions, the importation, sale and promotion of merchandise and the operation of retail stores and warehouse facilities, as well as laws and regulations applicable to the Internet and businesses engaged in online commerce, such as those regulating the sending of unsolicited, commercial electronic mail and texts. The failure by our businesses to comply with these laws and regulations could result in a revocation of required licenses, fines and/or proceedings by governmental agencies and/or consumers, which could adversely affect our businesses, financial condition and results of operations. Moreover, unfavorable changes in the laws, rules and regulations applicable to our businesses could decrease demand for our businesses’ products and services, increase costs and/or subject our businesses to additional liabilities. Similarly, new disclosure and reporting requirements, established under existing or new state, federal or foreign laws, such as regulatory rules regarding requirements to disclose efforts to identify the origin and existence of certain “conflict minerals” or abusive labor practices in portions of QVC’s supply chains, could increase the cost of doing business, adversely affecting our results of operations. In addition, certain of these regulations may impact the marketing efforts of our businesses and their brands.
As mentioned above, the manner in which certain of our subsidiaries and business affiliates sell and promote merchandise and related claims and representations made in connection with these efforts is regulated by federal, state and local law, as well as the laws of the foreign countries in which they operate. Certain of our subsidiaries and business affiliates may be exposed to potential liability from claims by purchasers or by regulators and law enforcement agencies, including, but not limited to, claims for personal injury, wrongful death and damage to personal property relating to merchandise sold and misrepresentation of merchandise features and benefits. In certain instances, these subsidiaries and business affiliates have the right to seek indemnification for related liabilities from their respective vendors and may require such vendors to carry minimum levels of product liability and errors and omissions insurance. These vendors, however, may be unable to satisfy indemnification claims, obtain suitable coverage or maintain this coverage on acceptable terms, or insurance may provide inadequate coverage or be unavailable with respect to a particular claim.
In addition, programming services, cable television systems, the Internet, telephony services and satellite service providers are subject to varying degrees of regulation in the U.S. by the FCC and other entities and in foreign countries by similar regulators. Such regulation and legislation are subject to the political process and have been in constant flux over the past decade. In the U.S., the change in administration and a new Congress may lead to new regulation and/or legislation in these areas. The application of various sales and use tax provisions under state, local and foreign law to the products and services of our subsidiaries and certain of our business affiliates sold via the Internet, television and telephone is subject to interpretation by the applicable taxing authorities, and no assurance can be given that such authorities will not take a contrary position to that taken by our subsidiaries and certain of our business affiliates, which could have a material adverse effect on their businesses. In addition, there have been numerous attempts at the federal, state and local levels to impose additional taxes on online commerce transactions. Moreover, most foreign countries in which our subsidiaries or business affiliates have, or may in the future make, an investment, regulate, in varying degrees, the distribution, content and ownership of programming services and foreign investment in programming companies and the Internet.
Certain of our businesses are subject to consent decrees issued by the FTC barring them from making deceptive claims for specified weight-loss products and dietary supplements and prohibiting them from making certain claims about specified weight-loss, dietary supplement and anti-cellulite products unless they have competent and reliable scientific evidence to substantiate such claims. Violation of these consent decrees may result in the imposition of significant civil penalties for non-compliance and related redress to consumers and/or the issuance of an injunction enjoining these businesses from engaging in prohibited activities. Further material changes in the law and increased regulatory requirements must be anticipated, and there can be no assurance that our businesses and or any of our assets will not
become subject to increased expenses or more stringent restrictions as a result of any future legislation, new regulation or deregulation.
Our subsidiaries and business affiliates conduct their businesses under highly competitive conditions. Although QVC is one of the nation’s largest home shopping networks, it has numerous and varied competitors at the national and local levels, ranging from large department stores to specialty shops, electronic retailers, direct marketing retailers, wholesale clubs, discount retailers, infomercial retailers, and Internet retailers. In addition, QVC competes with other televised shopping retailers, such as ShopHQ in the U.S., Shop Channel in Japan, HSE 24 in Germany and Italy, and Ideal World in the U.K., infomercial retailers, Internet retailers, including livestream shopping retailers, and mail-order and catalog companies. QVC also competes for access to customers and audience share with other providers of televised, online and hard copy entertainment and content. Similarly, Zulily and Cornerstone compete with e-commerce businesses such as Amazon.com, Inc. and Alibaba Group, the e-commerce platforms of traditional retailers such as Target Corporation and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., and online marketplaces such as eBay Inc. Cornerstone also competes with other mail-order and catalog companies. Zulily expects increased competition with companies employing a flash sales model as there are no significant barriers to entry. Competition is characterized by many factors, including assortment, advertising, price, quality, services, accessibility, the attractiveness and ease of use of digital platforms, cost and speed of options for delivery, reputation and credit availability, as well as the financial, technical and marketing expertise of competitors. For example, many of our businesses’ competitors have greater resources, longer histories, more customers and greater brand recognition than our businesses do, and competitors may secure better terms from vendors, adopt more aggressive pricing, offer free or subsidized shipping and devote more resources to technology, fulfillment and marketing. In addition, many retailers, especially online retailers with whom our subsidiaries and business affiliates compete, are increasingly offering customers aggressive shipping terms, including free or discounted expedited shipping. As these practices become more prevalent, our subsidiaries and business affiliates may experience further competitive pressures to attract customers and/or to change their shipping programs. Other companies also may enter into business combinations or alliances that strengthen their competitive positions. Such business combinations or alliances may result in competitors with greatly improved financial resources, improved access to merchandise, greater market penetration than they previously enjoyed and other improvements in their competitive positions. This may cause QVC’s customers to elect to purchase products from a competitor that they would have historically purchased from QVC, resulting in less revenue to QVC. If our subsidiaries and business affiliates do not compete effectively with regard to these factors, our results of operations could be materially and adversely affected.
Moreover, although our subsidiaries and business affiliates sell a variety of exclusive products, one of the most significant challenges our subsidiaries and business affiliates face is competition on the basis of price. Price is of great importance to most customers, and price transparency and comparability continues to increase, particularly as a result of digital technology. The ability of consumers to compare prices on a real-time basis puts additional pressure on our subsidiaries and business affiliates to maintain competitive prices. In addition, many retailers, especially online retailers with whom our subsidiaries and business affiliates compete, are increasingly offering customers aggressive shipping terms, including free or discounted expedited shipping. As these practices become more prevalent, our subsidiaries and business affiliates may experience further competitive pressures to attract customers and/or to change their shipping programs. Our subsidiaries and business affiliates ability to be competitive on delivery times and shipping costs depends on many factors, and their failure to successfully manage these factors and offer competitive shipping terms could negatively impact the demand for their products and our profit margins.
The sales and operating results of our businesses depend on their ability to attract new customers, retain existing customers and predict or respond to consumer preferences. In an effort to attract and retain customers, these businesses engage in various merchandising and marketing initiatives, which involve the expenditure of money and resources. For example, QVC and Cornerstone have spent, and expect to continue to spend, increasing amounts of money on, and devote greater resources to, certain of these initiatives, particularly in connection with the growth and maintenance of their brands generally, as well as in the continuing efforts of their businesses to increasingly engage customers through online digital marketing. These initiatives, however, may not resonate with existing customers or consumers generally or may not be cost-effective. In addition, costs associated with the production and distribution of television programming (in the case of QVC), paper and printing costs for catalogs (in the case of Cornerstone) and costs associated with digital marketing, including marketing on third-party platforms such as Google and Facebook, have increased and are likely to continue to increase in the foreseeable future and, if significant, could have a material adverse effect to the extent that they do not
result in corresponding increases in net revenue. These companies also continuously develop new retail concepts and adjust their product mix in an effort to satisfy customer demands. Any sustained failure to identify and respond to emerging trends in lifestyle and consumer preferences could have a material adverse effect on the businesses of these subsidiaries and business affiliates. Consumer spending may be affected by many factors outside of their control, including competition from store-based retailers, mail-order and third-party Internet companies, consumer confidence and preferences, and general economic conditions.
In addition, the stay at home restrictions imposed in response to COVID-19 that led many traditional brick and mortar retailers to temporarily closed their stores have allowed distance retailers, such as QVC and Zulily, to continue operating. As a result, QVC has experienced an increase in new customers and an increase in demand for certain categories, such as home and electronics. However, QVC may not be able to retain these new customers after the pandemic subsides and any increases in demand in product categories during the pandemic may be temporary.
We depend on the continued growth of e-commerce in general and Zulily depends on the flash sales model in particular. The business of selling products over the Internet, particularly on the flash sales model, is dynamic and evolving. The market segment for the flash sales model has grown significantly, and this growth may not be sustainable. If customers cease to find the flash sales model shopping experience fun, entertaining and a good value, or otherwise lose interest in shopping in this manner, Zulily may not acquire new customers at rates consistent with its historical or projected periods, and existing customers’ buying patterns and levels may be less than historical or projected rates. If Zulily is unable to successfully deliver emails or mobile alerts to its subscribers, or if subscribers decline to open its emails or mobile alerts, Zulily’s net sales and profitability would be adversely affected. In addition, changes in how webmail application providers, such as Google Inc. and Yahoo! Inc., prioritize, filter and deliver email may also reduce the number of subscribers opening Zulily’s emails which may also result in a decline in net sales. If the market segment for the flash sales model were to become saturated or decline overall, Zulily may not be able to acquire new customers or engage existing customers, which could adversely affect our financial condition and operating results.
The failure of our subsidiary QVC to maintain suitable placement for its programming or to adapt to changes in consumer behavior driven by online video distribution platforms for viewing content could adversely affect its ability to attract and retain television viewers and could result in a decrease in revenue. QVC is dependent upon the continued ability of its programming to compete for viewers. Effectively competing for television viewers is dependent, in substantial part, on its ability to negotiate and maintain placement of its programming at a favorable channel position, such as in a basic tier or within a general entertainment or general broadcasting tier. Less favorable channel position for QVC’s programming, such as placement adjacent to programming that does not complement its programming, a position next to its televised home shopping competitors or isolation in a "shopping" tier could adversely affect QVC’s ability to attract television viewers to its programming. In addition, if QVC’s programming is carried exclusively by a distributor on a digital programming tier, QVC may experience a reduction in revenue to the extent that the digital programming tier has less television viewer penetration than the basic or expanded basic programming tier. QVC may experience a further reduction in revenue due to increased television viewing audience fragmentation to the extent that not all television sets within a digital cable home are equipped to receive television programming in a digital format.
Changes in consumer behavior driven by online video distribution platforms for viewing content may have an adverse impact on QVC’s business. Distribution platforms for viewing content over the internet have been, and will likely continue to be, developed that further increase the competition for viewers of programming. These distribution platforms are driving changes in consumer behavior as consumers seek more control over when, where and how they consume content.
Consumers are increasingly turning to online sources for viewing content, which has and likely will continue to reduce the number of viewers of our television programming. Although QVC has attempted to adapt its offerings to changing consumer behaviors, virtual multichannel video providers, online video distributors and programming networks providing their content directly to consumers over the internet rather than through traditional television services continue to emerge, gain consumer acceptance and disrupt traditional television distribution services, which QVC relies on for the distribution of its television programming.
An increasing number of companies offering streaming services, including some with exclusive high-quality original video programming, as well as programming networks offering content directly to consumers over the internet, have increased the number of entertainment choices available to consumers, which has intensified audience fragmentation. The
increase in entertainment choices adversely affects the viewership of our programming. Additionally, time-shifting technologies, such as video on demand services and DVR and cloud-based recording services, could adversely affect QVC’s ability to attract television viewers to its programming.
QVC’s future success will depend, in part, on its ability to anticipate and adapt to technological changes and to offer elements of its programming via new technologies in a cost-effective manner that meet customer demands and evolving industry standards. QVC’s failure to effectively anticipate or adapt to emerging technologies or competitors or changes in consumer behavior, including among younger consumers, could have an adverse effect on QVC’s competitive position, businesses and results of operations.
Any continued or permanent inability of QVC to transmit its programming via satellite would result in lost revenue and could result in lost customers. The success of our subsidiary QVC is dependent upon its continued ability to transmit its programming to television providers from its satellite uplink facilities, and for QVC’s distributors to continue to receive its programming at its satellite earth station downlink facilities. These transmissions are subject to FCC regulation and compliance in the U.S. and foreign regulatory requirements in QVC’s international operations. In most cases, QVC has entered into long-term satellite transponder leases to provide for continued carriage of its programming on replacement transponders and/or replacement satellites, as applicable, in the event of a failure of either the transponders and/or satellites currently carrying its programming. Although QVC believes that it takes reasonable and customary measures to ensure continued satellite transmission capability and believes that these international transponder service agreements can be renewed (or replaced, if necessary) in the ordinary course of business, termination or interruption of satellite transmissions may occur, particularly if QVC is not able to successfully negotiate renewals or replacements of any of its expiring transponder service agreements in the future.
In order to free up additional spectrum for the provision of next generation commercial wireless broadband services, commonly referred to as 5G, the FCC has adopted rules to reallocate for 5G a portion of the 500 MHz in the 3.7 to 4.2 GHz (“C-Band”) spectrum, which is currently used for the delivery of QVC’s programming, and other video programming, to its distributors’ satellite earth stations. The FCC has established December 5, 2025 as the deadline for the relocation of the C-Band. QVC has worked closely with its satellite uplink and downlink operators in an effort to minimize disruptions to QVC’s television programming distribution operations that might result from the conversion of those portions of C-Band to 5G usage. However, QVC can give no assurance that there will not be any disruptions to QVC’s television programming distribution operations during this transition.
Our subsidiaries offer their installment payment option on most of their merchandise and, in certain circumstances offer it as the default payment option. The failure of our subsidiaries QVC U.S., QVC International, HSN and Zulily to effectively manage the Easy-Pay, Flexpay, Smart-Pay and revolving credit card programs as applicable, could negatively impact our results of operations. QVC offers an installment payment option in all of its markets other than Japan, which is available on certain merchandise it sells. This installment payment option is called “Easy-Pay” at QVC-U.S. and in the U.K., “Q-Pay” in Germany and Italy, and “Flex-Pay” at HSN. QVC’s installment payment option is currently offered on most of its merchandise and for QVC U.S. website and mobile sales and QVC U.K. mobile sales, is set as the default payment option on all products on which it is offered. Full payment for merchandise at the time of sale would require the customer to affirmatively change to that option. QVC’s installment payment option, when offered, allows customers to pay for certain merchandise in multiple interest-free monthly installments. When the installment payment option is offered by QVC U.S. and QVC International and elected by the customer (or if the customer inadvertently purchases merchandise using the installment payment option because it was the default payment option), the first installment is typically billed to the customer’s credit or debit card upon shipment. Generally, the customer’s credit or debit card is subsequently billed in additional monthly installments until the total purchase price of the products has been billed. QVC U.S. and QVC International cannot predict whether customers will pay their installments when due or at all, especially during the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, regardless of whether the customer would have preferred to pay in one lump-sum but did not opt out of the installment payment option. Accordingly, QVC maintains an allowance for customer bad debts arising from these late and unpaid installments. This provision for customer bad debts is provided as a percentage of accounts receivable based on QVC’s historical experience in the period of sale and is included within selling, general and administrative expense. To the extent that customers elect installment payment options at greater rates, or to the extent the number of customers failing to opt out of the default installment payment option increases, QVC would be
required to maintain a greater allowance for customer bad debt and to the extent that installment payment option losses exceed historical levels, our and QVC’s results of operations may be negatively impacted.
Zulily offers Smart-pay, a program which customers may pay for certain merchandise in two or three payments. Zulily maintains allowances for estimated losses resulting from the inability of customers to make required payments. Actual losses due to the inability of customers to make required payments may increase in a given period or exceed related estimates. Zulily may experience these losses at greater rates, which will require it to maintain greater allowances for doubtful accounts of estimated losses than it has historically.
Federal and state rules and regulations governing various consumer lending practices apply in the jurisdictions where we operate. Although we do not charge interest or impose finance charges as part of our installment payment option, changes in how these rules are interpreted and applied could result in changes to our installment program, and failure to comply with these rules and regulations could result in the imposition of fines and penalties, any of which could have an adverse effect on our results of operations.
In addition, QVC U.S., HSN and Zulily have agreements with a large consumer financial institution (the “Bank”) pursuant to which the Bank provides revolving credit directly to U.S. customers for the sole purpose of purchasing merchandise from QVC U.S., HSN and Zulily with a branded credit card (For QVC U.S. the “Q Card”, for HSN the “HSN Credit Card” and for Zulily the “Zulily Credit Card”). We cannot predict the extent to which QVC U.S., HSN and Zulily’s customers will use the Q Card, the HSN Credit Card, or the Zulily Credit Card nor the extent that they will make payments on their outstanding balances, especially during the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. As QVC receives a portion of the net economics from the credit card program, the ability of customers to make payments on their outstanding balances due to circumstances related to the pandemic could result in reduced private label credit card income from the financial institution providing the revolving credit to our customers.
Certain of our subsidiaries and business affiliates may fail to adequately protect their intellectual property rights or may be accused of infringing intellectual property rights of third parties. Our subsidiaries and business affiliates regard their respective intellectual property rights, including service marks, tradenames and domain names, copyrights (including their programming and their websites), trade secrets and similar intellectual property, as critical to their success. These businesses also rely heavily upon software codes, informational databases and other components that make up their products and services. From time to time, these businesses are subject to legal proceedings and claims in the ordinary course of business, including claims of alleged infringement of the tradenames, patents, copyrights and other intellectual property rights of third parties. In addition, litigation may be necessary to enforce the intellectual property rights of these businesses, protect trade secrets or to determine the validity and scope of proprietary rights claimed by others. Any litigation of this nature, regardless of outcome or merit, could result in substantial costs and diversion of management and technical resources, any of which could adversely affect the business, financial condition and results of operations of these businesses and in turn our financial condition and results of operations. The failure of these businesses to protect their intellectual property rights, particularly their proprietary brands, in a meaningful manner or third party challenges to related contractual rights could result in erosion of brand names and limit the ability of these businesses to control marketing on or through the Internet using their various domain names, which could adversely affect the business, financial condition and results of operations of these businesses, as well as the financial condition and results of operations of our company.
Natural disasters, political crises, and other catastrophic events or other events outside of our control may damage our facilities or the facilities of third parties on which we depend, and could impact consumer spending. Our businesses operate regional headquarters and administrative offices, distribution centers and call centers worldwide. If any of these facilities or the facilities of our businesses’ vendors or third-party service providers are affected by natural disasters (such as earthquakes, tsunamis, power shortages or outages, floods or monsoons), public health crises (such as pandemics and epidemics), political crises (such as terrorism, war, political instability or other conflict), or other events outside of our businesses’ control, our businesses, financial condition and results of operations could be materially adversely affected. In addition, any of these events occurring at our or our businesses’ vendors’ facilities also could impact our businesses’ reputations and their customers’ perception of the products they sell, and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations. Moreover, these types of events could negatively impact consumer spending in the impacted regions or depending upon the severity, globally, which could adversely impact our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Risks Related to Technology and Information Security
Rapid technological advances could render the products and services offered by our subsidiaries and our business affiliates obsolete or non-competitive. Our subsidiaries and business affiliates must stay abreast of rapidly evolving technological developments and offerings to remain competitive and increase the utility of their products and services. As their operations grow in size and scope, our subsidiaries and business affiliates must continuously improve and upgrade their systems and infrastructure while maintaining or improving the reliability and integrity of their systems and infrastructure. These subsidiaries and business affiliates must be able to incorporate new technologies into their products and services in order to address the needs of their customers. The emergence of alternative platforms such as mobile and tablet computing devices and the emergence of niche competitors who may be able to optimize products, services or strategies for such platforms will require new investment in technology. New developments in other areas, such as cloud computing, could also make it easier for competition to enter their markets due to lower up-front technology costs. There can be no assurance that our subsidiaries and business affiliates will be able to compete with advancing technology or be able to maintain existing systems or replace or introduce new technologies and systems as quickly as they would like or in a cost-effective manner, and any failure to do so could result in customers seeking alternative products or service providers, thereby adversely impacting our revenue and operating income.
Our businesses could be negatively affected by changes in third-party digital platform algorithms and dynamics as well as their inability to monetize the resulting web traffic. The success of our online commerce businesses depends on a high degree of website traffic, which is dependent on many factors, including the availability of appealing website content, user loyalty and new user generation from various digital marketing channels that charge a fee. Third-party digital platforms, such as Google and Facebook, frequently update and change the logic that determines the placement and display of results of a user’s search, or advertiser content, such that the purchased or algorithmic placement of advertisements or links to the websites of our online commerce businesses can be negatively affected. If a major search engine or third-party digital platform changes its algorithms in a manner that negatively affects their paid advertisement distribution or unpaid search ranking, the business and financial performance of our online commerce businesses would be adversely affected, potentially to a material extent. Additionally, Mobile application distribution platforms, such as Apple’s App Store and the Amazon Appstore for Android, may require that third party digital platforms and ecommerce companies present users with an option where the user chooses to opt-in or opt-out of tracking technology used by these third party digital platforms or included in mobile applications. To the extent that users opt-out of tracking technology used by third party digital platforms on which our online commerce businesses advertise or users of our online commerce businesses’ applications opt-out of tracking technology included in our online commerce businesses’ applications, the ability to monitor and improve customer experience and track the effectiveness of our online commerce businesses’ digital marketing strategies would be adversely impacted. Furthermore, the failure of our online commerce businesses to successfully manage their digital marketing strategies could result in a substantial decrease in traffic to their websites, as well as increased costs if they were to replace free traffic with paid traffic. Even if our online commerce businesses are successful in generating a high level of website traffic, no assurance can be given that our online commerce businesses will be successful in achieving repeat user loyalty or that new visitors will explore the offerings on their sites. Monetizing this traffic by converting users to consumers is dependent on many factors, including availability of inventory, consumer preferences, price, ease of use and website quality. No assurance can be given that the fees paid to third-party digital platforms will not exceed the revenue generated by their visitors. Any failure to sustain user traffic or to monetize such traffic could materially adversely affect the financial performance of our online commerce businesses and, as a result, adversely affect our financial results.
System interruption and the lack of integration and redundancy in the systems and infrastructures of our subsidiary QVC and our other online commerce and catalog businesses may adversely affect their ability to, as applicable, operate their businesses, transmit their television programs, operate websites, process and fulfill transactions, respond to customer inquiries and generally maintain cost-efficient operations. The success of our subsidiaries and business affiliates depends, in part, on their ability to maintain the integrity of their transmissions, systems and infrastructures, including the transmission of television programs (in the case of QVC), as well as their websites, information and related systems, call centers and fulfillment facilities. These subsidiaries and business affiliates may experience occasional system interruptions that make some or all transmissions, systems or data unavailable or prevent them from transmitting their signals or efficiently providing services or fulfilling orders, as the case may be. QVC is in the process of implementing new technology systems and upgrading others. The failure to properly implement new systems or delays in implementing new systems could impair the ability of our subsidiaries and business affiliates to provide services and content, fulfill orders and/or process transactions. Each of QVC and Cornerstone also rely on affiliate and third-party computer systems, broadband, transmission and other communications systems and service providers in connection with the transmission of its respective signals, as well as to facilitate, process and fulfill transactions. Any interruptions, outages or delays in its signal transmissions, systems and infrastructures, or any deterioration in the performance of these transmissions, systems and infrastructures, could impair its ability to provide services, fulfill orders and/or process transactions. Fire, flood, power loss, telecommunications failure, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, acts of war or terrorism, acts of God and similar events or disruptions may damage or interrupt television transmissions, computer, broadband or other communications systems and infrastructures at any time. These risks are exacerbated by our businesses’ move to a more remote workforce in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Any of these events could cause transmission or system interruption, delays and loss of critical data, and could prevent our subsidiaries and business affiliates from providing services, fulfilling orders and/or processing transactions. While our subsidiaries and business affiliates have backup systems for certain aspects of their operations, these systems are not fully redundant and disaster recovery planning is not sufficient for all possible risks. In addition, some of our subsidiaries and business affiliates may not have adequate insurance coverage to compensate for losses from a major interruption.
CCPA took effect on January 1, 2020. The California Attorney General has issued regulations and guidance regarding the law. In November 2020, California voters approved the California Privacy Rights Act of 2020 (“CPRA”), which amends and expands the CCPA and establishes the California Privacy Protection Agency to implement and enforce consumer privacy laws. Most of the CPRA’s provisions become effective on January 1, 2023. Other states in the U.S. are also separately proposing laws to regulate privacy and security of personal data. QVC’s, Cornerstone’s and Zulily’s failure, and/or the failure by the various third party vendors and service providers with which QVC, Cornerstone and Zulily do business, to comply with applicable privacy policies or federal, state or similar international laws and regulations, or changes in applicable laws and regulations, or any compromise of security that results in the unauthorized release of personally identifiable information or other user data could damage QVC’s, Cornerstone’s and Zulily’s reputations and the reputation of their third party vendors and service providers, discourage potential users from trying their products and services and/or result in fines and/or proceedings by governmental agencies and/or consumers, any one or all of which could adversely affect QVC’s, Cornerstone’s and Zulily’s business, financial condition and results of operations and, as a result, our company. In addition, we, our subsidiaries or our business affiliates may not have adequate insurance coverage to compensate for losses.
Our businesses may experience difficulty in the ongoing development, implementation and customer acceptance of applications for personal electronic devices, which could harm their business. Although our online commerce businesses have developed services and applications to address user and consumer interaction with website content on personal electronic devices, such as smartphones and tablets, the ways in which consumers use or rely on these personal electronic devices is continually changing. If the services or applications we develop in response to changes in consumer behavior are less effective or are not accepted by consumers, our online commerce businesses may experience difficulty attracting and retaining traffic and, in turn, advertisers, on these platforms. Any failure to attract and retain traffic on these personal electronic devices could materially adversely affect the financial performance of our online commerce businesses and, as a result, adversely affect our financial results. Additionally, as new devices and new platforms are continually being released, it is difficult to predict the challenges that may be encountered in developing versions of our online commerce businesses’ offerings for use on these alternative devices, and our online commerce businesses may need to devote significant resources to the creation, support, and maintenance of their services on such devices. To the extent that revenue generated from advertising placed on smartphone computing devices becomes increasingly more important to their businesses and they fail to adequately evolve and address this market, their business and financial performance could be negatively impacted.
Our businesses are subject to security risks, including security breaches and identity theft. Through their operations, sales, marketing activities, and use of third-party information, our businesses collect and store certain non-public personal information that customers provide to purchase products, enroll in promotional programs, register on websites, or otherwise communicate to them. This may include phone numbers, driver license numbers, contact preferences, personal information stored on electronic devices, and payment information, including credit and debit card data. Our businesses gather and retain information about employees in the normal course of business. Our businesses may share information about such persons with vendors, contractors and other third-parties that assist with certain aspects of their business. In addition, our businesses’ online operations depend upon the transmission of confidential information over the Internet, such as information permitting cashless payments. Unauthorized parties may attempt to gain access to our businesses’ or our businesses’ vendors’ systems by, among other things, hacking into our businesses’ systems or those of our businesses’ partners or vendors, through fraud or other means of deceiving our businesses’ employees, partners or vendors, burglaries, errors by our or our vendors’ employees, misappropriation of data by employees, vendors or unaffiliated third-parties, or other irregularities that may result in persons obtaining unauthorized access to our businesses’ data. As our businesses have significantly increased the number of employees working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and as our businesses’ vendors and other business partners move to remote work as well, our businesses and our businesses’ partners may be more vulnerable to cyber attacks. The techniques used to gain such access to our businesses’ or our businesses’ vendors’ information technology systems, our businesses’ data or customers’ data, disable or degrade service, or sabotage systems are constantly evolving, may be difficult to detect quickly, and often are not recognized until launched against a target. Increasingly, unauthorized parties are exploiting access they gain to third party vendors to target companies that do business with these vendors, this may include third party vendors with whom we do business. Our businesses have implemented systems and processes intended to secure their information technology systems and prevent unauthorized access to or loss of sensitive data, but as with all companies, these security measures may not be sufficient for all eventualities and there is no guarantee that they will be adequate to safeguard against all cyber attacks,
system compromises or misuses of data. Although we have not detected a material security breach or cybersecurity incident to date, we have been the target of events of this nature and expect to be subject to similar attacks in the future. Any penetration of network security or other misappropriation or misuse of customer, employee or other personal information, whether at our businesses’ or any of our businesses’ vendors, could cause interruptions in the operations of our businesses and subject them to increased costs, fines, litigation, regulatory actions and other liabilities. Security breaches could also significantly damage their reputation with their customers and third parties with whom they do business, which could result in lost sales and customer and vendor attrition. Our businesses continue to invest in new and emerging technology and other solutions to protect their retail commerce websites, mobile commerce applications and information systems, but there can be no assurance that these investments and solutions will prevent any of the risks described above. If our businesses are unable to maintain the security of their retail commerce websites and mobile commerce applications, they could suffer loss of sales, reductions in traffic, diversion of management attention, and deterioration of their competitive position and incur liability for any damage to customers whose personal information is unlawfully obtained and used. Our businesses may be required to expend significant additional capital and other resources to protect against and remedy any potential or existing security breaches and their consequences, such as additional infrastructure capacity spending to mitigate any system degradation and the reallocation of resources from development activities. Our businesses also face similar risks associated with security breaches affecting third parties with which they are affiliated or otherwise conduct business. The loss of confidence in our online commerce businesses resulting from any such security breaches or identity theft could adversely affect the business, financial condition and results of operations of our online commerce businesses and, as a result, our company.
Risks Related to Third Parties Suppliers and Vendors
Our programming and online commerce businesses rely on distribution facilities to operate their business, and any damage to one of these facilities, or any disruptions caused by incorporating new facilities into their operations, could have a material adverse impact on their business. Our programming and online commerce businesses operate a limited number of distribution facilities worldwide. Their ability to meet the needs of their customers depends on the proper operation of these distribution facilities. If any of these distribution facilities were to shut down or otherwise become inoperable or inaccessible for any reason, these businesses could suffer a substantial loss of inventory and disruptions of deliveries to their customers. For example, any resurgence of COVID-19 in the areas where these distribution facilities are located, or if these businesses are unable to adequately staff the distribution facilities to meet demand in the future, or if the cost of such staffing is higher than historical or projected costs due to wage increases, regulatory changes, or other factors, could harm our operating results. In addition, they could incur significantly higher costs and longer lead times associated with the distribution of their products during the time it takes to reopen or replace the impacted facility. Any of the foregoing factors could result in decreased sales and have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and operating results. In addition, these businesses have been implementing new warehouse management systems to further support their efforts to operate with increased efficiency and flexibility. There are risks inherent in operating in new distribution environments and implementing new warehouse management systems, including operational difficulties that may arise with such transitions. Our businesses may experience shipping delays should there be any disruptions in their new warehouse management systems or warehouses themselves.
In October 2018, we announced that our HSN and QVC U.S. business units would be opening a new distribution facility in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in 2019 and that we anticipated closing distribution facilities in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Roanoke, Virginia, and Greeneville, Tennessee in 2020. In late 2019, QVC began shipping customer orders from its Bethlehem distribution center, but it is not operating at full capacity. Difficulties experienced in increasing shipping volumes from the Bethlehem distribution center as a result of the package handling equipment or warehouse management systems not performing as anticipated, has caused delays in the Bethlehem distribution center operating at full capacity. Delays in the Bethlehem distribution center operating at full capacity could cause delays in closing other facilities, including the Lancaster, Pennsylvania facility. Delays in closing these facilities or disruptions caused by transitioning order fulfillment operations or returns processing from closing facilities to other facilities may increase operating expenses for these businesses, cause disruptions to their order fulfillment processes and cause delays in delivering product to customers which would result in lost sales, strain relationships with customers, and cause harm to our businesses’ reputations, any of which could have a material adverse impact on our business, financial condition and operating results.
Our home television and online commerce businesses rely on independent shipping companies to deliver the products they sell. Our home television and online commerce businesses rely on third party carriers to deliver merchandise from vendors and manufacturers to them and to ship merchandise to their customers. As a result, they are subject to carrier disruptions and delays due to factors that are beyond their control, including employee strikes, inclement weather and regulation and enforcement actions by customs agencies. For example, as a result of COVID-19 many consumers have significantly increased their use of ecommerce which has resulted in a significant increase in the volume of packages handled by third-party carriers, including those our businesses rely on, which could cause our businesses to experience delays in merchandise and cause our businesses’ customers to experience delays in their order delivery. Any failure to deliver products to their customers in a timely and accurate manner may damage their reputation and brand and could cause them to lose customers. Enforcement actions by customs agencies can also cause the costs of imported goods to increase, negatively affecting profits. These businesses are also impacted by increases in shipping rates charged by third party carriers, which over the past few years have increased significantly in comparison to historical levels, and it is currently expected that shipping and postal rates will continue to increase. In the case of deliveries to customers, in each market where they operate, they have negotiated agreements with one or more independent, third party shipping companies, which in certain circumstances provide for favorable shipping rates. If any of these relationships were to terminate or if a shipping company was unable to fulfill its obligations under its contract for any reason, these businesses would have to work with other shipping companies to deliver merchandise to customers, which would most likely be at less favorable rates. Other potential adverse consequences of changing carriers include reduced visibility of order status and package tracking, delays in order processing and product delivery, and reduced shipment quality, which may result in damaged products and customer dissatisfaction. Any increase in shipping rates and related fuel and other surcharges passed on to these businesses by their current carriers or any other shipping company would adversely impact profits, given that these businesses may not be able to pass these increased costs directly to customers or offset them by increasing prices without a detrimental effect on customer demand.
Our programming and online commerce businesses depend on their relationships with third party suppliers and vendors and any adverse changes in these relationships could adversely affect our results of operations. An important component of the success of our programming and online commerce businesses is their ability to maintain their existing, as well as build new, relationships with a limited number of local and foreign suppliers, manufacturers and vendors, among other parties. There can be no assurance that our subsidiaries and business affiliates will be able to maintain their existing supplier or vendor arrangements on commercially reasonable terms or at all or, with respect to goods sourced from foreign markets, if the supply costs will remain stable. In addition, our subsidiaries and business affiliates cannot guarantee that goods produced and delivered by third parties will meet applicable quality standards, which is impacted by a number of factors, some of which are not within the control of these parties. Adverse changes in existing relationships or the inability to enter into new arrangements with these parties on favorable terms, if at all, could result in lost sales or cause a failure to meet customer expectations and timely delivery of products, which could in turn have a significant adverse effect on our results of operations.
The unanticipated loss of certain larger vendors or the consolidation of our programming and online commerce businesses’ vendors could negatively impact their sales and profitability on a short term basis. It is possible that one or more of the larger vendors for our programming and online commerce businesses could experience financial difficulties, including bankruptcy, or otherwise could elect to cease doing business with our businesses. While these businesses have periodically experienced the loss of a major vendor, if multiple major vendors ceased doing business with these businesses, or did not perform consistently with past practice, this could have a material adverse impact on our business, financial condition and operating results. Further, there has been a trend among these vendors towards consolidation in recent years that may continue. This consolidation could exacerbate the foregoing risks and increase these vendors’ bargaining power and their ability to demand terms that are less favorable to our businesses.
Risks Related to the Seasonality of Our Business
Certain of our businesses face significant inventory risk. Certain of our businesses are exposed to significant inventory risks that may adversely affect their operating results as a result of seasonality, new product launches, rapid changes in product cycles and pricing, defective merchandise, changes in consumer demand, consumer spending patterns, changes in consumer tastes with respect to their products, spoilage, and other factors. For example, the COVID-19
pandemic has resulted in significant changes to daily life, working arrangements, and social events, which has impacted the type of products our businesses’ consumers seek to purchase. There is significant uncertainty over potential changes in consumer behavior and shopping patterns as the COVID-19 pandemic continues and as different regions experience heightened resurgences. These businesses endeavor to accurately predict these trends and avoid overstocking or understocking products they sell. Demand for products, however, can change significantly between the time inventory or components are ordered and the date of sale. In addition, when these businesses begin selling a new product, it may be difficult to establish vendor relationships, determine appropriate product or component selection, and accurately forecast demand. The acquisition of certain types of inventory or components may require significant lead-time and prepayment and they may not be returnable. These businesses carry a broad selection and significant inventory levels of certain products, such as consumer electronics, and at times they may be unable to sell products in sufficient quantities or to meet demand during the relevant selling seasons. Any one of the inventory risk factors set forth above may adversely affect their operating results.
The seasonality of certain of our businesses places increased strain on their operations. The net revenue of our home television and online commerce businesses in recent years indicates that these businesses are seasonal due to a higher volume of sales in certain months or calendar quarters or related to particular holiday shopping. For example, in recent years, QVC has earned, on average, between 21% and 24% of its global revenue in each of the first three quarters of the year and 32% of its global revenue in the fourth quarter of the year. Similarly, our subsidiary Cornerstone experiences higher sales volume during the second and fourth quarters of the year. Our subsidiary Zulily experiences a stronger third quarter during the back-to-school shopping season and stronger fourth quarter due to the holiday shopping season. If the vendors for these businesses are not able to provide popular products in sufficient amounts (for example, due to the illness or absenteeism of the vendors’ workforces, government mandated shutdown orders, impaired financial conditions or other reasons resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic) such that these businesses fail to meet customer demand, it could significantly affect their revenue and future growth. The supply of such products may not return to pre-COVID-19 levels, and if so, product supplies may return to pre-COVID-19 levels at different times, and our efforts to ensure popular products are in stock may not be successful. If too many customers access the websites of these businesses within a short period of time due to increased demand, our businesses may experience system interruptions that make their websites unavailable or prevent them from efficiently fulfilling orders, which may reduce the volume of goods they offer or sell and the attractiveness of their products and services. In addition, they may be unable to adequately staff their fulfillment networks and customer service centers during these peak periods and delivery and other third party shipping (or carrier) companies may be unable to meet the seasonal demand. Risks described elsewhere in this Part I, Item 1A relating to fulfillment network optimization and inventory are magnified during periods of high demand. To the extent these businesses pay for holiday merchandise in advance of certain holidays (e.g., in the case of QVC, in August through November of each year), their available cash may decrease, resulting in less liquidity.
Risks Related to Management and Key Personnel
The success of our home television and online commerce businesses depends in large part on their ability to recruit and retain key personnel capable of executing their unique business models. Our home television and online commerce subsidiaries and business affiliates have business models that require them to recruit and retain key employees, including management, with the skills necessary for a unique business that demands knowledge of the general retail industry, television production, direct to consumer marketing and fulfillment and the Internet. We cannot assure you that if these subsidiaries and business affiliates experience turnover of these key employees they will be able to recruit and retain acceptable replacements because the market for such employees is very competitive and limited. As previously announced, Michael A. George, President and Chief Executive Officer of Qurate Retail and QVC, intends to retire on December 31, 2021. Although a search is underway for Mr. George’s successor, no assurance can be given as to when a suitable replacement will be found.
We have overlapping directors and officers with Liberty Media Corporation (“LMC”), Liberty TripAdvisor Holdings, Inc. (“TripAdvisor Holdings”), Liberty Broadband, and Liberty Media Acquisition Corporation (“LMAC”), which may lead to conflicting interests. As a result of certain transactions that occurred between 2011 and 2018 that resulted in the separate corporate existence of our company, LMC, TripAdvisor Holdings and Liberty Broadband as well as the initial public offering of LMC’s subsidiary, LMAC, in January 2021, all of the executive officers of Qurate Retail also serve as executive officers of LMC, TripAdvisor Holdings, Liberty Broadband and LMAC and there are overlapping
directors. Other than LMC’s ownership of LMAC’s sponsor, which beneficially owns 20% of LMAC’s outstanding common stock as of January 26, 2021, none of the foregoing companies has any ownership interest in any of the others. Our executive officers and the members of our company’s board of directors have fiduciary duties to our stockholders. Likewise, any such persons who serve in similar capacities at LMC, TripAdvisor Holdings, Liberty Broadband or LMAC have fiduciary duties to that company’s stockholders. Therefore, such persons may have conflicts of interest or the appearance of conflicts of interest with respect to matters involving or affecting more than one of the companies to which they owe fiduciary duties. For example, there may be the potential for a conflict of interest when our company, LMC, TripAdvisor Holdings, Liberty Broadband or LMAC looks at acquisitions and other corporate opportunities that may be suitable for each of them. Moreover, most of our company's directors and officers own LMC, TripAdvisor Holdings, Liberty Broadband and/or LMAC stock and equity awards. These ownership interests could create, or appear to create, potential conflicts of interest when the applicable individuals are faced with decisions that could have different implications for our company, LMC, TripAdvisor Holdings, Liberty Broadband and/or LMAC. Any potential conflict that qualifies as a "related party transaction" (as defined in Item 404 of Regulation S-K under the Securities Act of 1933, as amended) is subject to review by an independent committee of the applicable issuer's board of directors in accordance with its corporate governance guidelines. Each of Liberty Broadband, TripAdvisor Holdings and LMAC has renounced its rights to certain business opportunities and their respective restated certificate of incorporation contains provisions deeming directors and officers not in breach of their fiduciary duties in certain cases for directing a corporate opportunity to another person or entity (including LMC, TripAdvisor Holdings, Liberty Broadband and LMAC) instead of such company. Any other potential conflicts that arise will be addressed on a case-by-case basis, keeping in mind the applicable fiduciary duties owed by the executive officers and directors of each issuer. From time to time, we may enter into transactions with LMC, TripAdvisor Holdings, Liberty Broadband or LMAC and/or their subsidiaries or other affiliates. There can be no assurance that the terms of any such transactions will be as favorable to our company, LMC, TripAdvisor Holdings, Liberty Broadband or LMAC or any of their respective subsidiaries or affiliates as would be the case where there is no overlapping officer or director.
Risks Related to Economic Conditions
Certain of our subsidiaries and business affiliates have operations outside of the U.S. that are subject to numerous operational and financial risks. Certain of our subsidiaries and business affiliates have operations in countries other than the U.S. that are subject to the following risks inherent in international operations:
|●||fluctuations in currency exchange rates;|
|●||longer payment cycles for sales in foreign countries that may increase the uncertainty associated with recoverable accounts;|
|●||recessionary conditions and economic instability, including fiscal policies that are implementing austerity measures in certain countries, which are affecting overseas markets;|
|●||limited ability to repatriate funds to the U.S. at favorable tax rates;|
|●||potentially adverse tax consequences;|
|●||export and import restrictions, changes in tariffs, trade policies and trade relations;|
|●||increases in taxes and governmental royalties and fees;|
|●||the ability to obtain and maintain required licenses or certifications, such as for web services and electronic devices, that enable us to operate our businesses in foreign jurisdictions;|
|●||changes in foreign and U.S. laws, regulations and policies that govern operations of foreign-based companies;|
|●||changes to general consumer protection laws and regulations;|
|●||difficulties in staffing and managing international operations as a result of distance, language and cultural differences; and|
|●||threatened and actual terrorist attacks, political unrest in international markets and ongoing military action around the world that may result in disruptions of service that are critical to QVC’s international businesses.|
Moreover, in many foreign countries, particularly in certain developing economies, it is not uncommon to encounter business practices that are prohibited by certain regulations, such as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and similar laws.
Although certain of our subsidiaries and business affiliates have undertaken compliance efforts with respect to these laws, their respective employees, contractors and agents, as well as those companies to which they outsource certain of their business operations, may take actions in violation of their policies and procedures. Any such violation, even if prohibited by the policies and procedures of these subsidiaries and business affiliates or the law, could have certain adverse effects on the financial condition of these subsidiaries and business affiliates. Any failure by these subsidiaries and business affiliates to effectively manage the challenges associated with the international operation of their businesses could materially adversely affect their, and hence our, financial condition.
Significant developments stemming from U.S. trade policy or Brexit could have a material adverse effect on our businesses. There is uncertainty as to the actions that may be taken under a new Biden Administration with respect to U.S. trade policy with China. The imposition of any new U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports or the taking of other actions against China in the future, and any responses by China, could impair our ability to meet customer demand and could result in lost sales or an increase in our cost of merchandise, which would have a material adverse impact on our business and results of operations.
Additionally, the Brexit process and negotiations have created political and economic uncertainty, particularly in the U.K. and the E.U., and this uncertainty may last for years. On June 23, 2016, the U.K. held a referendum in which voters approved, on an advisory basis, an exit from the E.U. The U.K. formally left the E.U. on January 31, 2020. This began a transition period that ran until December 31, 2020. On January 1, 2021, the U.K. left the E.U. Customs Union and Single Market, as well as all E.U. policies and international agreements. On December 24, 2020, the European Commission reached a trade agreement with the U.K. on the terms of its future cooperation with the E.U. (the “Trade Agreement”). The Trade Agreement offers U.K. and E.U. companies preferential access to each other’s markets, ensuring imported goods that satisfy applicable point of origin rules (that is, that U.K. or E.U. goods are wholly produced or significantly worked in the U.K. or E.U., as applicable) will be free of tariffs and quotas; however, economic relations between the U.K. and the E.U. will now be on more restrictive terms than existed previously. For example, packages sent to and from the U.K., will need to satisfy new customs requirements and obtain applicable transit documents which may result in delays exporting items to customers outside of the U.K. and delays importing products into the U.K. that are shipped to us by our vendors. At this time, we cannot predict that the Trade Agreement and any future agreements on economic relations between the U.K. and the E.U. will have on our businesses and our customers, and it is possible that new terms may adversely affect our operations and financial results.
The potential impacts, if any, of the considerable uncertainty relating to Brexit or the terms of the new economic and security relationship between the U.K. and the E.U. on the free movement of goods, services, people and capital between the U.K. and the E.U., customer behavior, economic conditions, interest rates, currency exchange rates, availability of capital or other matters are unclear. Our business could be affected with respect to these matters during this period of uncertainty, and perhaps longer. In particular, our business could be negatively affected by new trade agreements between the U.K. and other countries, including the U.S., and by the possible imposition of trade or other regulatory barriers, including the imposition of tariffs, in the U.K. which could result in shipping delays and shortages or increased costs of products sold by our business. Additionally, the U.K. economy and consumer demand in the U.K., including for our products, could be negatively impacted. Further, various geopolitical forces related to Brexit may impact the global economy, the European economy and our business, including, for example, due to other E.U. member states where we have operations proposing referendums to, or electing to, exit the E.U. These possible negative impacts, and others resulting from the U.K.’s withdrawal from the E.U., may adversely affect our operating results.
Weak economic conditions worldwide may reduce consumer demand for our businesses’ products and services. Prolonged economic uncertainty in various regions of the world in which our subsidiaries and business affiliates operate could adversely affect demand for our businesses’ products and services since a substantial portion of our businesses’ revenue is derived from discretionary spending by individuals, which typically falls during times of economic instability. Global financial markets may experience disruptions, including increased volatility and diminished liquidity and credit availability. If economic and financial market conditions in the U.S. or other key markets, including China, Japan and Europe deteriorate, customers of our subsidiaries and business affiliates may respond by suspending, delaying, or reducing their discretionary spending. A suspension, delay or reduction in discretionary spending could adversely affect our revenue. Accordingly, our ability to increase or maintain revenue and earnings could be adversely affected to the extent that relevant economic environments decline. Such weak economic conditions may also inhibit the expansion of our subsidiaries and
business affiliates into new European and other markets. We currently are unable to predict the extent of any of these potential adverse effects.
Changes in trade policies resulting from forced labor and human rights abuses in China may adversely impact our businesses and operating results. Recently there have been heightened tensions in relations between Western nations and China. The U.S. government has made statements and taken certain actions that may lead to potential changes to U.S. and trade policies towards China. For example, on January 19, 2021, the U.S. State Department declared that China’s human rights abuses in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (“XUAR”) is a “genocide” against ethnic Uyghur Muslims. Currently, there are two bills pending before the Congress of the United States purporting to address the use of forced labor in the XUAR. If either or both of these bills, or similar bills in the U.S. or any of the other markets in which we operate, are enacted into law, a presumptive ban could be imposed on the import of goods to the United States that are made, wholly or in part, in the XUAR or by persons that participate in certain programs in the XUAR that entail the use of forced labor. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) issued a region-wide withhold release order (“WRO”), effective January 13, 2021, pursuant to which the CBP will detain cotton products produced in the XUAR. The WRO applies to, among other things, cotton grown in the XUAR and to all products made in whole or in part using such cotton, regardless of where the downstream products are produced, and importers are responsible for ensuring the products they are attempting to import do not exploit forced labor at any point in their supply chain, including the production or harvesting of the raw material. As a result of the WRO, products imported into the U.S. could be held by the CBP based on a suspicion that they originated from the XUAR or that they may have been produced by Chinese suppliers accused of participating in forced labor, pending the importer providing satisfactory evidence to the contrary. Such process could result in a delay or complete inability to import such goods, which could result in inventory shortages and lost sales. Additionally, the United States Treasury Department placed sanctions on China’s Xinjiang Production and Construction Corporation (“XPCC”) for serious human rights abuses against ethnic minorities in the XUAR. The XUAR is the source of large amounts of cotton and textiles for the global apparel supply chain and XPCC controls many of the cotton farms and much of the textile industry in the region. Although our businesses do not knowingly do business with XPCC, our businesses could be subject to penalties, fines or sanctions if any of the vendors from which they purchase goods is found to have dealings, directly or indirectly with XPCC or entities it controls. Even if our businesses were not subject to penalties, fines or sanctions, if products we source are linked in any way to XPCC, our businesses’ reputations could be damaged. Our businesses may also incur expenses for the review pertaining to these matters and the cost of remediation and other changes to products, processes or sources of supply as a consequence of such verification activities. In the event of a significant disruption or unavailability in the supply of the fabrics or raw materials used by our vendors in the manufacture of our products, our businesses’ vendors might not be able to locate alternative suppliers of materials of comparable quality at an acceptable price. In addition, prices of purchased finished products also depend on wage rates in the regions where our businesses’ vendors’ contract manufacturers are located, as well as freight costs from those regions. Fluctuations in wage rates required by legal or industry standards could increase our businesses’ costs. Increases in raw material costs or wage rates, unless sufficiently offset by our pricing actions, may cause a decrease in our businesses’ profitability and negatively impact our businesses’ sales volume. For additional risks arising from changes in U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports or other actions against China and retaliatory responses by China, see “Significant developments stemming from U.S. trade policy or Brexit could have a material adverse effect on our businesses.”
Risks Related to Our Indebtedness and Common Stock
Our subsidiary QVC has significant indebtedness, which could limit its flexibility to respond to current market conditions, restrict its business activities and adversely affect its financial condition. As of December 31, 2020, QVC had total secured debt, other than its finance lease obligations, consisting of $4,448 million of secured indebtedness under its existing notes, in each case, secured by a first priority lien on all shares of its capital stock, and an additional $2.93 billion of unused capacity under its senior secured credit facility. Additionally, in December 2020, QVC Global Corporate Holdings, LLC a subsidiary of QVC, became the primary co-obligor of the $218 million principal amount of LI LLC’s 3.5% Senior Exchangeable Debentures due 2031, which had a fair value of $393 million at December 31, 2020. In addition, QVC had $168 million of finance lease obligations and $220 million of operating lease liabilities. QVC may incur significant additional indebtedness in the future. If new indebtedness is added to QVC’s current debt levels, the related risks that it now faces could intensify. The indebtedness of QVC, combined with other financial obligations and contractual commitments, could among other things:
|●||increase QVC’s vulnerability to general adverse economic and industry conditions;|
|●||require a substantial portion of QVC’s cash flow from operations to be dedicated to the payment of principal and interest on its indebtedness;|
|●||limit QVC’s ability to use cash flow or obtain additional financing for future working capital, capital expenditures or other general corporate purposes, which reduces the funds available to it for operations and any future business opportunities;|
|●||limit flexibility in planning for, or reacting to, changes in its business and the markets in which it operates;|
|●||competitively disadvantage QVC compared with competitors that have less debt;|
|●||limit QVC’s ability to borrow additional funds or to borrow funds at rates or on other terms that it finds acceptable; and|
|●||expose QVC to the risk of increased interest rates because certain of QVC’s borrowings, including borrowings under its credit facility, are at variable interest rates.|
In addition, it is possible that QVC may need to incur additional indebtedness in the future in the ordinary course of business. If new debt is added to its current debt levels, the risks described above could intensify. If QVC experiences adverse effects on its financial condition as a result of their indebtedness, our financial performance could be adversely affected as well.
QVC may need to refinance its indebtedness. Although QVC expects to refinance or otherwise repay its indebtedness, it may not be able to refinance its indebtedness on commercially reasonable terms or at all. The financial terms or covenants of any new credit facility, notes or other indebtedness may not be as favorable as those under its senior secured credit facility and its existing notes. QVC’s ability to complete a refinancing of its senior secured credit facility and its existing notes prior to their respective maturities will depend on its financial and operating performance, its credit rating with rating agencies, as well as a number of conditions beyond its control. For example, if disruptions in the financial markets were to exist at the time that it intended to refinance this indebtedness, it might be restricted in its ability to access the financial markets. If QVC is unable to refinance its indebtedness, its alternatives would include negotiating an extension of the maturities of its senior secured credit facility and its existing notes with the lenders and seeking or raising new equity capital. If QVC were unsuccessful, the lenders under its senior secured credit facility and the holders of its existing notes could demand repayment of the indebtedness owed to them on the relevant maturity date, which could adversely affect its and our financial condition.
Covenants in QVC’s debt agreements restrict its business in many ways. QVC’s senior secured credit facility and the indentures governing its notes contain various covenants that limit its ability and/or its restricted subsidiaries' ability to, among other things:
|●||incur or assume liens or additional debt or provide guarantees in respect of obligations of other persons;|
|●||pay dividends or make distributions or redeem or repurchase capital stock;|
|●||prepay, redeem or repurchase debt;|
|●||make loans, investments and capital expenditures;|
|●||enter into agreements that restrict distributions from its subsidiaries;|
|●||sell assets and capital stock of its subsidiaries;|
|●||enter into sale and leaseback transactions;|
|●||enter into certain transactions with affiliates;|
|●||consolidate or merge with or into, or sell substantially all of its assets to, another person; and|
|●||designate its subsidiaries as unrestricted subsidiaries.|
In addition, QVC’s senior secured credit facility contains restrictive covenants and requires it to maintain a specified leverage ratio. QVC’s ability to meet this leverage ratio test can be affected by events beyond its control, and it may be unable to meet those tests. A breach of any of these covenants could result in a default under QVC’s senior secured credit facility, which in turn could result in a default under the indentures governing its notes. Upon the occurrence of an event of default under QVC’s senior secured credit facility, the lenders could elect to declare all amounts outstanding under its senior secured credit facility to be immediately due and payable and terminate all commitments to extend further credit. If QVC were unable to repay those amounts, the lenders could proceed against the collateral granted to them to secure that
indebtedness. QVC’s senior secured credit facility, its notes and certain future indebtedness are secured by a first priority perfected lien in all shares of its capital stock. If the lenders and counterparties under QVC’s senior secured credit facility, its notes and certain future indebtedness accelerate the repayment of obligations, it may not have sufficient assets to repay such obligations. QVC’s borrowings under its senior secured credit facility are, and are expected to continue to be, at variable rates of interest and expose it to interest rate risk. If interest rates increase, QVC’s debt service obligations on the variable rate indebtedness will also increase even though the amount borrowed remains the same, and QVC’s net income would decrease.
A substantial portion of our consolidated debt is held above the operating subsidiary level, and we could be unable in the future to obtain cash in amounts sufficient to service that debt and our other financial obligations. As of December 31, 2020, our wholly-owned subsidiary LI LLC had $1,986 million principal amount of publicly-traded debt outstanding. LI LLC is also a co-obligor on the 3.5% Senior Exchangeable Debentures due 2031 in the principal amount of $218 million as of December 31, 2020. LI LLC is a holding company for all of our subsidiaries and investments. Our ability to meet the financial obligations of LI LLC and our other financial obligations will depend on our ability to access cash. Our sources of cash include our available cash balances, net cash from operating activities, dividends and interest from our investments, availability under credit facilities at the operating subsidiary level, monetization of our public investment portfolio and proceeds from asset sales. There are no assurances that we will maintain the amounts of cash, cash equivalents or marketable securities that we maintained over the past few years. The ability of our operating subsidiaries to pay dividends or to make other payments or advances to us or LI LLC depends on their individual operating results, any statutory, regulatory or contractual restrictions to which they may be or may become subject and the terms of their own indebtedness, including QVC’s credit facility and bond indentures. The agreements governing such indebtedness restrict sales of assets and prohibit or limit the payment of dividends or the making of distributions, loans or advances to stockholders and partners. Neither we nor LI LLC will generally receive cash, in the form of dividends, loans, advances or otherwise, from our business affiliates. See “We do not have the right to manage our business affiliates, which means we are not able to cause those business affiliates to act in a manner that we deem desirable” above.
We have disposed of certain of the reference shares underlying the exchangeable debentures of LI LLC, which exposes us to liquidity risk. LI LLC currently has outstanding multiple tranches of exchangeable debentures in the aggregate principal amount of $1,194 million as of December 31, 2020. LI LLC is also a co-obligor on the 3.5% Senior Exchangeable Debentures due 2031 in the principal amount of $218 million as of December 31, 2020. Under the terms of these exchangeable debentures, the holders may elect to require LI LLC to exchange the debentures for the value of a specified number of the underlying reference shares, which LI LLC may honor through delivery of reference shares, cash or a combination thereof. Also, LI LLC is required to distribute to the holders of its exchangeable debentures any cash, securities (other than publicly traded securities, which would themselves become reference shares) or other payments made by the issuer of the reference shares in respect of those shares. The principal amount of the debentures will be reduced by the amount of any such required distributions other than regular cash dividends. LI LLC has disposed of some of the reference shares underlying certain of these exchangeable debentures. For example, in connection with the Transactions, our company contributed its entire equity interest in Charter Communications, Inc. to GCI Liberty, which was subsequently acquired by Liberty Broadband. Shares of Charter serve as the underlying reference shares for the 1.75% Exchangeable Debentures. Pursuant to agreements entered into in connection with the Transactions and Liberty Broadband’s acquisition of GCI Liberty, there is an indemnification obligation from Liberty Broadband to LI LLC for certain payments made to a holder of the 1.75% Exchangeable Debentures that pertains to the holder’s ability to exercise its exchange right according to the terms of the 1.75% Exchangeable Debentures on or before October 5, 2023. However, we cannot give any assurance as to whether Liberty Broadband will fulfill its indemnification obligations pursuant to the indemnification agreement.
As a result of LI LLC having disposed of these reference shares, any exercise of the exchange right by, or required distribution of cash, securities or other payments to, holders of such debentures will require that LI LLC fund the required payments from its own resources, which will depend on the availability of cash or other sources of liquidity to LI LLC at that time. Additionally, in the event all reference shares underlying a series of exchangeable debentures are liquidated or otherwise cease to be outstanding without replacement, there is a possibility that the treatment of tax matters associated with that series could change. This may include acceleration of tax liabilities that are recorded as deferred tax liabilities in our financial statements, in amounts that would be significant.
Transactions in our common stock by our insiders could depress the market price of our common stock. Sales of or hedging transactions such as collars relating to our shares by John C. Malone, a director of our company, Gregory B. Maffei, our Chairman of the Board, or Michael George, our Chief Executive Officer, or any of our other directors or executive officers could cause a perception in the marketplace that our stock price has peaked or that adverse events or trends have occurred or may be occurring at our company. This perception can result notwithstanding any personal financial motivation for these insider transactions. As a result, insider transactions could depress the market price for shares of one or more series of our common stock.
It may be difficult for a third party to acquire us, even if doing so may be beneficial to our stockholders. Certain provisions of our restated charter and bylaws may discourage, delay or prevent a change in control of our company that a stockholder may consider favorable. These provisions include:
|●||authorizing a capital structure with multiple series of common stock, a Series B common stock that entitles the holders to ten votes per share, a Series A common stock that entitles the holder to one vote per share, and a Series C common stock that except as otherwise required by applicable law, entitles the holder to no voting rights;|
|●||classifying our board of directors with staggered three-year terms, which may lengthen the time required to gain control of our board of directors;|
|●||limiting who may call special meetings of stockholders;|
|●||prohibiting stockholder action by written consent, thereby requiring all stockholder actions to be taken at a meeting of the stockholders;|
|●||establishing advance notice requirements for nominations of candidates for election to the board of directors or for proposing matters that can be acted upon by stockholders at stockholder meetings;|
|●||requiring stockholder approval by holders of at least 66 2/3% of our aggregate voting power or the approval by at least 75% of our board of directors with respect to certain extraordinary matters, such as a merger or consolidation of our company, a sale of all or substantially all of our assets or an amendment to our restated charter; and|
|●||the existence of authorized and unissued stock, including "blank check" preferred stock, which could be issued by our board of directors to persons friendly to our then current management, thereby protecting the continuity of our management, or which could be used to dilute the stock ownership of persons seeking to obtain control of our company.|
John C. Malone, a director of our company, beneficially owns shares representing the power to direct approximately 41% of the aggregate voting power in our company, due to his beneficial ownership of approximately 94% of the outstanding shares of our Series B Qurate Retail common stock as of January 31, 2021.
Item 1B. Unresolved Staff Comments
Item 2. Properties
We lease our corporate headquarters in Englewood, Colorado under a facilities agreement with LMC. All of our other real or personal property is owned or leased by our subsidiaries and business affiliates.
QxH owns its corporate headquarters and operations center in West Chester, Pennsylvania which consists of office space and includes executive offices, video broadcast studios, showrooms, broadcast facilities and administrative offices. QxH owns call centers in San Antonio, Texas and Chesapeake, Virginia. QxH owns a multi-functional building in St. Petersburg, Florida. QxH owns distribution centers in Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Piney Flats, Tennessee; Suffolk, Virginia; Rocky Mount, North Carolina; Florence, South Carolina; and Ontario, California and leases a distribution center in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
QVC International owns call centers in Bochum and Kassel, Germany; and Chiba-Shi, Japan. QVC International owns distribution centers in Chiba, Japan; and Hückelhoven, Germany. Additionally, QVC International owns multi-functional buildings in Knowsley, United Kingdom; Chiba, Japan; Brugherio, Italy; and Dusseldorf, Germany, and leases a multi-functional building in London, U.K.
Zulily leases its corporate headquarters in Seattle, Washington, fulfillment centers in Lockbourne, Ohio, McCarran, Nevada, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and corporate offices in Gahanna, Ohio and Shenzhen, China.
Cornerstone owns an office in Franconia, New Hampshire. Cornerstone leases its fulfillment centers in Butler and Warren Counties in Ohio and Phoenix, Arizona. It also leases other properties consisting of administrative offices, 21 retail stores and outlets in various locations throughout the United States.
Our other subsidiaries and business affiliates own or lease the fixed assets necessary for the operation of their respective businesses, including office space, transponder space, headends, cable television and telecommunications distribution equipment and telecommunications switches.
Item 3. Legal Proceedings
Item 4. Mine Safety Disclosures
Item 5. Market for Registrant's Common Equity, Related Stockholder Matters and Issuer Purchases of Equity Securities.
Each series of the common stock of Qurate Retail, Inc. (formerly named Liberty Interactive Corporation, “Qurate Retail,” the “Company,” “we,” “us” and “our”) trades on the Nasdaq Global Select Market. Our Series A and Series B QVC Group common stock traded on the Nasdaq Global Select Market under the symbols “QVCA” and “QVCB,” respectively. On May 23, 2018, the Company filed its restated certificate of incorporation, which (i) eliminated the tracking stock capitalization structure of the Company and (ii) reclassified each outstanding share of our Series A and Series B QVC Group common stock into one share of our Series A and Series B common stock, respectively. Following the reclassification, our Series A and Series B common stock continued trading on the Nasdaq Global Select Market, but under the symbols “QRTEA” and “QRTEB.” Stock price information for securities traded on the Nasdaq Global Select Market can be found on the Nasdaq’s website at www.nasdaq.com. Although the reclassification resulted in stock name and related ticker symbol changes, historical information for our Series B QVC Group common stock refers to such stock herein as our Series B common stock. The following table sets forth the range of high and low sales prices of shares of our Series B common stock for the years ended December 31, 2020 and 2019. Although our Series B common stock is traded on the Nasdaq Global Select Market, an established public trading market does not exist for the stock, as it is not actively traded.
Series B (QRTEB)
As of January 31, 2021, there were 2,335 and 67 record holders of our Series A and Series B Qurate Retail common stock, respectively. The foregoing numbers of record holders do not include the number of stockholders whose shares are held nominally by banks, brokerage houses or other institutions, but include each such institution as one shareholder.
On August 21, 2020, Qurate Retail announced that an authorized committee of its Board of Directors had declared a special dividend (the “Special Dividend”) on each outstanding share of its Series A and Series B common stock consisting of (i) cash in the amount of $1.50 per common share, for an aggregate cash dividend of approximately $626 million, and (ii) 0.03 shares of newly issued 8.0% Series A Cumulative Redeemable Preferred Stock, par value $0.01 per share (the “Preferred Stock”), having an initial liquidation price of $100 per share of Preferred Stock, with cash paid in lieu of fractional shares. The distribution ratio for the Preferred Stock portion of the Special Dividend was equivalent to $3.00 in initial liquidation preference per common share, for an aggregate issuance of approximately $1.3 billion aggregate liquidation preference. The dividend was distributed on September 14, 2020 to holders of record of Qurate Retail’s Series A and Series B common stock. Holders of the Preferred Stock are entitled to receive quarterly cash dividends at a fixed rate of 8.0% per year on a cumulative basis, beginning December 15, 2020 and thereafter on each of March 15, June 15,
September 15 and December 15 during the term. The Preferred Stock is non-voting, except in limited circumstances as required by law, and subject to a mandatory redemption on March 15, 2031.
On November 20, 2020, Qurate Retail announced that an authorized committee of its Board of Directors declared a special cash dividend in the amount of $1.50 per common share, for an aggregate dividend of approximately $625 million, payable in cash on December 7, 2020 to stockholders of record of the Company’s Series A and Series B common stock at the close of business on November 30, 2020.
Aside from the above mentioned dividends, we have not paid any cash dividends on our common stock. Payment of cash dividends, if any, in the future will be determined by our board of directors in light of our earnings, financial condition and other relevant considerations. See Item 7. “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operation – Liquidity and Capital Resources.”
Securities Authorized for Issuance Under Equity Compensation Plans
Information required by this item is incorporated by reference to our definitive proxy statement for our 2021 Annual Meeting of Stockholders.
Purchases of Equity Securities by the Issuer
Share Repurchase Programs
In May 2019, the board authorized the repurchase of $500 million of Series A or Series B Qurate Retail common stock.
Series A Qurate Retail Common Stock (QRTEA)
(or Approximate Dollar
Total Number of
Value) of Shares that
Shares Purchased as Part
May Yet Be purchased
Price Paid per
of Publicly Announced
Under the Plans or
Plans or Programs
October 1 - 31, 2020
November 1 - 30, 2020
December 1 - 31, 2020
There were no repurchases of Series B Qurate Retail common stock or Preferred Stock during the three months ended December 31, 2020.
2,537 shares of Series A Qurate Retail common stock and 45 shares of Preferred Stock were surrendered by certain of our officers and employees to pay withholding taxes and other deductions in connection with the vesting of their restricted stock during the three months ended December 31, 2020.
Item 6. Selected Financial Data.
Item 7. Management's Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations
The following discussion and analysis provides information concerning our results of operations and financial condition. This discussion should be read in conjunction with our accompanying consolidated financial statements and the notes thereto. Additionally, see note 2 in the accompanying consolidated financial statements for an overview of new accounting standards that we have adopted or that we plan to adopt that have had or may have an impact on our financial statements.
We own controlling and non-controlling interests in a broad range of video and online commerce companies. Our largest businesses and reportable segments are QxH (QVC U.S. and HSN) and QVC International. QVC, Inc. (“QVC”), which includes QxH and QVC International, markets and sells a wide variety of consumer products in the United States (“U.S.”) and several foreign countries via highly engaging video-rich, interactive shopping experiences. Zulily, LLC (“Zulily”) is an online retailer offering customers a fun and entertaining shopping experience with a fresh selection of new product styles launched every day, and is a reportable segment. Our “Corporate and other” category includes our consolidated subsidiary Cornerstone Brands, Inc. (“Cornerstone”), along with various cost and equity method investments. See discussion below for the entities that were included in Corporate and other in prior periods.
Prior to the Transactions (described and defined below), the Company utilized tracking stocks in its capital structure. A tracking stock is a type of common stock that the issuing company intends to reflect or "track" the economic performance of a particular business or "group," rather than the economic performance of the company as a whole. Qurate Retail had two tracking stocks—QVC Group common stock and Liberty Ventures common stock, which were intended to track and reflect the economic performance of Qurate Retail’s businesses, assets and liabilities attributed to the QVC Group and the Ventures Group, respectively. The QVC Group was comprised of the Company’s wholly-owned subsidiaries QVC, Zulily, HSN and Cornerstone among other assets and liabilities. The Ventures Group was comprised of businesses not included in the QVC Group including Evite, Inc. (“Evite”) and our interests in Liberty Broadband Corporation (“Liberty Broadband”), LendingTree, Inc. (“LendingTree”), investments in Charter Communications, Inc. (“Charter”) and ILG, Inc. (“ILG”), among other assets and liabilities (which were all included in the Corporate and other category). The Company’s results are attributed to the QVC Group and the Ventures Group through March 9, 2018.
On March 9, 2018, Qurate Retail completed the transactions contemplated by the Agreement and Plan of Reorganization (as amended, the “Reorganization Agreement,” and the transactions contemplated thereby, the “Transactions”) among General Communication, Inc. (“GCI”), an Alaska corporation, and Liberty Interactive LLC, a Delaware limited liability company and a direct wholly-owned subsidiary of Qurate Retail (“LI LLC”). Pursuant to the Reorganization Agreement, GCI amended and restated its articles of incorporation (which resulted in GCI being renamed GCI Liberty, Inc. (“GCI Liberty”)) and effected a reclassification and auto conversion of its common stock. After market close on March 8, 2018, Qurate Retail’s board of directors approved the reattribution of certain assets and liabilities from Qurate Retail’s Ventures Group to its QVC Group, which was effective immediately. The reattributed assets and liabilities included cash, Qurate Retail’s interest in ILG, certain green energy investments, LI LLC’s exchangeable debentures, and certain tax benefits.
Following these events, Qurate Retail acquired GCI Liberty through a reorganization in which certain Qurate Retail interests, assets and liabilities attributed to the Ventures Group were contributed (the “contribution”) to GCI Liberty in exchange for a controlling interest in GCI Liberty. Qurate Retail and LI LLC contributed to GCI Liberty their entire equity interest in Liberty Broadband, Charter, and LendingTree, the Evite operating business and other assets and liabilities attributed to Qurate Retail’s Venture Group (following the reattribution), in exchange for (a) the issuance to LI LLC of a number of shares of GCI Liberty Class A Common Stock and a number of shares of GCI Liberty Class B Common Stock
equal to the number of outstanding shares of Series A Liberty Ventures common stock and Series B Liberty Ventures common stock on March 9, 2018, respectively, (b) cash and (c) the assumption of certain liabilities by GCI Liberty.
Following the contribution, Qurate Retail effected a tax-free separation of its controlling interest in the combined company (the “GCI Liberty Split-Off”), GCI Liberty, to the holders of Liberty Ventures common stock in full redemption of all outstanding shares of such stock, in which each outstanding share of Series A Liberty Ventures common stock was redeemed for one share of GCI Liberty Class A common stock and each outstanding share of Series B Liberty Ventures common stock was redeemed for one share of GCI Liberty Class B common stock. Simultaneous with the closing of the Transactions, QVC Group common stock became the only outstanding common stock of Qurate Retail, and thus QVC Group common stock ceased to function as a tracking stock. On April 9, 2018, Liberty Interactive Corporation was renamed Qurate Retail, Inc. On May 23, 2018, Qurate Retail amended its charter to eliminate the tracking stock capitalization structure and reclassify each share of QVC Group common stock into one share of the corresponding series of new common stock of Qurate Retail. Throughout this annual report, we refer to our Series A and Series B common stock as “Qurate Retail common stock” and “QVC Group common stock.” In July 2018, the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) completed its review of the GCI Liberty Split-Off and informed Qurate Retail that it agreed with the nontaxable characterization of the transactions. Qurate Retail received an Issue Resolution Agreement from the IRS documenting this conclusion.
On October 17, 2018, Qurate Retail announced a series of initiatives designed to better position its HSN and QVC U.S. businesses (“QRG Initiatives”). As part of the QRG Initiatives, QVC will close its fulfillment centers in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and Roanoke, Virginia and leased a new fulfillment center in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, that commenced in 2019 (see note 8 to the accompanying consolidated financial statements). Expenditures related to the QRG Initiatives are recorded as part of transaction related costs. Qurate Retail recorded transaction related costs of $41 million during the year ended December 31, 2018, which primarily related to severance as a result of the QRG Initiatives. Also, as a result of changes in internal reporting from the QRG Initiatives, during the first quarter of 2019 the Company changed its reportable segments to combine HSN and QVC U.S. into one reportable segment called “QxH.”
In December 2019, the novel coronavirus (“COVID-19”) was reported to have surfaced in Wuhan, China and has subsequently spread across the globe causing a global pandemic, impacting all countries where Qurate Retail operates. As a result of the spread of the virus, certain local governmental agencies have imposed travel restrictions, local quarantines or stay at home restrictions to contain the spread, which has caused a significant disruption to most sectors of the economy.
In response to these stay at home restrictions, QVC has mandated that non-essential employees work from home, has reduced the number of employees who are allowed on its production set and has implemented increased cleaning protocols, social distancing measures and temperature screenings for those employees who enter into certain facilities. In some cases, the move to a work from home arrangement for QVC’s non-essential employees will be permanent, which may result in the reduction of office space. QVC has also mandated that all essential employees who do not feel comfortable coming to work will not be required to do so. As a result of these resource constraints, QVC included fewer hours of live programming on some of its secondary channels and has experienced some delays in shipping at certain fulfillment centers. In certain markets, QVC temporarily increased the wages and salaries for those employees deemed essential who do not have the ability to work from home, including production and fulfillment center employees. QVC has also paid a one-time work from home allowance to its employees during the second quarter of 2020. While the temporary increase in wages and salaries has been terminated in most of QVC’s facilities, the inability to control the spread of COVID-19, or the expansion or extension of these stay at home restrictions could negatively impact QVC’s results in the future.
The stay at home restrictions imposed in response to COVID-19 required many traditional brick and mortar retailers to temporarily close their stores, but allowed distance retailers, including QVC, to continue operating. As a result, beginning at the end of March 2020, QVC observed an increase in new customers and an increase in demand for certain categories, such as home. However, QVC may not be able to retain these new customers after the pandemic subsides and any increase in demand in its product categories during the pandemic may be temporary.
Zulily has seen increased freight surcharges from China due to COVID-19 and in concert with QVC has made work accommodations in its fulfillment centers which has resulted in an increase in labor expense. Zulily has also incurred additional expenses to deep cleanse its fulfillment centers and office buildings, coupled with a work-from-home allowance
to reimburse its employees for home office and associated technology costs as a result of COVID-19. In addition, Zulily management cut all travel expenses, and reduced capital expenditures due to uncertainty created by COVID-19.
In addition, there are several potential adverse impacts of COVID-19 that could cause a material negative impact to the Company’s financial results, including our capital and liquidity. These include governmental restrictions on the Company’s ability to continue to operate under stay at home restrictions and produce content, reduced demand for products sold, decreases in the disposable income of existing and potential new customers, the impacts of any recession and other uncertainties with respect to the continuity of government stimulus programs implemented in response to COVID-19, increased currency volatility resulting in adverse currency rate fluctuations, higher unemployment, labor shortages, an adverse impact to our supply chain and shipping disruptions for both the products we import and purchase domestically and the products the Company sells, including essential products experiencing higher demand due to factory closures, labor shortages and other resource constraints. While the impact is currently uncertain, the inability to control the spread of COVID-19 could cause any one of these adverse impacts, or combination of adverse impacts, to have a material impact on the Company’s financial results.
Further, the extent of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our businesses remains fluid and the likelihood of an impact on us that could be material increases the longer the virus impacts activity levels in the locations in which we operate. In particular, the widespread distribution, acceptance and effectiveness of vaccines is highly uncertain and cannot be predicted at this time. Delays in the widespread distribution of vaccines, or lack of public acceptance, could lead people to continue to self-isolate and not participate in the economy at pre-pandemic levels for a prolonged period of time. Further, even if vaccines are widely distributed and accepted, there can be no assurance that the vaccines will ultimately be successful in limiting or stopping the spread of COVID-19. Even after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, the U.S. economy and other major global economies may experience a recession, and we anticipate our businesses and operations could be materially adversely affected by a prolonged recession in the U.S. and other major markets.
As a result of the GCI Liberty Split-Off, Qurate Retail viewed LendingTree, Evite and Liberty Broadband as separate components and evaluated them separately for discontinued operations presentation. Based on a quantitative analysis, the split-off of Qurate Retail’s interest in Liberty Broadband had a major effect on Qurate Retail’s operations. Accordingly, Qurate Retail’s interest in Liberty Broadband is presented as a discontinued operation. The disposition of Evite and LendingTree as part of the GCI Liberty Split-Off did not have a major effect on Qurate Retail’s historical results nor is it expected to have a major effect on Qurate Retail’s future operations. Accordingly, Evite and LendingTree are not presented as discontinued operations.
Strategies and Challenges
Televised Shopping Businesses. The goal of QVC is to extend its leadership in video commerce, e-commerce, mobile commerce and social commerce by continuing to create the world’s most engaging shopping experiences, combining the best of retail, media, and social, highly differentiated from traditional brick-and-mortar stores or transactional e-commerce. QVC provides customers with curated collections of unique products, made personal and relevant by the power of storytelling. QVC curates experiences, conversations and communities for millions of highly discerning shoppers, and also curates large audiences, across its many platforms, for its thousands of brand partners.
QVC intends to employ several strategies to achieve these objectives. Among these strategies are to (i) Curate special products at compelling values; (ii) Extend video reach and relevance; (iii) Reimagine daily digital discovery; (iv) Expand and engage its passionate community; and (v) Deliver joyful customer service. In addition, QVC is exploring opportunities to evolve the International operating model to pursue growth opportunities in a more leveraged way across markets.
Future net revenue growth will primarily depend on sales growth from e-commerce, mobile platforms and applications via streaming video, additions of new customers from households already receiving QVC’s broadcast programming, and increased spending from existing customers. Future net revenue may also be affected by (i) the willingness of cable television and direct-to-home satellite system operators to continue carrying QVC’s programming
services; (ii) QVC’s ability to maintain favorable channel positioning, which may become more difficult due to governmental action or from distributors converting analog customers to digital; (iii) changes in television viewing habits because of personal video recorders, video-on-demand and internet video services; (iv) QVC’s ability to source new and compelling products; and (v) general economic conditions.
In July 2020, QVC implemented a planned workforce reduction with the goal of making the organizational structure streamlined and more efficient. As part of the workforce reduction, QVC has decided to eliminate live hours on QVC2 in the U.S. and other secondary channels within the international segment.
The current economic uncertainty in various regions of the world in which our subsidiaries and affiliates operate could adversely affect demand for their products and services since a substantial portion of their revenue is derived from discretionary spending by individuals, which typically falls during times of economic instability. Global financial markets have recently experienced disruptions, including increased volatility and diminished liquidity and credit availability. If economic and financial market conditions in the United States (“U.S.”) or other key markets, including Japan and Europe, continue to be uncertain or deteriorate, customers may respond by suspending, delaying, or reducing their discretionary spending. A suspension, delay or reduction in discretionary spending could adversely affect revenue. Accordingly, our businesses’ ability to increase or maintain revenue and earnings could be adversely affected to the extent that relevant economic environments decline. Such weak economic conditions may also inhibit QVC’s expansion into new European and other markets. The Company is currently unable to predict the extent of any of these potential adverse effects.
The Brexit process and negotiations have created political and economic uncertainty, particularly in the U.K. and the E.U., and this uncertainty may last for years. On June 23, 2016, the U.K. held a referendum in which voters approved, on an advisory basis, an exit from the E.U. The U.K. formally left the E.U. on January 31, 2020. This has resulted in a transition period that ran until December 31, 2020. On January 1, 2021, the U.K. left the E.U. Customs Union and Single Market, as well as all E.U. policies and international agreements. On December 24, 2020, the European Commission reached a trade agreement with the U.K. on the terms of its future cooperation with the E.U. (the “Trade Agreement”). The Trade Agreement offers U.K. and E.U. companies preferential access to each other’s markets, ensuring imported goods that satisfy applicable point of origin rules (that is, that U.K. or E.U. goods are wholly produced or significantly worked in the U.K. or E.U., as applicable) will be free of tariffs and quotas; however, economic relations between the U.K. and the E.U. will now be on more restrictive terms than existed previously. For example, packages sent to and from the U.K., will need to satisfy new customs requirements and obtain applicable transit documents which may result in delays exporting items to customers outside of the U.K. and delays importing products into the U.K. that are shipped to QVC by its vendors. At this time, QVC cannot predict that the Trade Agreement and any future agreements on economic relations between the U.K. and the E.U. will have on its businesses and its customers, and it is possible that new terms may adversely affect QVC’s operations and financial results.
There is uncertainty as to the actions that may be taken under a new Biden Administration with respect to U.S. trade policy with China. The imposition of any new U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports or the taking of other actions against China in the future, and any responses by China, could impair QVC’s ability to meet customer demand and could result in lost sales or an increase in its cost of merchandise, which would have a material adverse impact on its business and results of operations.
Zulily. Zulily’s goal is to be part of its customers’ daily routine, allowing them to visit Zulily sites and discover a selection of fresh, new and affordable merchandise curated for them every morning. Zulily intends to employ the following strategies to achieve these goals and objectives: (i) acquire new customers; (ii) increase customer loyalty and repeat purchasing; (iii) add new vendors and strengthen existing vendor relationships; (iv) invest in mobile platform and channels with which its customers want to engage; and (v) invest in low cost supply chain systems in the U.S. and cross border.
Zulily has limited contractual assurances of continued supply, pricing or access to new products, and vendors could change the terms upon which they sell to Zulily or discontinue selling to Zulily for future sales at any time. As Zulily grows, continuing to identify a sufficient number of new emerging brands and smaller boutique vendors may become more and more of a challenge. If Zulily is not able to identify and effectively promote these new brands, it may lose customers to competitors. Even if Zulily identifies new vendors, it may not be able to purchase desired merchandise in sufficient quantities or on acceptable terms in the future, and products from alternative sources, if any, may be of a lesser quality or
more expensive than those from existing vendors. An inability to purchase suitable merchandise on acceptable terms or to source new vendors could have an adverse effect on Zulily’s business.
To support its large and diverse base of vendors and its flash sales model that requires constantly changing products, Zulily must incur costs related to its merchandising team, photography studios and creative personnel. As Zulily grows, it may not be able to continue to expand its product offerings in a cost-effective manner. In addition, the variety in size and sophistication of Zulily’s vendors presents different challenges to its infrastructure and operations. Zulily’s emerging brands and smaller boutique vendors may be less experienced in manufacturing and shipping, which may lead to inconsistencies in quality, delays in the delivery of merchandise or additional fulfillment cost. Zulily’s larger national brands may impose additional requirements or offer less favorable terms than smaller vendors related to margins and inventory ownership and risk and may also be unable to ship products timely.
Results of Operations—Consolidated
General. We provide in the tables below information regarding our Consolidated Operating Results and Other Income and Expense, as well as information regarding the contribution to those items from our principal reportable segments. The "Corporate and other" category consists of our consolidated subsidiary Cornerstone, along with various cost and equity method investments. For a more detailed discussion and analysis of the financial results of the principal reporting segments, see "Results of Operations - Businesses" below.
Years ended December 31,
amounts in millions
Corporate and other
Consolidated Qurate Retail
Operating Income (Loss)
Corporate and other
Consolidated Qurate Retail
Corporate and other
Consolidated Qurate Retail
Revenue. Our consolidated revenue increased 5.3% and decreased 4.3% for the years ended December 31, 2020 and 2019, respectively, as compared to the corresponding prior year periods.
QVC International, QxH and Zulily revenue increased $258 million, $228 million, and $65 million, respectively, during the year ended December 31, 2020, as compared to the same period in the prior year. See "Results of Operations - Businesses" below for a more complete discussion of the results of operations of QVC and Zulily. Corporate and other revenue increased $169 million for the year ended December 31, 2020, as compared to the corresponding period in the prior year due to an increase in Cornerstone revenue of $169 million as a result of strong customer response in the home category due to increased demand for home furnishings, interior décor and outdoor living items.
QxH, Zulily and QVC International revenue decreased $267 million, $246 million and $29 million during the year ended December 31, 2019 compared to the same period in the prior year. See "Results of Operations - Businesses" below for a more complete discussion of the results of operations of QVC and Zulily. Corporate and other revenue decreased $72 million for the year ended December 31, 2019, as compared to the corresponding prior year period due to a decrease in Cornerstone revenue of $70 million due to the shutdown of one of the home brands in Cornerstone’s portfolio during the fourth quarter of 2018.
Operating income (loss). Our consolidated operating income increased $1,388 million and decreased $1,140 million for the years ended December 31, 2020 and 2019, respectively, as compared to the corresponding prior year periods.
Zulily operating losses decreased $1,079 million for the year ended December 31, 2020, as compared to the corresponding prior year period, primarily due to no impairment of intangible assets at Zulily compared to the impairment taken in the prior year. QxH and QVC International operating income increased $155 million and $85 million, respectively, for the year ended December 31, 2020, compared to the same period in the prior year. See "Results of Operations - Businesses" below for a more complete discussion of the results of operations of QVC and Zulily. Operating income for Corporate and other improved $69 million for the year ended December 31, 2020, as compared to the corresponding period in the prior year, due to a reduction in operating losses at Cornerstone as a result of strong home category revenue and product margin performance.
Zulily operating losses increased $996 million for the year ended December 31, 2019, as compared to the corresponding prior year period, primarily due to the impairment of intangible assets at Zulily during the third quarter of 2019. QxH and QVC International operating income decreased $188 million and increased $3 million, respectively, for the year ended December 31, 2019, as compared to the corresponding prior year period. See "Results of Operations - Businesses" below for a more complete discussion of the results of operations of QVC and Zulily. Operating losses for Corporate and other improved $41 million for the year ended December 31, 2019, as compared to the corresponding prior year period, primarily due to a reduction in operating losses at Cornerstone as a result of the shutdown of one of the home brands in Cornerstone’s portfolio during the fourth quarter of 2018, along with the elimination of corporate costs at the Liberty Ventures Group due to the GCI Liberty Split-Off in 2018.
Adjusted OIBDA. To provide investors with additional information regarding our financial results, we also disclose Adjusted OIBDA, which is a non-GAAP financial measure. We define Adjusted OIBDA as operating income (loss) plus depreciation and amortization, stock-based compensation, separately reported litigation settlements, transaction related costs (including restructuring, integration, and advisory fees) and impairments. Our chief operating decision maker and management team use this measure of performance in conjunction with other measures to evaluate our businesses and make decisions about allocating resources among our businesses. We believe this is an important indicator of the operational strength and performance of our businesses by identifying those items that are not directly a reflection of each business’ performance or indicative of ongoing business trends. In addition, this measure allows us to view operating results, perform analytical comparisons and benchmarking between businesses and identify strategies to improve performance. Adjusted OIBDA should be considered in addition to, but not as a substitute for, operating income, net income, cash flows provided by operating activities and other measures of financial performance prepared in accordance with U.S. generally accepted accounting principles.
The following table provides a reconciliation of Operating income (loss) to Adjusted OIBDA.
amounts in millions
Operating income (loss)
Depreciation and amortization
Impairment of intangible assets
Transaction related costs
Consolidated Adjusted OIBDA increased $169 million and decreased $125 million for the years ended December 31, 2020 and 2019, respectively, as compared to the corresponding prior year periods.
QVC International, Zulily and QxH Adjusted OIBDA increased $64 million, $35 million and $11 million for the year ended December 31, 2020, respectively, as compared to the corresponding prior year period. See "Results of Operations - Businesses" below for a more complete discussion of the results of operations of QVC and Zulily. Corporate and other Adjusted OIBDA increased $59 million for the year ended December 31, 2020, as compared to the corresponding period in the prior year due to higher Adjusted OIBDA at Cornerstone due to strong home category revenue and product margin performance.
QxH and Zulily Adjusted OIBDA decreased $94 million and $60 million, respectively, for the year ended December 31, 2019, as compared to the same period in the prior year. QVC International Adjusted OIBDA increased $17 million for the year ended December 31, 2019, as compared to the same period in the prior year, primarily due to the closure of QVC’s operations in France in March of 2019. Adjusted OIBDA losses related to QVC France were $6 million and $32 million for the years ended December 31, 2019 and December 31, 2018, respectively. See "Results of Operations - Businesses" below for a more complete discussion of the results of operations of QVC and Zulily. Corporate and other Adjusted OIBDA increased $12 million for the year ended December 31, 2019, as compared to the corresponding period in the prior year due to higher Adjusted OIBDA at Cornerstone due to the impacts of the shutdown of one of the home brands in Cornerstone’s portfolio discussed above and improved performance in the businesses’ home segment, and the elimination of corporate costs at the Liberty Ventures Group due to the GCI Liberty Split-Off.
Other Income and Expense
Components of Other Income (Expense) are presented in the table below.
Years ended December 31,
amounts in millions
Share of earnings (losses) of affiliate, net
Realized and unrealized gains (losses) on financial instruments, net
Gains (losses) on transactions, net
Tax sharing income (expense) with Liberty Broadband
Other income (expense)
Interest expense. Interest expense increased $34 million and decreased $7 million for the years ended December 31, 2020 and 2019, respectively, as compared to the corresponding prior year periods. The increase for the year ended December 31, 2020 is due to QVC refinancing its borrowings on its senior secured credit facility with newly issued
senior secured notes, which have higher interest rates, as well as dividends incurred and paid related to the Preferred Stock during the period recorded through interest expense due to the accounting treatment, partially offset by lower outstanding debt balances due to repayment of amounts outstanding on QVC’s senior secured credit facility. The decrease for the year ended December 31, 2019 is due to lower average debt balances during 2019 compared to the prior year as well as a reduction in the variable interest rate on QVC’s bank credit facilities compared to the prior year.
Share of earnings (losses) of affiliates. Share of losses of affiliates decreased $4 million and $2 million during the years ended December 31, 2020 and 2019, respectively, as compared to the corresponding prior year periods. The decrease in 2020 is due to fewer losses related to the Company’s alternative energy solutions entities compared to the prior year, almost completely offset by an increase in share of losses due to an other than temporary impairment of QVC’s China equity method investment. The decrease in 2019 was due to the fact that the prior year included losses related to the Company’s former investment in FTD Companies, Inc. (“FTD”), partially offset by increased losses at the Company’s alternative energy solution entities due to continued investment in such ventures. These entities typically operate at a loss and the Company records its share of such losses but have favorable tax attributes and credits, which are recorded in the Company’s tax accounts.
Realized and unrealized gains (losses) on financial instruments. Realized and unrealized gains (losses) on financial instruments are comprised of changes in the fair value of the following:
Years ended December 31,
amounts in millions
Exchangeable senior debentures
Other financial instruments
The changes in these accounts are due primarily to market factors and changes in the fair value of the underlying stocks or financial instruments to which these relate. The decrease in losses for the year ended December 31, 2020 as compared to the corresponding prior year period was primarily due to a decrease in unrealized losses on the Company’s exchangeable senior debentures driven by less growth in stock prices of the securities underlying the debentures than the prior year, a decrease in unrealized losses related to derivative instruments, a decrease in unrealized losses related to equity securities, and an increase in unrealized gains on the indemnification asset. The decrease for the year ended December 31, 2019 as compared to the corresponding prior year period was primarily driven by a decrease in the unrealized gain on the investment in Charter and the contribution of Charter shares to GCI Liberty in the GCI Liberty Split-Off, a decrease in unrealized gains on the investment in ILG due to the purchase of ILG by Marriott Vacations Worldwide during the third quarter of 2018 and subsequent sale of this investment, and an increase in unrealized losses on exchangeable debt, partially offset by an unrealized gain on the indemnification asset as a result of the GCI Liberty Split-Off.
Gains (losses) on transactions, net. Gains on transactions, net, increased $225 million and decreased $2 million for the years ended December 31, 2020 and 2019, respectively, as compared to the corresponding prior year periods. The increase in gain on transactions, net for the year ended December 31, 2020 is due the sale of one of the Company’s alternative energy investments during the third quarter of 2020. The Company received total cash consideration of $272 million and recorded a gain of $224 million on the sale of the alternative energy investment.
Tax sharing income (expense) with Liberty Broadband. Due to the GCI Liberty Split-Off, the Company entered into a tax sharing agreement with GCI Liberty, which was assumed by Liberty Broadband in the fourth quarter of 2020 due to a merger between the companies. As a result, the Company recognized tax sharing expense of $39 million and $26 million for the years ended December 31, 2020 and 2019, respectively, and tax sharing income of $32 million for the year ended December 31, 2018.
Other, net. Other, net decreased $38 million and increased $13 million for the years ended December 31, 2020 and 2019, respectively, when compared to the corresponding prior year period. The decrease in other, net for the year ended
December 31, 2020, as compared to the same period in the prior year, is primarily due to a loss on extinguishment of debt of $40 million primarily related to the retirement of the QVC 5.125% Senior Secured Notes due 2022. The activity captured in Other, net is primarily attributable to gains (losses) on early extinguishment of debt, foreign exchange gains (losses) and interest income.
Income taxes. The Company had an income tax benefit of $211 million, an income tax benefit of $217 million and income tax expense of $60 million for the years ended December 31, 2020, 2019 and 2018, respectively. Our effective tax rate for the years ended December 31, 2020, 2019 and 2018 was 20.1%, 34.9% and 6.8% respectively. For the year ended December 31, 2020, the Company recorded an income tax benefit. The current year tax benefit was primarily driven by the impacts of a corporate realignment and tax credits generated by alternative energy investments. See notes 7 and 9 to the accompanying consolidated financial statements for more information related to the corporate realignment.
In 2019 the effective tax rate was higher than the U.S. federal tax of 21% primarily due to tax benefits from tax credits and incentives generated by our alternative energy investments and tax benefits from losses generated in 2019 that were eligible for carryback to tax years with federal income tax rates greater than the U.S. statutory tax rate of 21%, partially offset by a goodwill impairment that is not deductible for tax purposes and an increase in the valuation allowance against certain deferred tax assets. In 2018 the effective tax rate was lower than the U.S. federal tax of 21% primarily due to tax benefits from tax credits and incentives generated by our alternative energy investments, a reduction in the Company’s state effective tax rate used to measure deferred taxes resulting from the GCI Liberty Split-Off in March 2018, and a reduction in the Company’s state effective tax rate used to measure deferred taxes resulting from a state law change during the second quarter.
Net earnings (loss). We had net earnings of $1,262 million, net losses of $405 million, and net earnings of $964 million for the years ended December 31, 2020, 2019 and 2018, respectively. The change in net earnings (loss) was the result of the above-described fluctuations in our revenue, expenses and other gains and losses.
Liquidity and Capital Resources
As of December 31, 2020 substantially all of our cash and cash equivalents are invested in U.S. Treasury securities, other government securities or government guaranteed funds, AAA rated money market funds and other highly rated financial and corporate debt instruments.
The following are potential sources of liquidity: available cash balances, equity issuances, dividend and interest receipts, proceeds from asset sales, debt (including availability under QVC’s bank credit facilities, as discussed in note 7 of the accompanying consolidated financial statements), and cash generated by the operating activities of our wholly-owned subsidiaries. Cash generated by the operating activities of our subsidiaries is only a source of liquidity to the extent such cash exceeds the working capital needs of the subsidiaries and is not otherwise restricted such as, in the case of QVC and Zulily, due to a requirement that a leverage ratio (calculated in accordance with the terms of the document governing such indebtedness which was an exhibit to the Annual Report on Form 10-K for the year ended December 31, 2019) of less than 3.5 must be maintained. As of December 31, 2020 the Company’s leverage ratio was 2.0.
During the year, the Company’s issuer debt credit rating was lowered from BB to BB- and QVC’s issue-level rating on secured debt was lowered from BBB- to BB+ by S&P Global Ratings. All other credit ratings remained unchanged. Qurate Retail and its subsidiaries are in compliance with their debt covenants as of December 31, 2020.
As of December 31, 2020, Qurate Retail's liquidity position consisted of the following:
Cash and cash
amounts in millions
Corporate and other
Total Qurate Retail
To the extent that the Company recognizes any taxable gains from the sale of assets, we may incur tax expense and be required to make tax payments, thereby reducing any cash proceeds. Additionally, we have $2.93 billion available for borrowing under the QVC Bank Credit Facility at December 31, 2020. As of December 31, 2020, QVC had approximately $380 million of cash and cash equivalents held in foreign subsidiaries that is available for domestic purposes with no significant tax consequences upon repatriation to the U.S. QVC accrues taxes on the unremitted earnings of its international subsidiaries. Approximately 63% of this foreign cash balance was that of QVC Japan. QVC owns 60% of QVC Japan and shares all profits and losses with the 40% minority interest holder, Mitsui & Co, LTD.
Additionally, our operating businesses have generated, on average, more than $1 billion in annual cash provided by operating activities over the prior three years and we do not anticipate any significant reductions in that amount in future periods.
Years ended December 31,
Cash Flow Information
amounts in millions
Net cash provided (used) by operating activities
Net cash provided (used) by investing activities
Net cash provided (used) by financing activities
During the year ended December 31, 2020, Qurate Retail's primary uses of cash were payment of cash dividends to common stockholders of $1.3 billion, net debt repayments of $779 million, capital expenditures of $257 million, investments in and loans to equity method investments of $119 million and repurchases of common stock of $70 million, partially offset by proceeds from dispositions of investments of $271 million, which primarily related to the sale of an investment in an alternative energy company accounted for as an equity method investment.
The projected uses of Qurate Retail’s cash in the next year, outside of normal operating expenses (inclusive of tax payments), are the costs to service outstanding debt, $344 million for estimated interest payments on outstanding debt, including corporate level and other subsidiary debt, anticipated capital improvement spending of approximately $270 million, the repayment of certain debt obligations, the potential buyback of common stock under the approved share buyback program, payment of dividends to the holders of the Preferred Stock, other forms of capital returns to investors and additional investments in existing or new businesses. The Company also may be required to make net payments of income tax liabilities to settle items under discussion with tax authorities. The Company expects that cash on hand and cash provided by operating activities in future periods and outstanding borrowing capacity will be sufficient to fund projected uses of cash.
Off-Balance Sheet Arrangements and Aggregate Contractual Obligations
In connection with agreements for the sale of assets by our company, we may retain liabilities that relate to events occurring prior to the sale, such as tax, environmental, litigation and employment matters. We generally indemnify the purchaser in the event that a third party asserts a claim against the purchaser that relates to a liability retained by us. These types of indemnification obligations may extend for a number of years. We are unable to estimate the maximum potential liability for these types of indemnification obligations as the sale agreements may not specify a maximum amount and the amounts are dependent upon the outcome of future contingent events, the nature and likelihood of which cannot be
determined at this time. Historically, we have not made any significant indemnification payments under such agreements and no amount has been accrued in the accompanying consolidated financial statements with respect to these indemnification obligations.
We have contingent liabilities related to legal and tax proceedings and other matters arising in the ordinary course of business. Although it is reasonably possible we may incur losses upon conclusion of such matters, an estimate of any loss or range of loss cannot be made. In the opinion of management, it is expected that amounts, if any, which may be required to satisfy such contingencies will not be material in relation to the accompanying consolidated financial statements.
Information concerning the amount and timing of required payments, both accrued and off-balance sheet, under our contractual obligations, excluding uncertain tax positions as it is undeterminable when payments will be made, is summarized below.
Payments due by period
2 - 3 years
4 - 5 years
amounts in millions
Consolidated contractual obligations
Long-term debt (1)
Interest payments (2)
Finance and operating lease obligations
Preferred Stock (3)
Purchase orders and other obligations (4)
|(1)||Amounts are reflected in the table at the outstanding principal amount, assuming the debt instruments will remain outstanding until the stated maturity date, and may differ from the amounts stated in our consolidated balance sheet to the extent debt instruments (i) were issued at a discount or premium or (ii) have elements which are reported at fair value in our consolidated balance sheets. Amounts do not assume additional borrowings or refinancings of existing debt.|
|(2)||Amounts (i) are based on our outstanding debt at December 31, 2020, (ii) assume the interest rates on our variable rate debt remain constant at the December 31, 2020 rates and (iii) assume that our existing debt is repaid at maturity.|
|(3)||This amount reflects the annual 8.0% dividend on shares of Preferred Stock outstanding as of December 31, 2020 and redemption of the Preferred Stock on March 15, 2031.|
|(4)||Amounts include open purchase orders for inventory and non-inventory purchases along with other contractual obligations.|
Critical Accounting Estimates
The preparation of our financial statements in conformity with GAAP requires us to make estimates and assumptions that affect the reported amounts of assets and liabilities at the date of the financial statements and the reported amounts of revenue and expenses during the reporting period. Listed below are the accounting estimates that we believe are critical to our financial statements due to the degree of uncertainty regarding the estimates or assumptions involved and the magnitude of the asset, liability, revenue or expense being reported. All of these accounting estimates and assumptions, as well as the resulting impact to our financial statements, have been discussed with the audit committee of our board of