How Gerry Harvey plans to turn Harvey Norman into Australia's biggest retailer
Gerry Harvey has been one of the most divisive figures in Australian online retail, and he’s not going away.
It was way back in 2008 when he first told SmartCompany online retailing was a “dead end”, (a story mentioned in last night’s interview). Yet last night the industry veteran spoke to Network Ten about his online plans, and even claimed the company could be the biggest online retailer in the country.
“I think one day you’ll find that Harvey Norman is the biggest online retailer in Australia,” he said. “But it’s not going to happen overnight.”
It was two years ago Gerry Harvey started work on the company’s online retail venture, and even managed to put together a good-looking site. But the business is a fair way off from making a significant impact on the Australian online retail scene.
It’s been a while since Harvey has put his name in lights given the backlash from his campaign to charge GST for offshore purposes. Last night’s interview is a media comeback for the veteran who’s known for making outrageous statements.
Here are five of the best gems from Gerry Harvey’s latest interview on online retailing:
1. Harvey Norman will be the biggest online retailer
It’s hard to imagine Harvey Norman being the largest player in Australian online retail, but that’s what Gerry thinks will happen. As he said last night: “I think one day you’ll find that Harvey Norman is the biggest online retailer in Australia. But it’s not going to happen overnight.”
He’s definitely right there. In fact, the most recent numbers from Harvey himself suggest the company is earning only 1% of its money from the online store, or roughly $18.2 million based on our own estimates.
Compared to a company like Kogan, or Catch of the Day, that means Gerry is a long way off.
2. He only Googles something every few days
Harvey is famous for not using a computer in his office, but this comment from last night’s interview is a whopper: not only does Gerry not shop online, but he only Googles something “every few days”.
For an entrepreneur who says online retailing is the future, admitting you don’t shop online isn’t necessarily a good look.
3. He still wants that online shopping tax
Many of the retailers campaigning for a GST on online sales have backed down due to customer backlash, but not Harvey. Last night he admitted he still wants that tax to change: “If you buy online in Australia you pay GST. If you buy online you don’t pay GST, clearly unfair, clearly the law has to change.”
He’s not alone. The Australian Retailers Association along with other lobby groups have been calling for a change to the law. It seems this fight isn’t over yet.
4. The company is simply treading water
It’s no secret Harvey Norman hasn’t been doing very well lately. But this admission is a frank look at how badly it is doing. Harvey said last night the company is being affected by the fact it’s simply not expanding.
“We’re not opening shops, we’re treading water; we’re not expanding.”
Retail has shifted fundamentally, and it seems Harvey Norman is at a crossroads. With shares at just $2, it seems Gerry Harvey is being forced to consider online retailing as a method of growth.
5. Get rid of leisure computers
This gem is just weird. In December 2011 Gerry Harvey launched a new online store for console and computer games, saying it would be one of the best sources for imported cheap games. (A small industry of importers has arisen to offer cheaper prices).
But last night, Harvey said he’d get rid of all “leisure computers” if he could: “They [youth] spend their time on crap like games. If I could get rid of computers – leisure computers – then I probably would.”
That’s a shocking admission for an entrepreneur who runs a company selling video games, along with a website dedicated to selling them.
But maybe he has a point – he said in the interview he’d rather spend time outside than “sitting on a computer for days”.
Patrick Stafford is deputy editor of SmartCompany.
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