I had the pleasure to work on a project for Sausage Software in Melbourne back in 1999. It was called Business In A Box and was designed to enable local retailers put their business online i.e. introduce a catalogue of products with options to the internet. There was no programming involved on the part of the retailer. Unfortunately it was a product way ahead of its time.
I can’t remember the numbers exactly but I think 150 units were sold throughout Australia in spite of a fairly heavy marketing push. I remember thinking at the time “bricks and mortar…bricks and mortar”. Australian shoppers at the time may have been slow to take up online shopping, but the retailers were even slower to spot the trend. I hear the resounding Australian chorus “She’ll be right mate!” on the part of the retailers who didn’t have to think too hard to turn a buck the way they’ve been turning a buck for the last 50 years. The cash registers may have changed, the shelf stock systems may have changed but essentially they’re still selling stuff the way their grandparents sold stuff.
Now, we look at the furore over the last year or so and see the retailers (vocally headed up by Gerry Harvey of Harvey Norman fame) complaining that the market is being skewed by foreign internet retailers selling their wares without charging GST (that’s VAT to some). Fair enough, I feel your pain, my bottom line has been cut by more than 10% for the last ten years by the exporting of IT related work to cheaper economies. Sorry that you feel like the rug’s been pulled from under you. Hang on, I’ll help you out. I’m going to log into your web-site and I’ll order a big 27inch screen. I’ll also pay the GST on my purchase so you don’t feel ripped off.
Hey Gerry, Where’s the ‘Add to Cart’ button?
That’s right there isn’t one. No, you cannot order any product from the Harvey Norman chain through their website (except from their photo center wooohoo!). Is this a retailer run by luddites? Is it run by cost conscious accountants who can’t see an increased bottom line by enabling online sales? Is there a team of people running Gerry’s IT services who are resting on their laurels or haven’t been able to impress on him the importance of installing these new fangled interweb concepts.
As of July 2011 (yep, that’s just this year) there’s a whole media buzz about dear Gerry dipping his toes in the online sales market. He’s not selling the FMCG stuff that his chain is famous for. He’s selling 48bars of soap at a time through another chain with another name (and I’m not going to promote the name here). In the meantime, a visit to the Harvey Norman website shows a total lack of online enablement. I guess I shouldn’t complain, it gives me something to do some price comparisons with and then place my order with Dick Smith’s (and get it delivered to my door).
So, what’s happening in other online businesses?
You can buy a holiday online and you can book a flight online (note the international nature of these businesses). If Borders had the foresight, they could now be rivalling Amazon.com. Have you tried booking a movie ticket online lately..or tried to find out what’s running in Gold Class next month? It’s a horrific experience.
Apart from a few exceptions, I have the feeling that Australian retailers are letting the side down by either adopting the ‘wait and see’ approach to their eCommerce presence or doing the absolute minimum to keep up with their competition. Why is there no ingenuity? If there is some good stuff happening I’m all ears and willing to include references to this blog. In the mean time Mr Harvey, my unsolicited advice is pull your finger out and get with the 21st century.