Gerry Harvey to embrace online retail in September

Bricks and mortar retailer Gerry Harvey has confirmed he is to make the vast majority of the products offered at Harvey Norman stores online next month.

“Eighty percent of our retail products will be online in September,” Harvey told Computerworld Australia. “I’m sick of talking about online [retail] to journalists.”

The admission, from a beleaguered Harvey, follows the billionaire retailer’s failed campaign to push for the inclusion of GST on online overseas purchases of less than $1000.

The move also follows the release this month of the Productivity Commission’s Economic Structure and Performance of the Australian Retail Industry draft report which argued that Australia’s retail sector must overcome myriad of challenges before its is able to address the growing loss of sales to overseas online outlets.

According to the report, larger retailers attitude toward online retail was generally ambivalent with the common view existing that that the purpose of websites was to promote retail sales rather than facilitate online sales.

“While department stores such as Myer and David Jones and large retailers such as Harvey Norman have had an online presence for some time, their websites appeared designed more to provide information on the range and specifications of goods they sell rather than to aggressively pursue online sales,” the report reads.

“Larger retailers may have been reluctant to invest in fledgling online infrastructure given their already heavy investment in large retail shopping facilities."

The then impending Productivity Commission report was also a major reason for the Federal Government not to apply GST to online overseas sales of under $1000, according to Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation, Bill Shorten.

However, Harvey in January argued many businesses simply could not wait for the Productivity Commission report and would go broke in the three months till April.

"This has been given to the Productivity Commission which is going to take nine months ... We can't wait that long,” he said. “For many retailers this is a case of life or death."

In January the Fair Imports Alliance said Harvey’s campaign —which also had the backing of Myer, David Jones, and Target — had acted irresponsibly by trying to force the government to drop a GST exemption on international website sales of less than $1000.

"They're asking the government to change an issue after the government has already made a comprehensive decision to conduct a full review,” Alliance spokesman, Brad Kitschke, said at the time.

“The most responsible thing to do is engage with that review and try and influence the outcome rather than step outside it."

Harvey’s failed GST campaign also prompted the federal government in February to drag Australian retailers into the 21st century through the launch of an Online Retail Forum to help modernise the sector.

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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