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AT LARGE: Scratch my back

AT LARGE: Scratch my back

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The other day - a Sunday, actually - I decided at the very last possible minute that the maps I'm sending to my wedding guests ought to have the water in blue. I'd gone for a kind of aged-sepia look, printed on ivory cotton bond - it looked great, but I tried one in blue for a lark and it looked much better.

Problem was, my printer was running a tad low on cyan ink. Not wanting to run out mid-project (the invites had to be posted on Monday), I headed out to a store I knew would be open on Sunday afternoon: Kmart at the Broadway Shopping Centre. I knew that Kmart would have my printer cartridges, because Kmart is part of the Coles Myer group, as is Harris Technology, and they have what we call in this madcap business of ours "synergy".

"Synergy" is supposed to mean that Kmart can leverage Harris's expertise in IT to provide a higher-quality service to its core customers (people who like discounts and shop at odd hours). What it means in practice is that Harris has a store (actually more of a glass bubble) inside the Kmart at Broadway. Even though you don't leave Kmart to go to Harris, you're very aware of having entered a different store. It's all a bit Rod Serling in its way.

Unfortunately and bizarrely, the two stores keep different hours. I got there just before five, and the boy in the bubble barely acknowledged me as he chatted away on the phone, looking up long enough to point to a sign saying they close at four on a Sunday. A tiny bit of sympathy would have gone a long way.

Also bizarrely, the inkjet printers are outside the bubble, in the main Kmart part of the store, while consumables such as my precious cyan ink cartridges are kept locked away in the Harris Technology bit. Does this make any sense to anyone? Surely assessing the needs of different customers and putting them in touch with exactly the right printer is a job for a specialist like Harris, while selling consumables to people who already know what kind of printer they own could be handled by any old ning-nong (such as Kmart).

Coles Myer has never been particularly good at IT. Computers have been an afterthought tacked onto the home entertainment and consumer electronics business. The tragedy for Harris is that it used to be pretty good at IT, but a poor fit with Kmart gives the impression of extremely shoddy service. The tragedy for Kmart is that Harris's bubble makes the entire store less useful after 4pm on a Sunday.

The tragedy for both is that Harvey Norman was still open.

Matthew JC. Powell is considering a career in cartography. Talk him out of it on mjcp@optushome.com.au.


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