Harvey Norman is taking the launch of Microsoft's new operating system seriously, to say the least. In a year that has seen desktop PC system sales slump, the retail giant is hoping for an upgrade rush as well as associated peripheral sales as consumers look to exploit Windows XP's improved features.
John Slack-Smith, Harvey Norman's general manager, computers and communications, says Microsoft OS launches have traditionally been money-spinners, but he's not expecting XP to match the frenzy that accompanied Windows 95 or even the strong response to Windows 98. Nevertheless, he's confident the product is worth backing.
By holding back the launch of its October catalogue, Harvey Norman has put its money where its mouth is. "We are undertaking a full fleet of press, radio and television advertising to support the launch," Slack-Smith says. "But most important is the effort we are putting in back at the store level.
"We will be making sure that people who come into the store from the advertising are made aware of all the new features and capabilities delivered by XP."
Slack-Smith said there were four key areas that Harvey Norman has identified as opportunities from the XP launch: digital audio and video, digital photography, mobile communications, and gaming. All are significantly enhanced by XP.
"The opportunity for us is not the physical XP sales, but in the peripherals sales and the driving of technology as a business tool," he says. "Customers will be walking in and asking questions about how XP enhances their experience in these areas. We have got to have people who can confidently chart the customer through those waters.
"If we get the message right and have the right level of experience in our stores, XP has the ability to influence the whole business through those intangible sales of peripherals, accessories and other value-adds."
Harvey Norman will be creating individual Microsoft solution centres within its computer franchises "to demonstrate first-hand all the new features and benefits" for XP users.
"We will not just be showing off a PC and its operating system; we'll be taking peripheral products and demonstrating how XP enhances the experience of using them," Slack-Smith says. "Across Australia, I would expect that upwards of 80 of our franchised stores will have between two and four live demonstrations of various peripheral devices attached to XP-loaded PCs."
The Microsoft zones will be stocking a variety of hardware and software that is approved for use with Windows XP.
"We will have XP-ready PCs on the floor from the day XP is launched and there is an entire range of Hewlett-Packard PCs pre-loaded with XP which we will have in stores on the day," he says.
Harvey Norman's top 40 stores already have Microsoft solution centres, which will be enhanced for the launch.
"Within those centres there will be HP/P4 machines that will be set up with XP and a range of peripheral devices. Potential customers will be able to get a hands-on, first-hand feel of how XP enhances the experience and be able to compare it to previous versions of Windows."
Having the right product display is only half the challenge in retail. Staff training is also important, according to Slack-Smith. Key technicians within the franchised stores are being trained on XP installation and its key features.
"Our ultimate aim is that when you walk into one of the Harvey Norman franchised stores is that you will find people conversant and technically proficient with the product and its key features," he says.
"They will be able to assist customers, whatever their needs are, and fully explain the best use and application for XP for each particular customer."