Harvey Norman is planning to make a success of its Internet site but, ironically, the retail giant is struggling to collect electronic product information from its suppliers for posting to the new site.
Richard Eastmead, Harvey Norman's Web site proprietor, last week detailed the difficulty the organisation faces constructing its new e-commerce site.
`I expected to gain the information easily, to cut and paste it on to the site. But many vendors don't seem to have product information and photos in a usable format. Some aren't geared up to service us for the site; they're a step behind,' he said. Because of the difficulties, Eastmead said he is manually inputting information in some cases.
Although some suppliers have active Web sites, the issue is of concern to Harvey Norman because the success of e-commerce sites relies heavily on efficient supply chains, he observed.
Michelle Deaker, joint CEO of giftvouchers.com, who sell vouchers on behalf of some of Australia's biggest retailers, agreed with Eastmead.
According to Deaker, many companies had not formulated an Internet strategy when giftvouchers. com approached businesses late last year about selling their gift vouchers through its site. `Twelve months on and those businesses are only now ready to list on our site,' she said.
Speaking about the HN site, Eastmead said they have rejected the temptation to use cutting-edge tech- nology because we want the site to perform well on lower modem speeds, thus appealing to a broader base.
The site is based on Microsoft's NT platform and will run on IBM's Netfinity servers housed in Sydney. The payment gateway is Ingenico, which plugs into Harvey Norman's current EFTPOS system.
`There is a massive cost of entry into the Internet market,' Eastmead said. `In the US, companies are spending $US50 million to enter, $10 million for the infrastructure, $30 million on branding and $10 million to develop the site.
`We've already got the infrastructure, such as offline marketing and EFTPOS, and we have a strong brand. People know and trust the name and organisation behind the site.' Eastmead declined to disclose how much the retailer has invested in the site but indicated it was well over $500,000. He said without hesitation that Harvey Norman has a `10 out of 10 chance of success with the online venture because of `our strong brand name and retail as our core competency'.
Eastmead is working with fellow proprietors to fulfil online customer orders through selected stores in every state and territory. `Having stores fulfil the orders means, in the metro areas, we can deliver product within 24 hours,' he said.
Eastmead predicts the majority of supporters of Harvey Norman's online store will be from country areas as they're already using mail order and, online, they'll have a wider range of products than can be found in the country stores.
HN has opted for fulfilment via the stores, as other proprietors and chairman Gerry Harvey had expressed concern that Internet sales might drive customers away from the bricks-and-mortar stores.
But in the case of Giftvouchers.com, Deaker said people return to bricks-and-mortar stores to redeem their gift vouchers purchased online. It means retailers have access to the Internet dollar and when the gift voucher receiver is in store they often buy something else.