Gerry Harvey Does Online Business a Favour

Gerry HarveyThe continual missteps by Gerry Harvey in the online world are case book examples of what not to do.

They provide glaring and obvious lessons for any Australian business entering the online shopping world.

So in that respect we should all thank Uncle Gerry for the lessons.

Last week Harvey said he was drastically scaling down his expectations for his online store after only a few months of operation. Previously Harvey had been on record as saying he expected his online store to be turning over billions.

Perhaps now other Australian retail outlets that are considering going online or about to go online, will stop and think:

“Well if Gerry Harvey doesn’t know what he’s doing, perhaps we should think carefully about finding someone who does and learn from them.”

Too many people and businesses think online retail is a panacea for all their offline woes, and if they just build an ecommerce store the customers and the money will come pouring in.

And when that doesn’t happen after a few months, just like Gerry, they complain that it doesn’t work.

As anyone knows who’s been in the online business for more than a few years, it takes hard work, lots of it to make an online store a success, plus significant investment.

Hopefully newcomers will begin to understand that ecommerce is not an instant fix, it’s not a silver bullet and that they must approach it strategically with the long term in mind.

So here are seven Takeaways for Australian Retail from Uncle Gerry’s Anus horribilus


1: Understand the Medium.

Gerry Harvey’s ill fated attack on online shopping in early 2011 saw him get pilloried from everyone from the Prime Minister down. Clearly he had no understanding of the web and social media and was dealt a harsh lesson.

If you don’t understand the medium, find someone who does or take the time to learn. Your business future does depend on it.


2: Learn from Your Mistakes or Your Brand Will Suffer

The social media backlash last year against Harvey was swift and brutal and should have made him realise he was in uncharted waters. Unfortunately he remained unrepentant for months afterwards, which only further eroded his credibility and perhaps forever tarnished his brand.

His continual missteps in the online space have seem him labelled everything from dinosaur, the ghost of retail past and troglodytic luddite

"...who in their right mind buys technology of any sort from a troglodytic luddite?"

Campbell Phillips, Power Retail


Don't let this happen to you.


3: Get Good Advice and Listen to it.

The above drubbing could have been avoided if Harvey had consulted any mildly competent marketer, PR agent or social media advisor. In fact anyone with any understanding of the web could have told him what would happen. So he either didn’t get good advice, or he didn’t listen to it.


4: Be Prepared to Start at the Bottom

Online business is still a new area. It is barely over a decade old in Australia, so everything is still new. We are all still learning what works and how to make it work.

Expecting that you can just set up a website and watch the sales pour in is naive in the extreme. As a business you must be prepared to invest time, money and resources into it.


5: Plan for the Long Term

Online business is complicated. You simply can’t do all of the things you need to do all at once.  (And you probably can’t afford them all anyway.)

Therefore you need to take things step by step. Put each piece of the process in place and understand it before moving on to the next one. This takes time.

Some of the most effective online marketing tactics can only be implemented over time such as search engine optimisation, content marketing and social media.

There are no short cuts.


6: Understand That the Customer is in Control: Really in Control

One of the key elements of online shopping is that the customer is in control. (Actually it’s an age old idea that has come back with a vengeance online.)

As a brand you need to build a relationship with customers. Such relationships only develop over time. Try and skip that part and the power of social media will ensure that everybody online knows you’re only after a one night stand.

Many marketers and business owners are having real trouble with this. Either pretending they understand it or paying lip service to it while trying to find a way to remain in control. 

That sort of thinking is completely counter to how the web works. Go against it and the online community will punish for it.


7: Hire and Pay for Good Advice

Unfortunately there is more snake oil and well meaning naiveté in the online marketing space than there is experienced and quality advice. In terms of advice, you get what you pay for.  The technology is a different matter.

The current Harvey Norman site is at best “ordinary” and looks like something designed five years ago not last year. It’s also built on a fairly ordinary ecommerce platform. Certainly not something that can deliver the wow factor and customer experience needed of a site that is expected to generate billions.

Now, you can get great looking and functioning sites for $50 a month and you can get awful ones that cost $100,000’s.

For someone new to the space, this can be confusing as price isn’t always associated with quality where the actual technology is concerned.

Again, this is where good advice comes in. Find someone who knows how much you should be paying, what to pay for and why.


So is Gerry Harvey a troglodytic luddite?

Speak to me in the social sphere.

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