Big retail never got it

Gerry Harvey (and @harveynormanau ) has become the visible target of the online shopper recently with his comments regarding GST and a ‘level playing field’. Technically, he’s correct, but his approach and methods work best for a certain demographic on shallow, sensationalist popular television – in the faster moving, better informed blogosphere, he’s experienced a massive ‘suicidal‘ #fail.

I’m not going to add much to the comment that hasn’t already been said better already by others [1, 2, 3]. However, I will try to add a little insight from my own perspective.

About 18 years ago, I worked for a company that prepared film separations for print (crumbs! only 18 years ago – do film houses still exist?). It was highly skilled and exacting work, and the company, Show-Ads, was the acknowledged leader of the industry in Australia. Some of the work we produced was simply superb.

Anyway, we could see the internet was going to have a huge impact. We also had really close ties with the major ad agencies and direct links to the several major retailers (Target, Myer, Coles, Kmart). We produced all the artwork for the catalogues these retailers stuffed in your mailbox, and we held digital image files of all their product (we photographed much of it ourselves). In short, we were really well placed to give these retailers a huge head start into online sales.

So, in 1995, the company spawned a new division called Marketspace. It was going to be soooo cool – it was a virtual shopping mall where a visitor could enter, choose a retailer, browse products, and … well, they could browse products. To be fair, looking back now, it sounds like crap, and it kinda was (frames, animated gifs etc.), but 15 years ago, believe me, it was the shizzle!

MarketSpace logo

Funny thing though, the retailers were dead scared of it. They didn’t want to get involved, they didn’t want the risk, the didn’t think it would work, they didn’t want it to work because that would mean people wouldn’t visit their stores. It was an attitude that, even then, marked them as dinosaurs, trudging reluctantly down the long road to the tarpits of extinction. And here we are today, more then 15 years later, and we’re still hearing the same arguments!

So, Gerry (and your ilk). It’s too late. Not just a few weeks too late, not just a few years, but 15 bloody years too late!

Amusingly, one of the brands I remember from the Marketspace days was Myer’s failed venture into electronics: MegaMart (remember those?), and 15 of those stores were sold off to Harvey Norman! So, Gerry, you really did have your chance 15 years ago! Hilarious that now you can go to harveynorman.com.au and search/browse product, but not buy! Sure, there’s no animated gifs, but it’s still that 1995 mindset.