By Shivaun Hales

Harvey Norman chairman Gerry Harvey has become known for his public critic of online retail, however the retailer has finally made the leap, launching Harveynorman.co.nz quietly last week.

Harvey Norman New Zealand managing director of electrical, Graeme Watt told www.connectednewzealand.co.nz the company is excited about finally being a part of the online shopping landscape, but admitted it has been a challenging process.

“Online shopping is obviously a huge growth area for all retailers at the moment, and we are glad to be a part of it,” said Watt.

Local consumers are demonstrating strong interest in e-commerce, with research from Nielsen revealing the number of New Zealanders over 18 shopping online jumped from 10% in 2001 to 46% in 2011.

Nielsen also estimates that Kiwis spent about $2.3 billion shopping online over the past year, based on a database of 12,000 people the company interviews annually and a survey it did in January.

Harvey Norman is keeping its bricks-and-mortar stores involved in the e-commerce platform, giving consumers the option of picking up goods purchased online from their closest retail store and saving on delivery fees. Watt believes consumers will appreciate the flexibility.

“The other major benefit to consumers is that fact they can now shop at Harvey Norman 24 hours a day,” he said.

Harvey Norman is selling a broad product range online, including washing machines, cooktops, tablet computers, TVs and furniture.

Watt expects some categories will do better than others, predicting small electronic gadgets such as iPods will be well received by online shoppers.

However certain items such as heat pumps and air conditions are not available online due to the difficulty involved in installation, Watt said.

Harvey’s officially an online competitor

According to Watt, Harvey Norman is well positioned as an online retailer in New Zealand due to its widespread warehouse network, promising consistent stock levels.

“We have warehouse operations spread throughout New Zealand, while most of our competitors just have centrally located warehouses,” Watt told www.connectednewzealand.co.nz.

Harvey Norman has focused on functionality with its online store, however consumers can expect the site to continually evolve over the coming months.

“The site we have now will end up looking very different,” commented Watt.

“We will continue to grow and develop the site going forward,” he said.

Social media will continue to play an important role for Harvey Norman online, with Watt saying it has made it made consumer interaction much easier, and encouraged stronger communication.

The website also gives consumers the option to share their favourite products with friends on Facebook and Twitter, or send the product details via email.

‘Going online is not easy’

Watt said creating an e-commerce platform isn’t as easy as some make it out to be, and although the site has only just gone live, it has been in development stages for some time.

“It has been a huge learning curve and we have a number of new faces in the building,” he said.

Watt said some of the greatest challenges Harvey Norman has overcome during the move online include security and fraud, payment gateways, courier arrangements and managing online stock levels.

“Introducing online to our business is a massive commitment, but we are really excited about the overall result which is a synergy between bricks-and-mortar and online,” Watt added.

Consumers shopping at Harvey’s online store will be able to read product reviews, compare different products, view multiple product photos and ask product questions.