“Bigger issues at play” in DSLR direct importing: Harvey Norman

By Claire Reilly

Direct importing and grey market products have been top talking points in the consumer electronics industry recently, with bricks-and-mortar retailers such as JB Hi-Fi and Harvey Norman launching websites for the sale of direct import goods.

While Harvey Norman’s website is currently only selling console games (with PC games coming soon), the head of the company’s computers division, Ben McIntosh has said there are plans to expand to cater for demand.

“We’re going to look at every single product that is advantageous to the Australian consumer,” said McIntosh. “PC games is the most obvious, Blu-ray movies is another obvious step for us. We’ll look at any product we can get a good global advantage on price for the customer, without the customer being put at risk by things like non C-tick approved plugs and warranties."

However, while JB Hi-Fi has opted to sell DSLR cameras and accessories through its direct import channel, McIntosh said he was unsure whether cameras were a suitable product to sell directly from overseas markets.

“Cameras are a fairly easy move for us to get into if we wish,” he said. “At this point in time though, I’m not entirely convinced that there aren’t bigger issues at play for customers importing cameras directly.

“Australian consumer protection laws are very strict, and for a retailer to be able to say, ‘Yes sure, we’ll comply’ – that’s very different to actually doing it.

“Having a camera arrive that’s got Japanese writing all over it, with photocopied books and temporary travel plugs for the power is not the right experience for the customer, so I’ll be fighting to get locally-sourced product at a more competitive price before I go down that path."

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“Our camera sales – Australian sourced – were very healthy over Christmas. So there are customers in Australia that do not particularly want to direct import. I believe it’s not as cut and dry as we all think it’s going to be. There are reasons why Australian authorities require C-Tick approvals for batteries and power supplies.

“If you dig a little deeper than the surface, the customer does not always get what they’re promised.”

Another sticking point for McIntosh is what he sees as the reluctance of suppliers to react to global pricing, which leaves Australian consumers having to pay more than their counterparts around the world for the same products.

“I believe global pricing should be in play,” he said. “Customers shouldn’t have to be direct importing, they should be able to go to get the same price for a Canon in Australia as the UK as Hong Kong or the US. That’s the ultimate goal for me – to make sure that good quality, proven and Australian consumer law-compliant product is sold in Australia for a reasonable price.

“If I lose my battle and I can’t get global pricing in cameras, and I’m also convinced I can be selling a good quality product that I can’t get locally-sourced, then you betcha we’ll do cameras as well."

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