Harvey Norman begins Microsoft Surface pre-sales with high hopes

By Claire Reilly

Following a decision to sell its new Windows 8 tablet, known as the Surface, exclusively through its own online channel, Microsoft has capitulated and begun distributing the device through Australian clicks and mortar retailers.

Harvey Norman and JB Hi-Fi have both started taking pre-orders for the product online; however, physical stock of the product is yet to make its way to some stores.

Speaking to a sales representative from Harvey Norman’s Broadway store in Sydney today, Current.com.au learned the product is available to pre-order online and in-store, and physical stock is due to come into stores within the week, or “hopefully sooner”.

“We only found out about it a day or two ago,” the salesperson said. “I was hoping it’d be in today.”

It was a similar story at JB Hi-Fi, where consumers were being advised to take advantage of online or in-store pre-order to guarantee getting their hands on product as soon as it arrived.

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The general manager of Harvey Norman’s computer division, Ben McIntosh, has high hopes for sales of the new device, despite missing out on initial sales.

“I’m not going to lie, I was disappointed when they [Microsoft] made the decision to not put it into retail at the start,” said McIntosh. “We are very, very good partners with Microsoft, and as you always do, I gave very direct feedback that I thought this was a mistake.

“I think consumers want to see a brand new product,” he added. “It’s a brand new product with a brand new operating system. And I think only the most dedicated early adopters would ever buy something sight unseen, from a website, early in its life. So I’m very excited that it’s coming to retail.

“I think in this particular case, one component of retail doesn’t solve the problem of getting good distribution. The vast majority of people still like to touch, feel, experience and play around with new products. That doesn’t mean I’m anti-online – online is a very important component. But the minute you start taking pieces out of the retail pie, that’s when things stop being successful.

“I couldn’t look people in the eye and say Surface was bad just because it wasn’t on our shelves – it’s a very good product. I understand there’s been some speculation about how it’s been selling in the market. Obviously if it was selling well there probably wouldn’t be enough stock to come into retail. But I don’t think the quality or the success of the product had anything to do with that, I think it was more to do with its distribution model.”

While McIntosh said suppliers could learn from the Surface example and the dangers of direct selling, he was focused on the future and the opportunity for franchisees and customers to get their hands on new a product.

“The Surface is a very good product – it’s well designed, it’s slim, it’s light and there’s an excellent marketing campaign behind it. The number of customers enquiring at store level is feverish, it’s just fantastic.

“It is a tablet Christmas – I’ve never seen anything like it,” he added. “It’s been many, many years since I’ve seen a category sell so well without actually having to do much at all.

“What I’m really excited about is that a customer can come to a Harvey Norman store and see every single tablet environment available to market and make an informed choice. Everything’s there and we can give them the unbiased advice now, because we literally have everything on the shelf.”

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