By Claire Reilly
The symbolic figurehead of electrical retail in Australia has taken to late night television to air his concerns about the state of Australian retail and to bemoan the use of computers by Australian children.
Interviewed by Matt Doran on Channel Ten’s Late New Focus segment last night, Gerry Harvey spoke at length about various issues affecting the electrical retail industry, rejecting his earlier negative comments on online retailing—going as far as asserting that Harvey Norman could grow to be Australia’s biggest online retailer—and saying he wanted to “get rid of…leisure computers for all the kids in Australia”.
One part of Harvey Norman’s portfolio that has been strengthened over the past year has been its console gaming offering, with the retailer setting up the Harvey Norman Direct Import website for the online sale of consoles and games across the major platforms.
Despite this, Harvey voiced concerns about the increasing numbers of young Australians spending time on games.
“I think one of the great tragedies with youth is that they spend so much time playing games and crap on computers and they’re not outside, they’re not healthy,” he said. “And it’s a big problem in our society.
“If I could get rid of…leisure computers for all the kids in Australia overnight, I probably would. They could have them at school, but at leisure time, no.
“We’re talking about kids playing games mostly online, and wasting their life away basically playing games online, because they’re not getting any physical activity and their minds are screwed up on these games.”
Speaking about Harvey Norman’s falling profits, Harvey said the company was “treading water” in the current market.
“At the moment we’re not opening shops, we’re treading water. We’ve got ourselves in a position now where we’ve never been in our lives, we’re not expanding,” he said. “[The] Harvey Norman share price is around $2—it used to be $7, $7.50. There’s a hell of a difference to where it was! But we can’t make the money in this environment we used to make.
When it comes to online retailing, Harvey admitted that, rightly or wrongly, his epitaph would be branded with his insistence that “the internet doesn’t work”.
But despite being branded as a naysayer of online retail, Harvey said e-commerce was growing for the electrical and computer categories.
“If you’re in furniture and bedding…[online retail] is very small, it’s virtually non-existent,” he said. “But if you talk about electrical and computers, yes it’s getting bigger every year. I think that that will still grow, and I think that one day you’ll probably find Harvey Norman is probably the biggest online retailer in Australia. But it’s not going to happen overnight.”
The full interview can be found on the Channel Ten News website.