By Aimee Chanthadavong

As recently as June, online retailer Ruslan Kogan referred to Gerry Harvey as a “dinosaur” in the retail space, yet last month Harvey Norman was announced as Best Multichannel Retailer of the Year at the 2013 Online Retail Industry Awards. 

So what changed?

Harvey Norman digital general manager Gordon Nugent said the push to put Harvey Norman online required a lot of convincing and change management.

“I had the great or hard job to convince Gerry to go online,” he said. “But it’s worked. There were a few scars, a few battles but we finally got there.

“Obviously the online channel is just one more channel that becomes part of your business but at the end of the day it’s just retail.”

The company, which has over 180 locations across Australia, had the challenge to take a business that has always operated as a bricks and mortar and put it online. 

“We thought, ‘How do we build a website that won’t cannibalise or take away business from our existing stores?’ We thought long and hard about how we could make it a complementary business and as another channel where a customer could come to buy from us. We’re a bricks and mortar retailer and now a clicks and mortar retailer, so whatever you do with the website it has to complement the stores.

“It’s also about looking at the core principle of our business — we wanted to replicate what we have in store online.” 

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But it wasn’t just Gerry that Nugent had to convince about the change, it was the franchisees too.

“To incentivise the franchisees we actually pass the sales from online down to them,” he said.

“They’re local business owners who don’t want to be cannibalised by online. We actually worked with our franchisees to make sure they got the customers into their stores and from there it’s their responsibility to take care of their customers, which they do very well.” 

While the site may be up and running and to what Nugent modestly said is in “good condition”, they’re constantly conducting A/B varying tests, making tweaks accordingly and looking at other retailers for inspiration.

“There’s still a long way to go,” he said.

“We’re constantly looking at other retailers and seeing what they’re doing. We often say the best ideas are someone else’s and we’re happy to steal them. We’re testing the site three to four times a week and it’s amazing to see some of the results we get.”

Other challenges that lie ahead include integrating the company’s existing 25-year-old legacy system with its new online interface, figuring out a more affordable delivery service and personalising the online experience for its customers. 

“There are still plenty of things we have to look at trying to fix.”