Harvey Norman finds value in omni-channel retailing

Chief digital officer, Gary Wheelhouse, says 60 per cent of the retailer's website traffic is coming from mobile

eBay enterprise vice president and CMO, Mark Kirschner, chats to Harvey Norman CDO Gary Wheelhouse during MagentoLive in Sydney.
eBay enterprise vice president and CMO, Mark Kirschner, chats to Harvey Norman CDO Gary Wheelhouse during MagentoLive in Sydney.

Harvey Norman’s omni-channel strategy has come a long way since it launched an e-commerce website in 2011, says CDO Gary Wheelhouse.

“I don’t think anyone would suggest that Harvey Norman was an early adopter of online. In fact, I would say there is a last mover advantage strategy,” he told delegates at MagentoLive in Sydney.

“The fact is that we needed a website that connected to our 180 stores.”

When Harvey Norman started its online journey in 2011, it wanted to bring the retail options to online, such as the ability for customers to interact with salespeople using live chat.

“One of the primary reasons customers go into stores is to talk to people. We very quickly understood that live chat was something we needed to do. If you are online and chatting to someone from Harvey Norman, you are talking to someone who has worked in a store and sold those products,” said Wheelhouse.

To improve the online experience, Wheelhouse has focused on what he calls customer journey mapping. This involves using a wealth of information from customer service and social media.

For example, there might be a case where a Harvey Norman customer has gone for the click and collect option. This is where they buy an item from the website and then collect it from the store.

“You might read about a customer who has done a click and collect and has had to go to the store three times. That’s just terrible, you’re telling me another way to go and shop,” he commented.

According to Wheelhouse, click and collect is the perfect meeting of the online and retail experience.

“Our customers are still going into stores but what are they doing? They are researching online. They are also doing click and collect. We benefit from driving traffic into stores because we can upsell the customer in store with an extra warranty or other service.”

Hand in hand with online comes mobile commerce. Wheelhouse said it has put a lot of time into making the mobile website responsive so that customers can shop on their smartphone or tablet.

“It’s great to look at the stats on a Saturday night and see that 60 per cent of your traffic is coming from mobile. I’m expecting that Boxing Day [sales] will be bigger for mobile than desktop,” he said.

Future investment

As a former Harvey Norman franchisee, Wheelhouse says he feels sorry for sales people because they are now “outgunned by customers.”

“As a customer, we walk into a store with more information about the three products that we’re interested in than the 1,000 products that the salesperson will need to have a level of understanding about.”

To solve this problem, Harvey Norman is looking to arm sales staff with more information on a device so that they can assist the customer with an in-store sale.

Beacons may also be on the horizon. Wheelhouse told delegates that he has spent a lot of time looking at overseas Beacon examples from Target and Walmart in the United States to see what works in a retail environment.

“It’s great if you were on the app and walked in store and the Beacon said `Hi Mark, welcome back, and by the way that product you were looking at is now available.’

There are no shortage of [Beacon] players in Australia. That is something we would go out and test and get some results. That isn’t something that I think would be a long way away,” he said.

Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick

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