Somehow Harvey Norman is still alive and has had a growing share price until recently despite Gerry Harvey’s proclamation in 2011 that shopping online was “unAustralian” – a term equally manipulative as it is absurd.
Somehow, this uninspiring retailer with an equally uninspiring leader have managed to grow with old fashioned TV advertising, salesmanship and ever-shrinking markup on white goods. But the reckoning is coming, as the technical and strategic debts that the company has accrued rear their heads.

Let’s start with the Harvey Norman site. The hilarious bloated Magento installation should be the first sign of trouble. With a barely custom theme, and some good old fashioned giant mega menus, this site screams of usability and modern aesthetic. I mean I love a menu containing a thousand sub-menu items as much as the next guy, but at some point someone in management actually needs to try and use this site! I wonder whether this site was designed by Gerry Harvey himself or whether an SEO agency was just given carte blanche to try and stuff the site with as many keywords as possible. Maybe both?


Clearly, it is easy for Harvey Norman to justify this sort of behaviour with impressive increases in organic traffic year on year – right?


Not so fast. A deeper look into the Harvey Norman top organic search terms reveals that branded terms account for the majority of traffic. With terms like “harvey norman tv” revealing the true nature of “organic” traffic being nothing more than shadows on the wall.


And, as expected, the picture that paid search paints completely backs this up. With consistent decreases in paid search volume / traffic which is suggestive of reduced budgets, which, in turn is suggestive of the fact that folks at Harvey Norman just haven’t been able to figure out how to make paid search profitable.


Then you have to admire the completely real, legitimate and not faked for any reason “reviews” of innocuous products such as the “Ornate Glass Table Lamp”. This “awesome” and “stunning” lamp received 2 reviews, 2 years ago (and none since) with special remarks being made about picking the item up from the “local store” (that was my favourite) with realistic use of grammar mistakes to further add to the authenticity of this review. Either Harvey Norman shoppers flunked 10th grade English, or some whiz-bang copywriter “brought” both of these reviews into existence from his cunning imagination. You decide:

Alright, I could continue dissecting the Harvey Norman online store, but it just doesn’t seem fair. After all, my elderly grandmother still double clicks on the start menu item on her laptop and constantly closes windows that she intended to minimize. You can draw your own parallels from there.

What I would like to briefly discuss now is what happens in-store. After all, this is where the magic is still happening…right?

I walked into the Broadway Harvey Norman store today to see:

About 20 sales people casually walking around the store, locking on to any poor soles that somehow wondered into their zones of attack like gazelles being stalked by lions in Africa. Amidst the the choir of “can I help you” and “are you being served” the remaining sales people were busily checking their phones positioning themselves strategically in the corners of the store and in the TV section towards the rear left of the store.

Front and center is a large display of Apple products, complete with an inbuilt TV on loop playing Apple commercials. That will save them. We all know about the fabled Apple margins that represent the backbone of any successful retail operation.

Then I notice the signs indicating that there is a sale going on now, and the markdown of certain products. I particularly liked the approach of occupying any space that would otherwise be empty with this literature. I especially admired the ingenuity of the word “sale” being written in large letters on the back of a sales person’s uniform.

Then on my way out, I walked past a customer trying to return a malfunctioning product only to be turned down by the sales manager. From what I could gather Harvey Norman could not replace a broken TV remote, as it was considered to be damaged from use. Sounds like solid, reasonable long term thinking there.

And finally, my journey through Disney Land finishes up with the security man insisting on checking your bag lest you make off with some item from the store that is either not tied down or hilariously too large to fit into a Coles shopping bag. Another sound investment.

If this experience does not leave you tingling then the demo heater tuned to the “scorched earth” setting surely will as you pass out of the store.

Yep, though the tides of technology and change beat at the gates of retail, Harvey Norman remains standing like the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Actually, not really. As the efficacy of Harvey Norman’s beloved TV advertising channel diminishes with people abandoning free to air in droves, the pressure to drive foot traffic in those expensive stores around the country will increase. And because Harvey Norman is not used to this pressure, it will surely buckle underneath it, making room for yet another Aldi.

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