Harvey Norman online off the air

Harvey Norman has suspended its online operations until August 28 when it will re-launch with a stronger fulfillment system supported by more franchisees.

Until now, the quietly trafficked site has remained a low priority for the retail giant and its boss Gerry Harvey who has previously described it to ARN as "not much competition [for franchisees]; it doesn't do a lot of business."

John Slack-Smith, Harvey Norman's computers and communications division general manager, explained the company is expanding the number of stores which carry out fulfillment, warranty and repair work.

The current model uses one store per state in QLD, VIC, NSW, SA and WA for fulfillment, and will now include almost every store.

"Our online store is going to complement all franchisees," he said of the model, explaining regional centres will particularly benefit.

Key to the strategy is generating support from HN franchisees, which Slack-Smith believes will happen as it generates supplementary income for fulfillment stores. The site will also mirror the company's monthly catalogues that form the backbone of HN's marketing effort, he said.

As for any sign in a change of heart in Gerry Harvey's attitude towards the net, Slack-Smith took the diplomatic line: "Gerry's Gerry".

Meanwhile, development of Harvey Norman Online has fallen under Slack-Smith's department. Following the departure of former online boss Richard Eastmead, HN has now appointed Colin Wright as national coordinator online. Wright is a former store manager from Liverpool Harvey Norman and according to Slack-Smith has a background in Internet development.

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