ONLINE IS WHERE IT’S AT

Harvey Norman’s Move Into the Virtual World is Just the Latest in a Rash of Online Acquisitions

After much chest beating in the last couple of months, Gerry Harvey has finally succumbed to the reality that online is where it’s at.

Harvey Norman’s new e-store, Big Buys

With Mr. Harvey lamenting the affect of online trading to traditional retail stores, it seems that he’s adopted the “if you can’t beat them, join them” philosophy.

The announcement of Harvey Norman’s version of the group buying phenomenon led by companies like Cudo and Spreets, Mr. Harvey’s “Big Buys” e-store has just launched.

Like it or not, retail people and non-retail people alike, Mr. Harvey has got it right – online is where it’s at.

It seemed just a handful of years ago, we were all saying that online would never replace the traditional face-to-face business.  That things like the Amazon Kindle would never replace trusty books, bent pages and all, that we could throw in a bag and take to the beach. Well, we’ve all spoken too soon – as is evidenced by the demise of the Borders/Angus and Robertson chain in recent weeks.

Most businesses now realise the importance of having a website – but it’s getting to the point that a website alone simply isn’t enough.  For a society that now impatiently paces in front of a microwave and yells, “Hurry up!”, the instant gratification of online is now just par for the course for consumers.

For Gen X and Y, it’s absolutely essential and it’s quickly becoming the norm for those that don’t quite scrape into those categories.  And there is a whole range of industries falling by the wayside because of it.  The likes of online travel bookings has seen the closure of more and more travel agents, retailers are feeling the pinch big time as we go online to purchase everything from toiletries to clothing, even banks are experiencing wide open spaces in their branches as the masses adopt online banking.

The online evolution is why more and more new businesses are starting up in the online world, choosing to purchase virtual property rather than physical commercial space.  And, it’s not just retail – the surge of online businesses is being felt in nearly every industry.  The growing confidence in online businesses becoming a primary way the majority of business gets done in the future has multinationals snapping up pretty much anyone who is starting to have an impact online.

Fairfax Digital recently acquired occupancy.com (the owners of takeabreak.com.au and rentahome.com.au) after acquiring the Stayz group a few years ago (read more here). These moves will substantially strengthen their hold on the online accommodation market. But that’s not the only market their moving into. Fairfax also picked up TradeMe.com – New Zealand’s version of eBay – for $700 million in 2006. And Fairfax is not alone in the acquisitions and investments in Australian online businesses.  Yahoo!7 recently acquired Spreets.com.au, News Digital Media bought GetPrice.com.au, Mortgage Choice secured HelpMeChoose.com, Ten Network invested in OasisActive.com – and the list goes on and on.

So is online here to stay?  You betcha.  And smart operators are making the move sooner rather than later.

The move to online was a natural one for new business HireMeUp.com.au founder, Alli Baker.  Ms Baker, herself a Gen Xer, does everything pretty much online.  So does her co-founder who is twenty years older.

“Our business was borne of need,” Baker said. “We were both looking for contract work, having clients looking for part timers and not able to find any easy resources online to put the two together, led us to decide to put together a site aimed at the growing flexible hours workforce.  And HireMeUp was born”.

Since launching just a matter of weeks ago, Baker has been overwhelmed by the response.  “We’ve really hit on a need. Whether everyone’s looking for the illusive work/life balance or that there’s just a huge need for part time work and workers, we’re not sure.  All we know is that it works”.

An offline business was never a consideration for Ms. Baker.

“Online is where you need to be these days”, she said. “The first move people make when they want to make a purchase, find the answer to a question, look for job opportunities is to go online. If you don’t have an online presence, you’re not on your consumer’s radar. You may as well play hide-and-go-seek, like ‘If you can find me, you can buy my products!’ It just doesn’t make sense for companies to not have a website and, if relevant, an online store. For us, going online was a given but we also wanted to improve upon the job sites that were already out there to make finding a flexible job even faster and easier”.

To that end, HireMeUp developed their unique Job Matchmaker service which is the first of its kind for job sites.

“Rather than spending hours looking through jobs or workers only to find they don’t suit your needs, now both employers and job seekers can match their locations, days, hours, times and even whether or not they can work school holidays with each other”, Baker said.  “It saves time and that’s what it’s all about these days”.

Whether your a new business like HireMeUp.com or an established business like Harvey Norman, if you don’t acquire some virtual property you risk getting left in the dust. It’s as simple as that.

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