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Gerry Harvey shares the love online

  • 03 April 2011

Last week, high profile furniture and electronics retailer Gerry Harvey announced that Harvey Norman would reluctantly open an online store. He's been doing the numbers and decided he's damned if he does and damned if he doesn't. Customers are moving online, but online remains outside the comfort zone of most traditional retailers.

'My heart's beating very strongly on whether we make any money out of it,' he said, '[but] I haven't got any choice.'

The main stumbling block is the interpersonal relationship that lies behind every economic transaction, and how to replicate it online. It's the love that consummates every business deal, often written off by accountants as necessary 'good will'.

It's also something that businesses are usually confident about face to face, but not online, at least for the moment. They are waiting for retail's equivalent of Mark Zuckerberg to provide them with a blueprint for online shopping. As we know, Zuckerberg's Facebook definitively put paid to the idea that the internet is for nerds, and established it as a vibrant space for human interaction. 

To speak of love in connection with economics is not being flippant. In fact Pope Benedict XVI argues in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate that love is the essence of economics. Business transactions are between human beings rather than market forces, and should therefore be motivated by love and other values that can be considered ethical.

That means 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you'. Make human beings feel that they are the focus of every business transaction and watch the profits flow.

This applies to both sides. For customers, it's worth considering gestures such as taking the time to affirm the person behind an online transaction that went well. There are many feedback mechanisms that allow buyers to declare their love for the vendor — 'great product delivered quickly, doing business with you is a pleasure'. 

University of New South Wales Professor James Franklin has a commentary on Benedict XVI's 'economy of gratuitousness and fraternity' in new social ethics journal Solidarity.

Reflecting the Pope's view, he says all economic transactions are not purely monetary, but opportunities for each party 'to go beyond what is contractually required so as to create mutual assistance, human development and goodwill'.

In the short term, it's usually about the profits. But when love blossoms there are dividends that will have a wider benefit. Pope Benedict hopes we will become addicted to love