October 2, 2001, 12:00 AM

E-retail sites pitch in after the New York and Washington tragedies

Many e-retailers used the traffic at their sites to promote contributions to disaster relief following the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

Online retailers donated access to their powerful web traffic and in some cases their payments processing systems to relief for victims of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon last month.

One of the highest profile of the retailers was Amazon.com, which two days after the attack turned over its entire home page to an appeal for donations to the Red Cross. A week and a half after the attack, Amazon had collected over $6.5 million from more than 167,000 donors.

Other sites promoted donations in short order after the attacks Sept. 11. They included sears.com, Target.com, which, like Amazon, devoted its entire home page to an appeal, BlueLilght.com, eBags.com, walmart.com, landsend.com, CDNow.com, MuseumShop.com and 1800flowers.com. CoolSavings promoted donations in its marketing e-mails. And BlueLight.com announced that all proceeds from sales of American flag and apparel bearing the American flag would go to the American Red Cross. Fogdog.com also offered an American flag with proceeds gong to the Red Cross.

Some sites also helped the Red Cross in collections by processing credit card payments on the Red Cross’s behalf. “We decided that we had the bandwidth and the technology to handle the traffic and transactions. The Red Cross web site is swamped so we’re able to take some of that overload,” says Peter Cobb, eBags’ vice president of marketing.

By the Monday after the disaster, when eBags had stopped processing on behalf of the Red Cross, 3,367 customers had contributed $130,500. “The response has been phenomenal,” Cobb says.

Beginning Wednesday night, eBags sent e-mails to its database of 1.2 million customers asking for their help. Part of the e-mail encouraged eBags customers to donate at least $10, which would total $12 million for the relief fund if everyone gave. Even before all customers had received the e-mails, the donations began coming in. “Thursday around noon we had $30,000 in donations and the e-mails had only gone through to about 20% of the database,” Cobb says. Seeing the success that eBags was enjoying, other online retailers asked to either provide links to the eBags site to help with donations or to use the creative so they could set up similar functions on their own sites, Cobb says.

1800flowers.com displayed a pop-up window encouraging donations to the Red Cross. Visitors who clicked on the donate button got a message of condolences from 1800flowers.com and a message that stated: “We have offered use of our stores, call centers, delivery trucks and other facilities to the cities and to the airlines directly affected by recent events. We have also partnered with Long Island-based retailers to provide the Red Cross in New York City with water, food and other supplies. Additionally, we are offering floral services to families in need.” It then offered another button that took donors to the Red Cross home page.

EBay’s site encourages donations to the Trade Center Relief Fund and the New York Community Trust Sept. 11 Fund, and provides mailing addresses. Not surprisingly, traffic to e-retail sites dropped 58% in the 36 hours following the attack, according to comScore Networks.

Several sites noted that the grounding of the nation’s air fleet had resulted in delivery delays, including Anthropologie.com, Ashford.com, LillianVernon.com, and Lands’ End.

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