October 29, 2012, 5:18 PM

As Sandy nears, online retailers adapt

Web retailers expect shipping delays as the storm nears landfall.

Kevin Woodward

Senior Editor

Lead Photo

Hurricane Sandy is nothing if not egalitarian in dishing out trouble for those in her path. Smaller online retailers based in the Northeast began preparing for the storm yesterday and continued all day today.

At Northern Marine Electronics, No. 921 in the Internet Retailer Second 500 Guide, which is based in Red Bank, NJ, and squarely in the storm’s path, owner Tom Morford says most employees had today off. That was probably just as well because ocean water levels about 1.5 miles from the company’s office already were above the high tide level—with two hours to go before low tide, he says.

Those employees on hand Sunday night and this morning filled most of the weekend’s orders for the marine electronics and boating supplies retailer. “We got a few things out by UPS in a special pick-up before 7 a.m. when UPS shut down,” Morford says.

Orders continued to come in, but the retailer sent e-mails informing consumers that because of Northern Marine Electronics’ location it was suspending shipping in preparation for the hurricane. Morford says he expects to resume shipping orders Tuesday afternoon.

New York-based web retailers also are adjusting their shipping schedules. At apparel retailer Bonobos, No. 505, which is based in Manhattan, the normal two-day shipping estimate has been pushed to Friday, a Bonobos spokeswoman says. “At this point Bonobos is expecting many of our customers to experience up to a two-day delay in receiving their packages,” she says.

Bonobos closed its Massachusetts warehouse in anticipation of the storm, and its customer service representatives based in Manhattan are working from home, with the company’s California-based staff pitching in, she says.

At DealYard.com, an online mass merchant that also offers daily deals on its e-commerce site, CEO Rob Heller is bracing for power outages that began today and could last seven to 10 days, according to some predictions. Company headquarters is on Long Island and its warehouse is in Westchester County, NY, near New York City. Dealyard is No. 679 in the guide.

Until 2 p.m. Eastern time on Monday orders continued to come in, but Heller says he was unable to check after that time when the power failed. Orders probably will continue to come in even if Dealyard’s Internet service provider loses power because the e-retailer has a backup satellite service provider, Heller says. But that extra connection and a power generator for the office won’t help get the orders out if employees can’t get to the office, he says.

Should the situation ease Tuesday, and assuming the warehouse has power, Heller does not foresee any further fulfillment issues.

Like other web retailers, Marc Weinstein, CEO of 39DollarGlasses.com, No. 717, is adapting to the storm’s landfall. Weinstein closed the Hauppauge, NY, customer service and shipping office today, and asked some customer service representatives to be available by e-mail to respond to consumers. He expects moderate delays in shipping.

The storm’s impact on web site traffic and sales is mixed for smaller e-retailers. “We have seen about a 20% decrease in sales and traffic since this morning,” says Weinstein. And traffic is a little slower than typical for Northern Marine Electronics, owner Morford says. However, at Bonobos and Dealyard, sales and traffic levels were showed no significant decline by late afternoon. “Even in the Tri-State area we’re not seeing a significant drop-off or pick-up,” says the Bonobos spokeswoman.

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