10/29/12

Hurricane Sandy puts online home improvement merchants to the test

Online retailer Power Equipment Direct reports a record sales day Friday.

Mark Brohan , Research Director

Hurricane Sandy, the giant weather system beginning to pummel the Northeast with blustery winds, high tides and heavy rain, is already beginning to have a big impact on online retailers.

 For some retailers that specialize in emergency equipment, orders have been coming in practically non-stop since warnings about Hurricane Sandy  went into effect last Thursday. That includes PowerEquipmentDirect.com, which sells generators, chain saws, sump pumps and related gear. “Friday was the busiest day in our 10-year history and the weekend was extremely busy,” Power Equipment CEO Jon Hoch says. “Today is slammed and our call waiting list is currently 20 customers deep.” Weather forecasters say Hurricane Sandy threatens nearly 50 million people in the Mid-Atlantic and New England states, and is expected to make landfall around 8 p.m. Eastern time today in New Jersey,

Power Equipment, which operates about nine sites, such as ElectricGeneratorsDirect.com, ChainSawsDirect.com and SumpPumpsDirect.com, says it’s processing all orders on a rush basis but is quickly running through its inventory of portable power generators. “We still have limited generators in-stock, but we are shipping generators with ‘rush order processing only’ today.”

Because it ships mostly from its own fulfillment hub in suburban Chicago, Power Equipment Direct will continue to process orders as long as the major shipping companies it uses, such as FedEx, UPS and R&L Carriers, are still moving freight. If a shipper can’t guarantee a home delivery, customers may still be able to get their order, Hoch says. “The freight carriers are backed up, so we are encouraging customers without power to go to their carrier to pick up instead of waiting for home delivery,” Hoch says.

Major chain retailers such as Lowes Cos. Inc., No. 47 in the 2012 Internet Retailer Top 500 says its e-commerce site will remain online and open for business during the storm. In the last few days in the run-up to Hurricane Sandy, Lowes.com has been fulfilling a steady stream of orders for batteries, flashlights, water, extension cords, sump and utility pumps as well as snow throwers, snow shovels, ice melt and additional products for areas forecasting winter weather. The storm already has impacted North Carolina and forced large public transportation systems to shut down in New York, Washington and elsewhere, and suspended trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Forecasters say some areas will see temperatures drop to below 30 degrees once the storm departs later this week.

Lowes.com has stopped fulfilling orders for portable generators. “The only product that we are not taking orders on are generators. Other than that we are taking and fulfilling all orders on product on Lowes.com in all areas, including New Jersey and New York, as all of our stores are up and operational at this time,” says a Lowe’s spokeswoman. “Lowe's’ emergency command center anticipates customer demand during severe weather, and we're able to replenish store shelves very quickly. We continue to ship products through four of our distribution centers that are near the soon-to-be impacted areas.”

W.W. Grainger Inc., No. 15, which sells building maintenance and supplies equipment, experienced an increase in demand from customers in the Northeast—both currently and in the days leading up to the storm—for hurricane related products such as generators, extension cords, plug, batteries, gas cans, flashlights, a Grainger spokeswoman says. It also is positioning products to make them available for the cleanup. “Grainger is aggressively working to get inventory into the market to serve those storm-related needs. And in anticipation of customer needs following the storm, we are in the process of moving critical supplies such as batteries, duct tape, lanterns, rain suits, pumps, gloves, tarps and boots into the affected markets,” she says.

Retailers such as Lowe’s and Power Equipment also are using their e-commerce sites to offer advice and tips on hurricane safety, operating a generator, boarding windows, covering a roof with a tarp and chainsaw safety. “We will not close Lowes.com during the storm,” the spokeswoman says. “We are committed to helping residents of the communities we serve by being there when we’re needed most—when a hurricane threatens and in the recovery that follows once a storm passes.”

Retailers also say they have back-up web disaster plans in place if needed, but as of now don’t anticipate massive outages. “Our data centers are designed to be available through storms such as this,” the Lowe’s spokeswoman says.

The Home Depot Inc. says its data centers are not in the area threatened by the storm, so its e-commerce site should not be affected. The only change the home improvement retailer is putting in place, a spokesman says, is to discontinue the buy online, pickup in store option for some stores in the area in the storm’s path.

Topics:

ChainSawsDirect.com, ElectricGeneratorsDirect.com, Hurricane Sandy, Lowes Cos. Inc, PowerEquipmentDirect.com, retail chains, Sandy, SumpPumpsDirect.com, supply chain, the home depot inc., Top 500, web only

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