| SAN FRANCISCO
SAN FRANCISCO Oct 30 From Fab.com to Amazon.com
Inc and eBay Inc, e-commerce companies
scrambled on Tuesday to get goods to buyers on time after
Hurricane Sandy tore a swathe of destruction across the U.S.
The storm -- which severed power to warehouses and offices,
ripped up rails and roads and shuttered airports -- challenged
the notion that Internet retailers might benefit from problems
at store chains exposed to the elements.
Fab.com, a fast-growing design e-commerce start-up based in
New York City, handled unusually strong volumes on Monday as
people hunkered down at home. Then the problems began.
Fab operates out of two warehouses in hard-hit New Jersey,
one self-owned and another run by warehouse company Dotcom
Distribution. With both lacking power as of mid-afternoon, no
packages were making it out the door on Tuesday.
"The biggest impact to us right now is that our warehouses
have no power," said Jason Goldberg, founder and chief executive
of Fab.com. "We're doing everything humanly possible to send
packages as quickly as possible."
Retailers from New York to Washington are starting to
re-open and re-staff in the aftermath of Monday's destruction.
But many of Fab.com's fellow Internet retailers were still
struggling to fill orders, handle customer service and keep
websites running ahead of the crucial holiday season.
Those efforts are geared at ensuring buyers do not wait too
long for their products -- and averting a damaging backlash
against their sites and reputation.
Amazon.com warned merchants on Tuesday that use its shipping
service, Fulfillment by Amazon, that Sandy might impact the
handling of orders. Third-party sellers on its marketplace that
handle their own shipping were instructed to contact shoppers
directly about their orders.
It advised them to temporarily deactivate online listings
should they be unable to meet usual shipping standards.
"Because the Internet is an opaque purchasing method,
customers don't always understand where their product is coming
from or if they are going to be affected," said Eric Heller,
head of Marketplace Ignition, which helps online retailers sell
through websites such as Amazon.com. "We're encouraging sellers
to proactively reach out to buyers that may be affected."
EBay pursued a similar tactic, emailing shoppers who
purchased items from merchants that may have been impacted by
the storm in recent days, asking for patience. It recommended
that affected eBay Store-subscribers put their pages in
"vacation mode" to control purchasing and show shoppers that
their operation has been temporarily disrupted, a spokeswoman
And Gilt Groupe, which runs a popular high-end fashion
website, expects delivery times to take one to three days longer
than normal, said Kevin Ryan, founder and CEO of the company.
Beyond logistics tangles, loss of power and
telecommunications have hurt Internet firms that rely on
telephone and Web-based customer service in the absence of store
Fab.com's offices a block from New York's Hudson River were
blacked out and closed until further notice. About a third of
employees lacked power as of Tuesday afternoon. A dozen camped
out at Goldberg's home working on recovery plans and preparing
the company's online holiday stores for their Thursday launch.
Gilt's offices in New York have been difficult to access, so
the company has not been able to run its usual photoshoots for a
few days, Ryan said.
"We will need to get back in soon or there will not be any
new sales up," he said. "I think we will get back in by Thursday
and everything will be OK."
Others like online eyeglasses start-up Warby Parker, in the
SoHo district of New York City, sought temporary solutions to a
loss of power and Web access. It found a temporary office that
it will start using on Wednesday to handle customer inquiries.
"We've been scrambling to get our systems up and running,"
said co-founder Dave Gilboa.