There's one silver lining to the New York City transit strike that has shut down buses and subways, while crippling many businesses. Online retailing — which has enjoyed robust sales this holiday season — is getting a further boost in the season's final days, as New York area shoppers turn to the Internet for last-minute buying.
And there are at least a handful of merchants including jcrew.com and ice.com that are only too willing to help out by serving up free shipping aimed at New York area residents that guarantee arrival before Dec. 25.
For New York retailers, which are struggling with lighter crowds since the strike started Tuesday, "this is definitely a way to recoup lost sales that they feel from the transit strike," said Heather Dougherty, an analyst at Nielsen/NetRatings, an Internet research firm. "Any online retailers would be smart to go after the New York area."
Dougherty said it's hard to gauge the strike's positive effect on online sales, but she believes it's "meaningful."
According to the most recent data from comScore Networks Inc., non-travel online spending during the first 48 days of the holiday season through Dec. 18 totaled $16.34 billion, up 24 percent from the corresponding year-ago period.
Retailers' use of last-minute discounts and free shipping have helped to extend the online shopping season this year. But officials from Toys R Us Inc. and Bluefly.com, an online seller of discounted designer apparel, reported big surges in traffic and sales on Tuesday, which is unusual this late in the period.
Melissa Payner, CEO of Bluefly.com., cited a 60 percent increase in sales on Tuesday, from a year ago.
"We have to believe that there was some contribution from the strike," said Payner, adding that the company is still analyzing the data.
Shmuel Gniwisch, CEO of ice.com, a top online jewelry site, reported that buyers from the New York City area represented a 15 percent increase of the overall site's traffic on Tuesday.
The strike is coming at a critical time for retailers — the week before Christmas accounts for about 20 percent of merchants' holiday sales. And with shoppers procrastinating even later this year than a year ago, stores are counting on the last-minute buyers to jam their stores in the final days.
New York's retail emporiums such as Toys R Us, Bloomingdale's and Macy's have kept their doors open, but the lack of mass transportation, has limited where shoppers can shop, resulting in thin crowds.
Among the most affected are Tiffany & Co., whose flagship store accounts for about 10 percent of the company's total sales, according to Adrianne Shapira, a retail analyst at Goldman Sachs & Co.
Besides online shopping, retailers that have a big presence here are also hoping that increased business at their suburban area locations will mitigate the negative impact from the strike. But whether stores will be able to full recoup lost sales remains to be seen.