US snowstorm causes online retail surge for holidays, 250 packages delivered per second

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The Independent Online

Record snowfalls that blanketed the east coast of the US this past weekend not only wreaked havoc for holiday travelers but delivered a blow to retailers hoping that "Super Saturday" would help sales. The beneficiary of the weather problems was online shopping.

With holiday shoppers trapped in up to two feet (0.61 m) of snow, from New York to South Carolina, the wintry weather put a $2 billion dent in the last weekend of shopping before Christmas, which can account for $15 billion worth of sales nationwide.

Over the weekend, online retail sales shot up 22.4 percent, compared with last year, per web research company, Coremetrics. On Saturday, sales increased 24.8 percent, as shoppers relied on internet shopping instead of traditional retailers. To compensate for the delays due to the snow storms, online retailers extended shipping deadlines.

Retail web traffic peaked at 2.9 million visitors per minute Saturday night, according to the Akamai Retail Net Usage Index. That figure rose by 1 million compared to the Saturday before Christmas 2008. Sunday peaked at 3.5 million visitors per minute, compared with 2.2 million last year.

Monday, December 21 was expected to be the busiest day for package deliveries with 22 million sent worldwide (250 per second), and Wednesday, December 23, will be the busiest day for air express packages. UPS (the American parcel delivery company) will deliver more than 6 million air packages on that day globally just in time for Christmas gifts to arrive on time.

Normally, UPS expects online tracking requests to grow to more than 156 million during the "peak week" before December 25, but the snowfall only made it busier. It added 50,000 seasonal employees to handle the increased workload and added 37 chartered aircraft over the holidays for a total of 2,049 cargo flights daily, 330 more than in November.

Procrastinators can take advantage of the next day air delivery for December 24 arrival. They can also return to the malls which are extending hours and sales. Macy's stays open 24 hours at its flagship store in New York City and several other locations in the area and Washington DC, as well as Detroit and Minneapolis, also hit by the weather front, to accommodate shoppers. It closes on Christmas Eve at 6 pm.