Did Irene help online retail?

August 29, 2011, 10:49 PM UTC

While some people in Hurricane Irene’s path were boarding windows, others were buying fine jewelry. 

Earlier today I had a brief Twitter conversation with Matt Lauzon, founder and CEO of online jewelry retailer Gemvara, about how Boston had handled Hurricane Irene. After shaking out the snarks, Lauzon tweeted:

Seriously? Were the buyers in the storm’s path? Were they using mobile devices, given the number of power outages? Were they simply getting a head-start on hurricanaversary gifts?

So I emailed a few questions over to Lauzon, and he emailed back a few answers. Here we go:

Fortune: I know you won’t disclose financials, but can you say in percentage terms how much more you sold (items, dollars or both) this past weekend than on a typical weekend?

Lauzon: Every day we forecast sales based on a variety of factors (does not directly include weather at this time). Sales outpaced our forecast during the storm, our average sale increased by over 200% and time spent on the site also jumped.

Are you able to tell how much of this increase was from customers in storm-affected areas?

These increases were driven by people on the East Coast on the path of the storm.

Have you seen past upticks related to other, non-Gemvara, events? 

We have seen similar dynamics during winter storms. It seems that people use their time at home avoiding the weather to explore online which leads to increased time on the site. This extra time seems to give people more time to build the confidence to buy. It is worth noting that recent surveys indicate over 70% of our customers have never purchased jewelry online before shopping with us, so time and confidence are very important factors in trusting us with their purchase.