The holiday shopping season is looking bright for many New Hampshire businesses that have seen a boost in online sales this year.
With Christmas a little more than a week away, businesses big and small say they’re optimistic that their efforts to increase e-commerce sales will pay off.
Exeter-based online retailer GourmetGiftBaskets.com has experienced a 20 to 25 percent increase in holiday sales over last year, said Ryan Papillo, the company’s director of corporate sales.
The multimillion-dollar company that started in the basement of a flower shop in 2002 has seen a higher demand for client-appreciation gifts.
“More businesses are sending seasonal gifts to their clients to thank them and appreciate everything they’ve done for their business over the past year,” Papillo said.
Nancy Kyle, president and CEO of the New Hampshire Retail Association, said sales in general are up.
“Some retailers have told me they’re having their best Christmas season ever,” she said.
Kyle said this holiday shopping season has featured a “perfect storm” that’s helped retailers.
“Thanksgiving was very early, so there was almost a full (extra) week of shopping. You’ve got the cold weather that puts everybody into the Christmas spirit earlier. If it’s 60 degrees and sunny people aren’t getting into Christmas. And you’ve got falling gas prices. Those are all good indicators that the season is going to be gangbusters,” she said.
It’s been a good season for many of the businesses that focus on New Hampshire-made products and services.
Many businesses that are members of NH Made, which encourages shoppers to buy local and also has an online store on its website www.nhmade.com, have reported a strong season.
Laura Miller, owner of Marketplace New England in Concord, said the store, which offers products from artists and craftspeople around New England, has seen more traffic to its e-commerce site.
“Many of our customers find us online then visit the store in person. It will always be an education process to let people know that they can shop local and shop online — the best of both worlds,” she said.
The Mill Fudge Factory has a café in Bristol, but also sells online.
Owner David Munro said online sales have been good so far and appear to be better than in past years.
“The orders are coming from all over the country, so it’s not really just New England as before. I guess it’s because we’ve been in business for 12 years and our reputation is growing. Also, fudge is a consumable that everyone can relate to, so it’s an easier sell online and makes an easy, fail-safe gift,” he said.
Online sales are also up at Port City Pretzels in Portsmouth. Owner Suzanne Foley said she never anticipated the number of online sales from around the country that she’s seeing today.
“The online activity has increased tremendously in the last few weeks. My online sales have doubled in comparison to last year,” she said, adding that the business has sold out of some items and is trying to get them back in time for the holidays.
Business is also booming at Hemlock Spring Soaps, which is based in Lyndeborough and also just purchased a retail location in Nashua. Owner Karen Steuer said online sales are up 10 percent over last year, which also saw a 10 percent increase.
Steuer said most of her sales are from New England, but customers from other parts of the country are finding her.
Online sales are a small percentage of holiday business for Zeb’s General Store in North Conway, but the popular country store and gift shop is still counting on them.
“We seem to be right on par or a little ahead with our online presence,” said Ray Boutin, Zeb’s general manager.
The store has been selling products online for many years and often attracts customers looking for niche items like the New Hampshire produced carbonated drink Moxie.
Zeb’s still relies mostly on foot traffic.
“For us and what we do, the majority of business we get online is folks who already know about us,” Boutin said. “What I hear everyday on the news is how is everybody faring against the larger folks out there like Amazon. It’s not really a direct competitor. What we have here is relatively unique.”
Greg Bolton, owner of Calef’s Country Store in Barrington, said sales in general have been stronger than previous years.
“Our in store traffic and revenue are both ahead of this time last year. Online sales for our out-of-state customers have been strong with people around the country looking for some New Hampshire nostalgia,” he said.
While business is brisk, selling online does come with some challenges.
GourmetGiftBaskets.com is one of the many companies that have had to adapt to what Papillo calls the “Amazon effect.”
He said Amazon has trained buyers that two-day delivery is standard delivery. Because customers have come to expect faster delivery, holiday business is becoming compressed into a shorter window as more online shoppers wait to make purchases because they expect a quick turnaround time on their packages.
Papillo said GourmetGiftBaskets.com has adjusted to accommodate the expectation of speedy delivery, but added that it’s not possible for all retailers, especially smaller ones, to meet such a demand.
“It stresses smaller businesses because it is operationally difficult to achieve that if you don’t have a scale of an Amazon or a company like ours,” he said.
Jon Gibson, owner of Gibson Pewter in Washington, said he continues to see growth with online sales of his handcrafted pewter. More than half his sales come from the web.
“I’m right out straight,” he said.