Two years ago, Richie Hosein gave the heave-ho to holiday shopping in stores. He has left the crowds behind and is quite content shopping via iPad in his car before he heads to meetings or at his desk at work.
“I used to shop the day before the holiday,” said Hosein, 37, of Melville. I would head to the mall like all the other men I would see out there and try to figure it all out. I usually ended up with a few gifts and gift cards”
Mostly though, the switch is about convenience, ease of use and time. “As a business owner, I am extremely busy and my time is limited,” said Hosein, an investor and CEO of AM Southampton Nightclub and the Artist Factory. “It is difficult spending a whole day at the malls with lines and parking lots.”
Hosein is part of a growing number of Long Islanders and others around the United States who are shopping solely online for the holidays. A survey by Offers.com revealed that 94 percent of people over 18 are making holiday purchases online.
Experts project online holiday sales for the 2016 holiday to be in the $90 billion to $111 billion range. According to the National Retail Federation, consumers on average will spend $935.58 for gifts for others and themselves, and on food, decorations and flowers, down slightly from $952.58 last year.
“It’s estimated that online sales will increase 7 to 10 percent,” said Thomas Shinick, an entrepreneurship and marketing expert and adjunct professor at Adelphi University’s Robert B. Willumstad School of Business in Garden City.
Brick-and-mortar stores are expected to do about half that increase.
“Online sales on Long Island are mirroring the national trend, and maybe a bit more,” said Marshal Cohen, a senior retail analyst with The NPD Group, a Port Washington-based market research company. “It can be a hassle shopping on Long Island with the traffic and crowds. Online holiday sales have been growing at what would be double the growth rate of overall sales, and we expect that trend to continue.”
The no-stores contingent isn’t just flocking to their desktops to shop. In Offers.com’s survey, 63 percent of respondents said they plan to use their mobile devices, compared to 56 percent last year and 44 percent in 2014. Shoppers — especially millennials — said they plan to use their cellphones to look for coupons and deals, compare products at different sites and check out product reviews.
Parked at the computer
Hitting the stores for holiday shopping is an American tradition, but for some, it’s a relic of a bygone era. There is plenty to keep shoppers like Katie Rostron, a student, out of the stores. Rostron, 26, of Bay Shore, doesn’t see herself giving up shopping in her pajamas from the comfort of home anytime soon.
“Finals usually fall right before the holidays, and I just don’t have time to go out shopping on top of studying for exams,” she said. “Holiday shopping was usually a stressful ordeal when I went to the mall. It took forever to find a parking spot, the stores were crowded. The anxiety was not worth it for me.”
Businessman Len Polonsky, who owns MedStock, a medical and office supply company and is in his 50s, recalls when holiday shopping was fun. “It was enjoyable to browse and find bargains, and come up with interesting gift ideas,” said Polonsky, a resident of West Hempstead who in the past few years has been an Amazon fan. “Now, it’s just aggravation; items strewn around, long lines at the checkout counters, and forget about it if you need to return something.”
For others, the buck stops with saving money and time, and getting perks for shopping online.
According to the National Retail Federation, nearly half of consumers begin purchasing gifts in November, while about 41 percent start shopping in October or earlier. Department stores (56.6 percent) and online retailers (56.5 percent) are consumers’ top shopping destinations, and the No. 1 reason for choosing a retailer is sales or price discounts, according to the federation, which also notes that free shipping and discounts are key for nearly 50 percent of shoppers.
Islip resident Katy Greene, 27, is keen on online shopping.
“You can shop five stores in five minutes,” said the digital media manager. “You can find the best prices for what you want. Shopping is quicker. Time is money. Most coupons can be used online or in stores. Free shipping is a plus, so is gift wrapping.”
Most people will buy for relatives, according to the federation, but 71 percent will shop for friends, and one-third will purchase gifts for co-workers. Gift cards are again the most requested item, followed by clothing and accessories, and books, CDs and video games.
For the past three years, Alida Almonte, of Deer Park, has shopped online only for the holidays. “One year I decided to buy from one website only and let my nieces and nephews go add items they wanted into my shopping cart,” said Almonte, 34, a media manager. “Then I was able to go in and pick the items I wanted to get them. It was a win-win for us — I bought them something they liked and also they didn’t know exactly what item I was getting them.”
She’s all smiles about her savings, too. “If you shop on some sites, like Sephora or Victoria’s Secret, you can find coupon codes that will also add some great little gift sets for free,” Almonte said.
While shoppers sing the praises of online only, small-business owners on Long Island are trying to compete.
Philip Tavella, of Philip Joseph Jewelers in Bellmore, said online competition has hurt the store’s holiday sales. In the early ’90s when we opened, holiday sales were 30 percent higher than they are today,” he said of store traffic at the time. “People can buy any product online. We don’t just lose when, say, someone buys a Citizen watch online, but [we also miss out on] the additional item, the impulse buy that might happen if they came into the store.”
Last year, holiday sales at Tavella’s store dipped 10 percent compared to 2014. Tavella said his strategy for reversing the decline is “doing promotions with loss leaders, like free batteries with a purchase. We have to create a reason for people to come into the store.”
Tavella said his second store in Babylon Village hasn’t lost as much business to online sales. “It’s in a walkable area,” he said. “There’s a community feel. Three generations have shopped at the store.”
Roberta Perry, who started the ScrubzBody skin products store in Bethpage five years ago, is also trying to provide customers the best of two retail worlds. She said Black Friday used to be one of her shop’s best days of the year.
“We had very few sales online during that time and lots of customers at the store,” she said. “Since free shipping incentives became a thing, however, we have seen many more of our customers shopping online,[at the store’s website] even the local ones, who live in the same town or close. They will order online for the added convenience.”
Perry has a few plans that she hopes will attract more people to the store.
“We make each day special for our customers and have different types of promotions and sales, some online, but many more at the shop,” she said, referring to planned sales events on Black Friday and Small Business Saturday on Nov. 26. “We are making our own Black Friday the week before Thanksgiving and having a BOGO sale and Open House party. We’ll offer a party and a super fun shopping experience along with the sale. It’s the first year we are trying this. I’m excited to see how it goes.”
What the pros know
Shoppers have their favorites like Amazon Prime (with its free shipping and product ratings), Kohls, Target, Etsy, Uncommon Goods, RetailMeNot for coupons, and others. Mostly, online shopping has been more of a blessing than more holiday stress.
Only once did Katie Rostron, of Bay Shore, have a bad experience. “I received a damaged package,” she recalled. “The item itself was fine, but the box it came in was ripped and bent. I would not have cared if it was something for myself, but I planned on giving it to my aunt for Christmas and wanted to wrap it nicely.”
Online devotees advise that if you’re new to online shopping, stick with names you’re familiar with.
“Be aware of where you put your credit card information, especially if it’s a new site,” said Katy Greene, a shopper from Islip. “If you’re dealing with someone that’s not reputable, your credit card information is at risk.”
Make sure you are clear about the expected delivery dates to avoid any disappointment. You can also put in special instructions about delivery, like if you want it left on your back porch where it might be hidden from view.
One of the biggest advantages of shopping online is the ability to compare prices. Don’t just make one stop; remember, there are no gas fill-ups or lines involved. Take the time (which could just be a few minutes) to cash in on the intel.
— Sheryl Nance-Nash