Online Retailer Surprised By Strong Holiday Buying
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The current administration is still working on a bailout for the U.S. auto industry, but the money might not come quickly enough. Detroit's Big Three carmakers usually close their plants for a couple of weeks during the holidays, but Chrysler said yesterday it's going to close all 30 of its North American factories for at least a month. Ford will shut down 10 plants for an extra week in January. And General Motors says it is delaying the construction of a plant that will produce engines for its plug-in hybrid, the Chevy Volt.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
That's just one snapshot of the struggling economy. This morning we bring you another of our occasional scenes from a recession. NPR's Adam Davidson visits the back office of an online retailer.
ADAM DAVIDSON: UncommonGoods sells gift items online and by catalogue, all sorts of housewares and little knickknacks. At their headquarters in Brooklyn, pretty much everyone is shocked that sales are actually pretty strong this Christmas. It's certainly keeping Jennifer Rayers(ph) busy. I visited her station in the warehouse, along with PR person Joanna Penn.
Ms. JENNIFER RAYERS (Warehouse Worker, UncommonGoods, Brooklyn): Hi.
DAVIDSON: Hi. You just wrap Christmas gifts all day?
Ms. RAYERS: Yeah.
DAVIDSON: You're really good at it. I want to time her.
Ms. RAYERS: You want to time me?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. RAYERS: Now you're going to make me nervous.
Ms. JOANNA PENN (Press Officer, UncommonGoods, Brooklyn): Do you know how many you've had to wrap today, or yesterday?
Ms. RAYERS: I just started at 1:25, so...
Ms. PENN: Oh, I see.
DAVIDSON: And you've done 13.
Ms. PENN: You've done 13.
DAVIDSON: Now 14, in 20 minutes, so that's...
Ms. PENN: Fourteen in 20 minutes is a lot faster than I could ever do.
DAVIDSON: Forget layoffs, UncommonGoods has so many orders, they've had to call in people from the front office to pack things up for shipping. And until this week, Joanna Penn thought this would be a disastrous holiday season.
Ms. PENN: We do about 80 percent of our business throughout the holiday season, so...
DAVIDSON: This is it. This is when you...
Ms. PENN: Yes. Yes.
DAVIDSON: These - this month basically.
Ms. PENN: Today.
Ms. PENN: This week is our last, you know, big push before the holiday season.
DAVIDSON: And this is the week you find out if 2008 was a good year or not?
Ms. PENN: We're not exactly doing, you know, what we expected we'd be doing six months ago for the holiday season. But once we re-forecasted, you know, we are doing better than what we expected, so...
DAVIDSON: I see. So it's not that this'll be a great year, it's just not as ugly a year as it could have been.
Ms. PENN: Yes. Exactly.
DAVIDSON: The folks at UncommonGoods actually have no idea why this year is much better than they expected. The best that Penn can figure is that they're benefiting from recession-induced laziness. People have been putting off Christmas shopping even later than they usually do. So now people are desperate to buy something this week, and they're turning to specialty shops online. The company has already cut its budget for 2009. They expect the recession to continue and for next Christmas to be far worse. Adam Davidson. NPR News, New York.
MONTAGNE: NPR's Planet Money helps explain the economy at npr.org/money.