VANOC’s online store becomes Olympic shopping refuge

Every week Techvibes republishes an article from Business in Vancouver.

This article was originally published in issue #1062 – March 2-8, 2010.

While official Olympic clothier Hudson’s Bay Co. (HBC) is experiencing around-the-block lineups and empty shelves at its retail locations thanks to the consumer frenzy for Olympic merchandise, many fans are heading online for their Games gear.

The operator of, which is VANOC’s online Olympic merchandise store, has experienced a 500% increase in merchandise orders to up to 4,000 orders daily since the days immediately before the Games began.

“You can see just how popular the merchandise is on the streets,” said Matt Dion, vice-president of marketing at Vancouver-based e-commerce specialist Elastic Path Software Inc.

“Every second person is covered head-to-toe in the gear.”

Elastic Path also operates HBC’s and Hockey Canada’s online merchandise stores, which both have more limited inventory than VANOC’s online outlet but have experienced exponential sales nonetheless.

VANOC’s online store, which carries nearly 5,000 different products (two T-shirts that have the same design but are different in size are considered two different products), was also the appreciative recipient of the famed Oprah bump recently.

The website sold 12,000 pairs of red Olympic mitts – which have been the most popular Olympic garb – in the afternoon of February 19 after Oprah Winfrey sported a pair and handed out 300 pairs to audience members earlier that day on her talk show.

“As soon as she walked out with those red mitts our phones went crazy,” said Dion.

Elastic Path’s Olympic adventure has been a major milestone for the company: for the first time, the company has taken on the back-end tasks of merchandiser and distributor in addition to its traditional role as developer of online transaction software.

To maintain online sales momentum, the company is providing concierges in Vancouver with online merchandise packages that guests can purchase upon checking in to their hotel.

It’s also providing discounts to consumers who order pre-paid Visa cards through partner Money Mart.

And Elastic Path street teams are handing out coupons and free overnight shipping offers along Vancouver’s high-traffic streets.

Sales at were modest until Christmas.

“We saw a spike in volume at Christmas,” said Dion. “Thank God, because it helped us iron out a few glitches in the system – things that just don’t pop up when volumes are low.”

The holiday peak was followed by another plateau until a flood of orders in the days before the ceremonies.

Among the most interesting consumer shopping trends Elastic Path has noted is the demand, or lack thereof, for Olympic mascots merchandise. Quatchi has proven to be the most popular Olympic mascot among shoppers, while Miga has been the lowest sales-getter of the four Olympic mascots.

Dion said that much of the demand for mascots and other Olympic merchandise has been from Olympic collectors rather than everyday shoppers.

“There is a limited-quantity aspect to this,” said Dion. “Like those giant mascots – the three-foot quatchis are gone and they will never be made again.”

In-store purchases have still accounted for the lion’s share of Olympic merchandise sales.

Elastic Path wouldn’t break out sales figures for HBC’s online store, but has sold roughly 65,000 pairs of Olympic mitts.

HBC, which manufactured the mitts, has said that three million mitts have been sold across all retail stores, kiosks and websites.

Visa Inc. reported last week that in-person retail spending in B.C. among international Visa credit and debit cardholders was US$21.8 million during the second weekend of the Games.

In that timeframe, Americans spent more in-person using Visa in B.C. than any other nationality (US$12 million), followed by China.

For the first 11 days of the Games, in-person spending in B.C. among international Visa cardholders was US$72 million, an 84% increase compared with the same period last year.

International visitors have made more than 700,000 in-person transactions in B.C. during the Olympics.