Red Cross uses e-commerce to prepare public

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The red emblazed glass cross stands high on the new building of the American Red Cross in Greater New York. The recently opened site is an old converted warehouse and contains the organization's emergency response center, staff offices and a newly expanded retail store.

The store offers products featured on the Red Cross' national Web site at and also items exclusive to the store itself.

"We have found that New Yorkers over the years, especially after 9/11 and the [2003] blackout, have nothing at home," said Tamara Charles, director of operations, safety and preparedness for the American Red Cross, Washington. "If there is a blackout tomorrow, are you ready with a flashlight?"

The top-selling Red Cross product is the disaster backpack, which contains emergency supplies such as batteries, tissues, blankets and a poncho. Customers are urged to add comfort items of their own into the bags. The backpacks are made for either one or two people and cost up to $50.

Another popular item is the traditional Red Cross First Aid Kit, containing products such as gauze pads, scissors, first aid cream, bandages and gloves. Industrial-sized kits are sold for 10 or 25 people, starting at $25 apiece.

"The kits are ideal for the home or the office," Ms. Charles said. "We also make a small one that women can keep in their pocketbook that they can use to help in the event of an emergency."

The New York outlet also serves as a certification and training base with the classes it offers. Coinciding pamphlets and books are sold in the store.

"We encourage people to take a variety of classes because people aren't trained to respond in the event of an emergency," Ms. Charles said. "People can be trained to know what to do and feel confident instead of running the other way."

The store offers refresher items on pet first aid, baby-sitting and life guarding, too.

"We offer life-guarding classes to teenagers ages 17 and up," Ms. Charles said. "It gives a future employment opportunity for kids."

The store offers CPR scorecards for adults and children in case one forgets in an emergency.

"The CPR certification lasts for one year," she said. "The cards are great tools to use a reminder."

Gift items such as plush teddy bears, key chains, pins and apparel are offered in the New York retail outlet, the store at and the national Red Cross site.

The Red Cross also is gearing up to release new products. The nonprofit has developed a kit for the upcoming flu season, which contains a mask, hand sanitizer and gloves, as well as a Wellness Kit and a Readiness Kit.

Various flashlights are set to be unveiled including an auto-ready flashlight that also acts as a seatbelt cutter and glass breaker. Wind-up flashlights (hand-powered, batteries not needed) and radios will be available as well.

"Giving one of these items to your significant other may not seem like the sexiest thing, but sometimes a gift has to be practical," said Mike Virgintino, director of communications and media relations for the American Red Cross in Greater New York.

For the upcoming holiday season, large corporations such as Tiffany & Co. buy items in bulk at $5 per kit to distribute to employees.

"Our products make great stocking stuffers," Ms. Charles said. "They are small enough to fit into a desk and ready to go when you need them."

The Red Cross markets its products through the retail store, the online operations and by mailing quarterly catalogs to public institutions such as libraries and colleges.

"Our goal is to make the store the first-stop shopping store for an emergency," Ms. Charles said. "We just want people to be prepared."


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