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Hurricane Sandy Sales: Good Business or Bad Taste?

Martin Poole/Digital Vision/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- More than eight million people along the East Coast are without power and Internet after Hurricane Sandy swept through the region.  But those who could access their email were greeted with hurricane promotions from retail sites, hoping to capitalize on those who are home-bound.

The sales linked to human tragedy -- the storm has taken more than 50 lives in the U.S. and more than that in the Caribbean -- strike some as tasteless and crass.

Late Monday evening, American Apparel offered a “Sandy Sale” to customers who reside in states that were affected by the hurricane, including Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

“In case you’re bored during the storm, 20 percent off everything for the next 36 hours,” the ad read.

The reaction on Twitter was immediate: “Never liked American Apparel. Now I like them even less. #SandySale,” @n_rothschild wrote.

“Another tasteless marketing campaign by American Apparel. Why am I not surprised #SandySale,” @summer_luu tweeted.

Ryan Holiday, spokesperson for American Apparel, responded to ABC News in an email:

“For us, this is about us working like crazy to get and keep our stores open.  We’ve got employees who can’t work when stores are closed due to weather and the biggest Made in USA factory in the country that sits idle -- we would never try to offend anyone or capitalize on a natural disaster, this was simply an effort to mitigate some of the effects of the storm on our business.”

“Sending out this email was a separate little thing that was never intended to cause a ruckus, but just an attempt to keep our business going and keep our employees working,” Holiday continued.

Holiday also cited the American Apparel’s “Corporate Responsibility” webpage, which details the company’s commitment to disaster relief, including aid to Haiti in January 2010 and Nashville flood victims in May 2010.  

”American Apparel has a long history of putting our resources to work for disaster victims and we’re already doing that for this storm as well,” wrote Holiday.

American Apparel isn’t the only retailer offering “Hurricane Sandy Sales.”

Urban Outfitters sent out a mass email Monday morning: “This Storm Blows, But Free Shipping on All Orders Doesn’t.”  The advertisement prompts customers to enter “ALL SOGGY” at checkout and features animated cats and dogs cascading down the ad.

Singer22.com, a retail store and website based in Long Island, is featuring a hurricane sale of 20 percent off by entering the code “SANDY” at checkout.  “Every cloud has a silver lining,” says Singer22.com in the online ad, but in same advertisement, the retailer apologizes for any inconvenience from its office closure.

Jon Singer, the CEO and founder of Singer22.com, told ABC News that the reason for the sale was to prevent customers from venturing out in the storm to one of Singer22′s two retail locations in Long Island.  However, during the hurricane, the stores lost electricity and were forced to close.

“I have 35 employees that need to get paid everyday and I have got to try to generate business somehow to cover my everyday expenses,” Singer said.

Asked how he would respond if faced criticism for exploiting the hurricane, he said, “The first thing we wanted was people to be safe and shop from home.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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