The holidays are the busiest time of the year for Copper Pot Caramels, a Yakima-based business that makes homemade caramels.

As they have done in the past, owners Adrienne Engelhart and Colleda Monick will sell their products through local retailers and at holiday events, such as the Mighty Tieton Chandelier Festival.

But now the 3-year-old company is looking to a newly launched online store to provide a boost during the crucial holiday season.

“By having the website, we have a broader audience,” Engelhart said, noting that she’s received calls from customers outside the Yakima Valley.

She’s among the legions of businesses hoping to take advantage of today’s “Cyber Monday,” when retailers offer discounts, free shipping and other incentives to attract shoppers to shop on their websites.

While Cyber Monday started in 2005 as a marketing push for online retail sales, it’s now an integral part of the holiday season for all retailers, including brick-and-mortar big box stores and small businesses.

One only has to look at the numbers to see why: Shop.org, the digital retail strategy arm of the National Retail Federation, a trade organization, predicts online sales during the holiday season will grow by 12 percent to as much as $96 billion. That’s about 16.4 percent of the $586 billion in overall sales the federation predicts retailers will generate this holiday season.

Last year on Cyber Monday, online sales reached $1.25 billion, a 158 percent increase from the $484 million of 2005, according to comScore, a Reston, Va., company that provides digital business analytics.

With more people owning smartphones, tablets and other devices that make it more convenient to go online, many expect that number to increase even further today.

IBISWorld, a Los Angeles industry research firm, predicts online sales for this Cyber Monday to increase by 21.4 percent to $1.5 billion.

“Retailers have to go where the consumers are,” said Olivia Tang, industry analyst for IBISWorld. Providing online deals and promotions “gives more visibility to the consumers.”

That said, having an online presence is by no means a new concept for traditional big-box retailers.

What is more noticeable this year is the drive from retailers to compete directly with online-only retailers, such as Amazon.com.

Retailers have beefed up their online presence by revamping websites and offering brand-new mobile apps as well as incorporating advantages of a traditional store in the online shopping experience. For example, many retailers are offering an in-store pickup option, where shoppers can buy online and pick up the item at a nearby store free of charge.

“When you order online and you go to the store (you may say), ‘Oh yeah, I want to pick up this or that,’ ” said Bill Martin, founder of ShopperTrak, a Chicago-based retail technology firm that tracks shopper and sales traffic.

“Then that makes two transactions; then (the store is) getting a double conversion on a single entry.”

Smaller retailers have also adopted such practices. Inklings Bookshop in Yakima launched a new website in August where shoppers can order online and pick up at the store, located in the Chalet Place shopping center at 56th and Summitview avenues.

Most of the shoppers who have ordered online have opted to pick up the item at the store, said owner Susan Richmond.

“People like that they’re saving (on) shipping,” she said.

Over the past several holiday seasons, e-readers, such as Amazon.com’s Kindle, have become popular gifts.

So this holiday season, Inklings is selling e-readers and e-books on the bookshop’s website.

Richmond doesn’t expect such purchases to make up a big part of her sales, but she thinks it’s essential to offer products that allows the business to better respond to the needs of loyal customers.

“We have another opportunity to say yes to a customer,” she said.

Engelhart, of Copper Pot Caramels, said an online presence isn’t just a means to make sales but also to build its brand to current and potential customers, she said. The website, for one, includes a blog where the owners will highlight retailers selling their product and recipes that incorporate the use of caramel.

The business does not have a specific goal on online sales, but believes online will play a role in the business’ future, Engelhart said

“We hope down the road, (the website) will give more options on which way our business can go,” she said.

Mai Hoang can be reached at 509-759-7851 or mhoang@yakimaherald.com.