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Buyer beware

More companies have relaxed their policies about shopping online while at the office, but that’s not a green light to spend the workday in virtual retail heaven.

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It’s safe to say that people like shopping online. After all, who among us could resist the lure of Amazon Prime Day this week on July 11 — even if we were at work?

Evidently, not many of us.

According to CNBC, the third annual self-created shopping holiday was Amazon’s biggest yet, with sales this year surpassing the online retailer’s 2016 Black Friday and Cyber Monday results.

Prime Day sales grew by more than 60% compared to last year, and Amazon said a “record number” of Prime members shopped across 13 countries.

Okay, sure, but not that many people pay for Amazon’s Prime service, right? Again, from CNBC: “Amazon said more new members joined Prime on July 11 than on any single day in the company’s history.”

“If this growth trajectory continues, Amazon Prime should be used in more than 50% percent of all U.S. households before the year is over,” Cowen & Co. analyst John Blackledge wrote in a note to clients.

In order to take advantage of those timely Prime Day deals, shoppers needed to track and watch items to get them before they were gone. With just a 30-hour window to shop, that meant a lot of people were making their purchases discretely while on the clock at work.

How do employers feel about that? In a survey of CIOs, staffing firm Robert Half found that 65% of companies actually allow online shopping. Yet, more than half (55%) of employees aren’t aware of these policies and will quickly minimize their screens when the boss comes in.

“While some companies look the other way when employees browse retail sites in moderation, online shopping is sometimes against company policy,” notes Kimberly Bean, metro market manager for Robert Half Technology in the Madison and Milwaukee area. “Many businesses acknowledge the need for flexibility during the work week and now are allowing more online shopping at work, within reason.

“Allowing employees to do occasional personal errands at their desk, like personal shopping, may keep them more productive at work. Instead of leaving the office during lunch breaks to do shopping errands, employees can take care of these tasks quickly online.”

Bean says within reason, online shopping at work could actually be less hindering than taking two-hour lunch breaks to go to the mall. However, shopping online or taking care of personal tasks while at work can hinder productivity when done in excess, or when work projects aren’t prioritized. Online shopping should never cause work deadlines to slip or projects get off track.

So during a prominent shopping day like Prime Day, when are employees finding the time to snag those deals? According to Robert Half Technology data:

  • 64% said they have used their lunch break to track down deals.
  • 43% say they have surfed for bargains while bored on the job.
  • 35% say they were lured to shop while searching online for something else.
  • 17% of respondents say they have shopped with co-workers.
  • 8% confess to shopping while on conference calls and 3% during in-person meetings.

Shopper stopper

Still, for every company that is willing to relax the rules and allow the freedom to shop online, there are others with strict policies against it.

According to another Robert Half survey of more than 1,400 CIOs across North America, one-third (33%) of leadership reported that their companies block employee access to online shopping, while 43% percent allow access but monitor for excessive use, explains Bean.

However, as stated earlier, 55% of employees are unaware of their firm’s stance, reporting they have not been provided with company information or training around IT security or online shopping policies.

“We recommend that technology leaders make sure they are regularly making employees company-wide aware of IT security and work device usage policies,” says Bean. “When new employees start at an organization, make sure they are updated on these policies, as well. Use times like holiday shopping time, when there may be a spike in online browsing and activity, to remind people of your organization’s policies. This way employees can have it top of mind as they try to get things done.”

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