Memo to managers: Don't expect high productivity today.
Instead of finishing that overdue report or prepping for a client meeting, many employees will be surfing the Web for gifts.
About 40 percent of consumers with Internet access at work plan to shop online using their office computer today — and in days to come — says a survey sponsored by Shop.org, the online unit of the National Retail Federation. Last year, 11.1 million cubicle-dwellers visited online sites on the Monday after Thanksgiving, reports Nielsen/Net Ratings.
Already this month, 59 percent of online buying came via work computers, says Gian Fulgoni, chairman of sales tracker ComScore. Purchase data show buying "spread throughout the day," he says. "It's not that people are just doing their shopping during their lunch hour."
The post-holiday Monday has become a big event for online retailers, who've nicknamed it "Cyber Monday." Some 43 percent plan promotions today to fuel the trend.
In 2004, Cyber Monday shoppers spent $386 million, up 29 percent from 2003, says ComScore. More than 75 percent of online retailers saw sales spike on the day last year, according to a joint survey from Shop.org and BizRate Research.
A big reason for shopping at work: 99.6 percent of consumers with Internet access at work have high-speed connections. Just 59 percent of Internet users have shopper-friendly broadband at home.
Shopping at work also avoids nosy relatives, says Jeffrey Grau, senior analyst at online researcher eMarketer. "You have privacy from family so you can buy gifts without them looking over your shoulder."
Online holiday spending overall is on the rise. Consumers will shell out $19.4 billion at online retailers in November and December, up 22 percent from last year, predicts eMarketer. And while today will be a big online buying day, the biggest is still to come. The biggest day last year was Dec. 14 — a day many major retailers' free shipping offers ended — when consumers spent $458 million, says ComScore.
The prospect of much of that spending done at work could spook even the most flexible of employers. But workplace expert John Challenger says companies shouldn't worry too much about slackers shopping on the clock.
"There's a blurred line between work and personal life," he says. "Employees take work home and check their BlackBerrys while commuting."
While "there will be some productivity lapses in the traditional sense," he says, they likely won't be significant. "When employees fall behind, they tend to make up a lap later."