Cyber Monday deals: Does your boss know what you're doing right now?

Cyber Monday deals are driving many Americans to shop online at work. Some workplaces are looking the other way, with online shopping for Cyber Monday deals up 20 percent over last year.

By , Staff writer

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    Reginald Armstead, Jr., of Phoenix, sends a package on its way after packing it at the 800,000 sq. ft. Amazon.com warehouse in Goodyear, Ariz. Online retailers hope the Web's convenience factor, plus discounts and deals, spur still-nervous shoppers to spend more on the Web this holiday season.
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J. Crew sent out an e-mail this morning announcing 25 percent off and free shipping. Then, Buy.com blitzed its subscribers with news of its Cyber Monday deals. Williams-Sonoma hit the e-mails with its deals before dawn.

But, when does anyone have time to ... ahem ... take advantage of these deals?

Answer: A lot of people are taking a little time – or maybe even a lot of time – during work hours to do some cyber shopping.

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Although no one is asking for a show of hands from everyone in their cubicles, corporate observers think that at least some of the pointing and clicking taking place Monday has to do with online bargains.

Part of the reason some companies may be looking the other way is because business is slowing down anyway at year's end. And even at companies that block online shopping (according to some reports this might be as high as 60 percent of companies), there is always the smart phone.

According to IBM, Cyber Monday spending is up 20 percent over last year as of noon Monday. A strong Cyber Monday would follow initial reports that shopping over the Black Friday weekend set record levels. According to some news reports, at least 50 percent of Americans say they will spend part of today shopping online.       

"I think some companies are oblivious – actually, I think a lot are,” says John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Chicago-based outplacement consultant. “The core response today is that the boundary between work and personal life is blurred.”

For example at Easy Web Content, an online website builder in Frederick, Md., CEO Payman Taei is taking a relaxed attitude to internet shopping today. “It’s going to happen so why not support it?” But he adds the caveat: “As long as it does not take the entire day.”

Mr. Taei recommends his 10 employees do their personal shopping during lunch or on breaks. But, he adds, if a deal is time-sensitive, “it’s fine to do it on company time.” In fact, he has asked employees if they find any good deals, let him know too.

Many larger companies, however, have rules and regulations about using company time to shop. “I spent ten years at Ford and thirty years at Xerox and we had policies and rules and regulations about overusing and abusing online activities,” recalls George Cook, executive professor of Marketing & Psychology at the Simon Graduate School of Business in Rochester, New York. “But, I think a lot of companies will give you some slack.”

Mr. Cook observes that for many companies business is starting to slow down, giving employees a little more time to get some personal things done. However, he says the key is that employees try to be responsible.

“I think spending two hours a day is too much,” says Cook. “And, if someone does four hours during work, it does affect productivity.”

At Pluto Networks in Lewis Center, Ohio, CEO Larry Chaffin posted on LinkedIn that the biggest question he was getting all day was, “How do I 100 percent block cyber Monday and my employees from shopping all day.” 

Companies trying to block employees can often do it on their firewall, says Ahmed Moledina, COO of Lynx Square, an Austin, Texas-based social online marketplace that enables group buying for consumers.

“But, even if only half allow it that is still a lot of shopping,” says Mr. Moledina. Through Monday morning, he reports his website was busy – the most popular purchase being video games. 

Some companies do have prohibitions. In Allen, Texas, CEO Chris Lawson of Eli Daniel, a professional staffing organization, says it's grounds for “immediate termination” if either his employees or the temps hired from his firm are found shopping online on company time. He says almost all his clients have rules against “personal” internet use.

For example, he says he is supplying fifteen people to a call center in the Dallas area. “There are policies where they have to be answering those calls,” he says. “If they are busy on the internet trying to take advantage of deals, it will make an impact.”

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