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Don't punish on-the-job shoppers, expert says

Work Schedule for "Cyber Monday," Nov. 26:

* 8 a.m.: Staff meeting.

* 8:30 a.m.: Eddie Bauer.

* 9 a.m.: Conference call with corporate.

* 9:45 a.m.: J.C. Penney.

* 10 a.m.: Ann Taylor.

* 10:30 a.m.: Coffee break.

* 11 a.m.: Client meeting.

* Noon -- 1 p.m.: Ann Taylor, Amazon.com, L.L. Bean.

More than 68 million Americans are expected to spend $700 million and a portion of their work day today buying holiday gifts online in what has become an annual "Cyber Monday" tradition. And lots of us will hit the virtual mall from our desks, on company time.

Time spent shopping rather than advancing the corporate mission will cost U.S. businesses $488.4 million, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a national outplacement and research firm.

"One cannot deny that online shopping can be a distraction in the workplace, especially around the holidays. Just ask any supervisor who walks in on an employee researching the latest DVD players on Amazon.com," said John A. Challenger, the firm's chief executive officer.

The point-and-click buying blitz, which now rivals the day after Thanksgiving in terms of retail purchase volume, is like Black Friday, only without the pushing and shoving. Online retailers will be rolling "door-buster" discounts, one-day sale prices, and perks like free wrapping, free shipping and free returns.

A survey for Shop.org by BIGresearch found that 54.6 percent of office workers with Web access plan to shop at work today, up from 50.7 percent last year, and 44.7 percent in 2005.

A similar poll by CareerBuilder.com found a smaller group, just 30 percent of workers, will shop during working hours today, but those who do will spend hours, not minutes, trolling the Internet for deals.

The latter survey, conducted by Harris Interactive August 10 through Sept. 4, found nearly a quarter (24 percent) of cyber shoppers expect to spend two or more hours online shopping while on the company clock.

An even bolder segment, 13 percent, predicted they'd tally three or more hours on a virtual buying trips, and five percent admitted they planned to spend five hours or more shopping, rather than working.

Despite the shopping-caused drop in worker productivity, Challenger said a little cyber-buying won't have serious consequences for most companies.

"Unless online shopping causes deadlines to be missed, or Internet performance to suffer, most companies should not attempt to crack down on the practice," he said. "Doing so could negatively affect morale and loyalty."

Challenger also noted that businesses lose blocks of worker minutes everyday to such things as extended trips to the washroom, smoking breaks, and running down the block to get coffees or iced lattes.

Accountemps.com, which surveyed workers and bosses about online shopping, found the majority of workplace shoppers will spend only 2.7 hours Internet buying for the entire holiday season.

"The holidays place demands on people's time, making it tempting to browse for gifts online while at work," said Accountemps Chairman Max Messmer.

He suggested that workers check their company's policy regarding personal Internet use.

Half of employers surveyed said they monitor employees' online habits, and 20 percent said they've fired workers for Web time abuse.

e-mail: slinstedt@buffnews.com

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