December 31, 2003, 12:00 AM

No longer a secret: Employees shop at work and bosses tolerate it

In good news to e-retailers, most employers don’t mind if their employees shop online while at work to take advantage of corporate broadband connections, report the latest shopping-at-work surveys from Yahoo and SurfControl. 67% of companies don’t restrict employees’ access to online shopping sites, web-access software provider SurfControl says.

Most online retailers experience the Monday phenomenon-and most researchers confirm it: Unlike store shopping where the weekends experience the heaviest volume, online retailing’s volumes occur during the week, starting with Monday and tapering off as the week progresses. The explanation is well known: Consumers back at their desks log onto web sites using their company’s broadband connection to buy at retail web sites.

Retailers who have been anticipating that companies would crack down on such shoppers can breathe a sigh of relief with the latest shopping-at-work surveys from Yahoo and SurfControl, a developer of web-access and e-mail control software. Yahoo reports that a fourth of online employed adults did some Christmas shopping at work and a majority say their bosses are aware of the activity and do not restrict it.

SurfControl’s survey of 1,300 U.S. companies that use web-access control software revealed that 67% of companies do not restrict employees’ access to online shopping sites and 70% do not restrict employees’ access to eBay and other auction sites.

Web-access control is used mostly to restrict access to sexually explicit sites and web-based e-mail such as Yahoo and Hotmail, SurfControl reports. 97% of the companies responded that their policies specifically restrict access to sexually explicit web sites, while 45% said they restrict access to Web-based e-mail.

“While the Internet poses numerous risks, it’s clear that corporate America does not consider shopping as much of a risk as pornography and web-based e-mail, both of which can present a liability risk to the organization,” says Susan Getgood, SurfControl’s senior vice president of marketing. “The results suggest that companies are more tolerant about online shopping and focus more on monitoring abusers.”

One company told SurfControl it views Internet access the same way it views telephone use: It’s a required tool of the job that will incur incidental personal use. Researchers IDC estimate, however, that 30-40% of employees’ Internet use is not business-related.

Yahoo’s survey, conducted by Harris Interactive, reports that more than a quarter of all employed online adults do some of their holiday shopping online at the office and 56% say their bosses are aware of the shopping activity.

The survey also reported:

- Of people who holiday shop online at work, 35- to 44-year-olds are most active with 36% indicating intent to holiday shop from work.

- 29% of men and 26% of women shop online for gifts at work.

- 57% of respondents who holiday shop online at work do so during the lunch hour or when they’re on break, 24% say they are likely to stay late at work to shop online. 29% of single people and 19% of married people will stay late to shop.

SurfControl also surveyed 1,400 British companies and found 61% don’t restrict employees’ Internet access to shopping sites, while 97% restrict access to sexually explicit web sites.

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