Black Friday and Cyber Monday are coming up soon, which means that instances of employees shopping at work are going to skyrocket. As a manager you’re going to be faced with quite the dilemma: Should you let your employees do their holiday shopping during work hours?

In this article I’ll dive into how holiday shopping is going to change during COVID-19 and show you the options you have to manage shopping-related distractions in your business this year.

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How Will COVID-19 Impact Holiday Shopping in 2020?

Before we go over your options for managing the productivity of your employees I’d like to go over how holiday shopping is going to look this year compared to previous years. After all, with the COVID-19 pandemic continuing well past the holidays it’s clear that Black Friday shopping is going to be a little different in 2020.

There Will Be a Significant Increase in Online Shopping

Woman in house with credit card and laptop

The temptation to shop online during work hours is going to be even greater this year than previous years thanks to the dramatic increase in employees working from home. After all, being away from the office limits the risk of being caught browsing Amazon when they would normally be expected to stay focused on their tasks.

Research by RAND compared online shopping habits from the time that COVID-19 was declared a pandemic (March/April 2020) to amid the pandemic (July/August 2020). They found that in the early stages there was a negligible difference in online spending habits, but as the pandemic worsened 40% of respondents had started spending more money online. This increase in online shopping is certain to continue well into Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Some Brick-and-Mortar Stores Are Still Offering In-Store Exclusives

Retail store sign: Come in, Were awesome

Historically Black Friday was a shopping holiday that focused on physical stores and Cyber Monday was it’s digital counterpart. Nowadays there is little difference between Black Friday and Cyber Monday aside from their official dates.

With this years’ holiday season occurring during a global pandemic you can be certain that the majority of Black Friday deals are going to be available both online and in-store, though some retailers are offering in-store exclusives for Black Friday.

It’s quite likely that your employees are going to want to go shopping for in-store Black Friday specials. As a business owner you should establish guidelines with your employees regarding extended lunches, schedule flexibility, personal days, vacation allowances, and the acceptable use of sick days.

Sales Timelines Will Extend & Multiple Savings Events Will Be Offered

Clothing rack with tag: Sale 50%25 off

Starting holiday deals in October has been a huge trend this year. For example, Walmart hosted a shopping event called “Big Save” from Oct. 11 to Oct. 15. They’ve also spread out three distinct savings events throughout November, with each event focused on different categories of products.

Retailers will continue spreading out their Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals throughout all of November and December to reduce the amount of people congregating inside of their retail stores simultaneously. This strategy will also prove helpful for addressing supply chain delays caused by COVID-19.

With this in mind the holiday sales season has become less of a day/week and more of a multi-month endeavour. While this may reduce the urgency that employees feel you should still plan ahead to address any concerns you may have about shopping during work hours.

Major Retailers Will Keep Their Doors Shut This Thanksgiving

Sign: Sorry, Were closed. But still awesome

In previous years it has been quite common for retailers in the US to remain open on Thanksgiving in an effort to accommodate last-minute grocery and supply shopping. In fact, Thanksgiving has often served as a kick-off point for Black Friday sales.

This year is going to be different. Many retailers have decided to remain closed as a safety precaution and to provide their employees with the day off. You can find a list of stores that are going to be closed on Thanksgiving here.

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Key Shopping Dates For 2020

November 2020 Calendar

Friday, November 27 – Black Friday 2020

Historically, Black Friday has been a significant shopping holiday where retailers compete for sales with steep discounts on big-ticket items. These days Black Friday is no longer a retail-exclusive holiday and it’s common to see stores offering Black Friday deals online. Some retailers have even gone so far as to combine Black Friday and Cyber Monday themes into extended sales.

Even in the midst of a pandemic Black Friday is showing no signs of slowing down in 2020. Adobe’s 2020 Digital Trends in Retail Report predicts that Black Friday spending is going to skyrocket to a whopping $10.3 billion this holiday season. While this is a small year-over-year increase when compared to 2019’s $9.4 billion in the US it’s a significant figure given the current circumstances.

Saturday, November 28 – Small Business Saturday 2020

Small Business Saturday falls on the Saturday after US Thanksgiving, a day after Black Friday, and two days before Cyber Monday. Small Business Saturday is a fairly new shopping holiday, being first observed in the United States on November 27, 2010.

In contrast to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Small Business Saturday encourages holiday shoppers to purchase products and services from businesses that are small and local. With COVID-19 continuing throughout the holiday season you can be certain that shoppers will be favoring small businesses with ecommerce offerings.

Fun Fact: The term “Small Business Saturday” is a registered trademark of American Express. It is tied into their Shop Small initiative, a nationwide movement that celebrates small businesses with the goal of helping local communities.

Monday, November 30 – Cyber Monday 2020

Cyber Monday falls on the Monday after Thanksgiving in the United States. Cyber Monday was coined in 2005 as a digital counterpart to the Black Friday retail holiday. These days there are minimal differences between Cyber Monday and Black Friday aside from their official dates, with retailers offering Black Friday deals both online and in-store.

Adobe predicts that Cyber Monday spending is going to surpass Black Friday spending this year, with Cyber Monday spending expected to total $12.7 billion this holiday season (vs their $10.3 billion prediction for Black Friday).

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What to Do About Employees Shopping at Work

Even with Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals being spread out throughout the month your employees are going to be tempted to shop while on the clock. Now that I’ve covered how holiday shopping is going to be different this year we can start to look at how to manage employee productivity.

There are two key ways that you can manage shopping at work:

  1. Allow a reasonable amount of personal use during work hours, or;
  2. Ban shopping at work altogether

Whichever method you choose you will need to plan ahead. In this next section I will provide you with tips for keeping your employees productive and safe this year.

1) Allow Employees to Shop Within Productivity & Security Guidelines

This may sound counter-intuitive at first glance. Surely you’d want your employees focused on their work-related tasks and not spending their time shopping at work, right?

Maybe not! Consider this:

  • Mental Distractions: If online shopping feels so urgent that your employees want to shop during work hours, it’s going to be on the back of their mind throughout the day. Giving them a brief timeslot to shop lets them be fully present throughout the rest of the day.
  • They’ll Do It Anyway: Even if you don’t explicitly support holiday shopping during work hours, there’s a chance that your employees will shop anyway. They’ll just be forced to anxiously worry about “getting caught” doing it. This added stress, guilt, and frustration is certain to negatively affect their productivity and morale.
  • Employee Morale: There needs to be mutual trust and benefit between employers and employees. Allowing for a manageable level of personal use is a great way to reward your employees and show that you trust them to manage their own time effectively.
  • Personal Use IS Productive: Brief distractions like online shopping lets employees take a much needed mental break between tasks. These momentary pauses have actually been found to increase productivity – so long as their internet browsing does not consume more than 12% of work time.

If you’d like to officially support employees shopping at work this holiday season, these next tips will help you keep distractions and other risks within reasonable limits.

Encourage Them to Use Their Personal Devices Instead of Workstations

Whether or not you want to let your employees use their workstations is entirely up to you. That said, there are some potential risks of shopping on work devices that you should consider first.

Autofill: Internet browsers include autofill features that reduce the time it takes to fill out forms by saving personal data such as addresses and credit card details for future use.To avoid this your employees should use their own personal devices or browse in a private browsing mode that doesn’t save their information.

Keyloggers: If you are monitoring individual keystrokes (I seriously wouldn’t recommend this – keyloggers collect far too much sensitive data that is extremely valuable for thieves.) your employee’s credit card information will be captured and stored on your company’s servers. This could lead to serious damages should that data be leaked.

Risky Websites: Trusted online retailers like Amazon and Aliexpress are reasonably safe websites to visit, but you can’t be certain that your employees are exclusively shopping there. If your employees are doing a bit of comparison shopping they may stumble on malicious or compromised websites that will harm the security of your network.

Review Acceptable Use Policies With Your Employees

Paper document that says "Internet Usage Policy"

Your policies likely specify your company’s stance on personal use of the internet in the workplace. Before letting your employees shop online you should review your company’s computer usage policy with them and let them know if there will be any temporary exceptions for holiday shopping.

Productivity policy guidelines for online shopping:

  • Schedule Shopping: Set clear boundaries for how much time employees are allowed to spend on shopping during work hours. Are there peak periods where employees should not be shopping? Will shopping be limited to designated breaks or can they shop during work hours?
  • Reinforce Priorities: Allowing shopping during work hours is a great perk, but it can’t affect their core tasks. While you need to trust them to manage their own time effectively you should also remind them that their personal use of the internet should not be negatively affecting their core tasks.

Review Employee Internet Activity For Excessive Distractions

Trusting your employees to self-manage is incredibly valuable for building autonomy and morale. That said, excessive personal use is a very real possibility that needs to be accounted for.

To balance autonomy and productivity you can send computer monitoring reports directly to your employees so they can see for themselves if they’ve spent an excessive amount of time on shopping websites or other internet-based distractions.

Screenshot of the email reports screen. BrowseReporter employee monitoring software

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2) Prevent Employees From Using Shopping Websites in the Workplace

If you decide that you would not like to allow your employees to partake in Black Friday/Cyber Monday shopping during work hours, here’s what you can do.

Note: There are no definitive ways to stop employees from shopping at work. Particularly determined employees can simply use their unmonitored personal smartphones and data plans to shop undetected. These measures are simply ways that you can prevent employees from using company-provided devices to do their personal shopping.

Enforce Your Acceptable Use Policy

A businessman hands a piece of paper and a pen to their employee to sign

If your company’s policies forbid the use of company equipment for personal use you should remind your employees in advance. This will ensure that your employees are aware of your expectations and provide a precedent for corrective action if excessive personal use becomes a concern.

Block Shopping Websites With a Web Filter

Web filtering software will stop employees from accessing shopping websites on work devices. Simply add the websites you would like to block to your block list or use a category-based internet filter to block the shopping category.

If you’d like to allow your employees to shop during their breaks you can use the internet restriction scheduler in your web filtering software to unblock shopping websites at designated times.

Monitor Employee Internet Use

BrowseReporters Top Domains Visited Report - Employee Internet Activity

If your employees are using company-provided devices you can install internet monitoring software on their workstations. This software will collect web activity data and generate reports that show you how your employees are spending their time. This will also let you see whether or not your employees are visiting potentially unsafe websites.

For optimal results you can combine employee internet usage monitoring with a web filter. This will allow you to block all known unacceptable websites and discover any other websites that should be blocked.

Note: Be certain to disclose that employee monitoring software is being used on work devices so your employees can make an educated decision about their web usage habits.

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With COVID-19 running rampant this holiday season you can expect that your employees will be doing more online shopping than ever before. If you would like to reward your employees by allowing them to shop at work you should set clear productivity and security guidelines first. If you’d prefer to stop employees from shopping during work hours you can use internet monitoring and filtering software to enforce your acceptable use policies.

Free Sample Template:
Employee Internet Usage Policy

Download this FREE acceptable use policy, customize it, and distribute it to your employees to set a precedent for the acceptable use of the internet in the workplace.

Get the FREE template now