The real cost of an online Christmas

Oct 30 2006 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Here's an economic conundrum. While sales from online retailers are set to hit £9 billion in the UK alone this Christmas, the soaring popularity of online shopping could end up costing employers more than £7 billion in lost productivity.

With two million Britons having taken up shopping on the Internet in the past twelve months, employment law experts have warned that the problem of staff shopping while they ought to be working could be huge.

"More and more people are turning to the Internet either to buy presents, or to do a little window shopping," said Peter Mooney, of Employment Law Advisory Services (ELAS).

"But for many employers, every hour a member of staff spends looking for Christmas presents online is an hour they should have spent working.

"Even using rather conservative estimates, that could cost UK businesses billions between now and December 25."

Working on an average of half an hour a day spent shopping online, and an average hourly wage of £12.50, ELAS estimate that UK employers could stand to lose almost a billion pounds a week in lost work time.

With eight working weeks to go before Christmas, that could amount to almost £7.25 billion in lost time.

"Very few employers are so Scrooge-like that they wouldn't forgive their staff the occasional glance at Christmas presents online," said Mr Mooney.

"But with sophisticated Ė and at times, addictive - websites now geared to keeping shoppers online for as long as possible, even an occasional glance can turn into half an hour browsing.

"That time soon adds up, and it costs UK Plc billions," he added.

To combat the problem, employers need to act now Ė weeks before their staff's shopping starts in earnest Ė by setting out a specific Internet policy.

"By outlining what is and what is not acceptable during work time, employers not only remind their staff not to abuse work systems, but give themselves a solid basis on which to take action whenever anyone oversteps the mark," explains Mr Mooney.

"Without that, not only do bosses face losing a lot of time to shopping, they could even come unstuck for taking excessive action."