By Caroline M.L. Potter
Move over, Black Friday. Cyber Monday is aiming to usurp your position as America's biggest shopping day of the year.
Online sales on the Monday after Thanksgiving may reach $1.5 billion in 2012, up 20 percent from 2011, according to ComScore. Purdue University retail expert Richard Feinberg says that noon to 4 p.m. is the busiest time for shopping -- which means many folks will be shopping at work.
Should You Do It?
"Business is facing a dilemma," Feinberg says. "If they let shopping from work occur, they lose money and productivity. If business does not allow shopping from work, they may cause hostility and dissatisfaction in their workforce, which also can lead to lost productivity, and other problems [such as absenteeism]. It may be that allowing workers to shop on the job actually increases productivity."
Online shopping expert Michelle Madhok agrees. "I think that today most people expect there to be a merger of personal and professional time, since most of us are basically on call for work 24/7 with our BlackBerrys."
Nevertheless, workers should check their employers' policies regarding personal online activities during work. In many cases, you could be shopping at your own risk.
"It's a big day for shopping -- but find out what your company's policies are first," says Deborah Brown-Volkman, a career coach and former human resources executive. "You don't necessarily need to go to HR for that. That information may be in a memo or you could just informally check with your coworkers."
She adds, "A company will almost never say that you can use their equipment on their time for your personal business, but you do get breaks and lunch hours, so if you're going to shop online, do it on your own time."
Madhok offers these tips to help you make the most of your online holiday shopping without interfering with your job.
Keep It Personal
While she doesn't believe online shopping is verboten at the office, Madhok does recommend using your personal email address and personal phone number to track orders. "Even if your boss is OK with it, you don't want to start getting coupon codes and sample-sale invitations to your corporate email address."
If your employer frowns upon online shopping, try to use mobile sites on your iPhone or BlackBerry. And even if you are allowed to engage in the practice, make sure the sites you wish to shop on come up on your work computer. Certain sites could be blocked, which could foil your Cyber Monday plans.
"If afternoon is going to be the busiest period, you might want to shop in the morning -- also because a lot of sites restock first thing in the morning," says Madhok. "Bluefly.com, for example, puts out their new stock at 7 a.m. There are a lot of sample sale sites -- such as Gilt.com, Ideeli.com and Ruelala.com -- and most of their sales are timed." This will save you time as you'll know when the online sample sales are happening. Shopping in the morning hours before work will also ensure that you're not jeopardizing your job.
Sales notification services can help you get the best prices in the least amount of time. Madhok recommends ShopIttoMe.com and ShopStyle.com. "Depending on the site you're on, you can select brands and sizes, and you'll be alerted by email when they go on sale," she says, again reminding workers to use their personal email addresses.
You can also use alerts to help you minimize time winning auctions on eBay. "Alerts can do the search work for you," she says. SheFinds.com also has lists of must-have items that will be hard-to-get next year.
Shop for Bargains
You can save time and money by shopping at sites such as Smartbargains.com and Overstock.com any day of the week. "And if you want the deals, shop early in the season or know what the cut-off dates for the sites are so you know you'll get it when you need it," Madhok says.
She also recommends checking the search engines for the phrase "coupon code" along with each online store's name to make sure you're getting the best deals available.