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Sshh... The Shopping Police

  |  October 1, 2002   |  Comments

Shop. Lunch. Shop. Employers take aim against Internet primetime's core audience: at-work surfers.

There's been a lot in the press about online traffic throughout daypart. High-speed access coupled with the sheer amount of time people spend in the office equals surfing at work.

This may hardly seem like a big deal to you (you're probably online right now), but employers are starting to balk. Several software companies offer tools to track sites employees surf. Many companies determine which activities are allowed on individual PCs and block access to sites deemed timewasters. At my agency, we cannot access many sites from our offices.

If this seems absurd, think about productivity. Think about how much time you surf non-work-related sites from your work computer. Now, think about the best way to target other at-work users while knowing this is going on. This could create speed bumps.

Before we think about flighting media buys against this target audience, let's look at some stats. According to comScore, 59 percent of $45 billion spent on online purchases last year came from the workplace. comScore also tracked Web shopping and other recreational at-work usage by the hours of the day, using a panel of 1.5 million Internet users who allow monitoring of their online habits. Findings include:

  • Most online at-work shopping begins about 10 a.m. local time and peaks at 12 p.m.

  • Online shopping at work is very low between 12 and
    1 p.m.

  • At-work shopping rises again by 3 p.m. and continues until about 5 p.m.

  • The average shopping site visitor spends less than 1.5 office hours a month at these sites.

  • The average auction Web site visitor spends 2.5 office hours per month at these sites.

Nielsen//NetRatings just released workplace Internet usage findings, including:

  • Roughly 46 million people in the U.S. went online from work in August 2002 (eMarketer estimates there will be 152.8 million U.S. Net users this year).

  • At-work growth in August was 17 percent over last August (in 2001, Forrester Research estimated 55 percent of Internet users in North America went online from home and work).

  • The at-home audience has only been up 3 or 4 percent.

  • Prime usage hours at work are between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m., when 86 percent of at-work users surveyed were logged on. At-home usage is highest between 5 and 9 p.m.

What can we learn from this data? First, the numbers seem consistent from research firm to research firm. As advertisers, we must keep a close eye on usage peaks and determine trends. Software companies offering tools to block non-business-related sites are popping up everywhere. It seems third-party ad servers haven't found a way to filter out the companies that use them. Niche targeting could potentially cause impression-level waste.

Even if companies do block access to e-commerce sites, who's to say employees won't just take off and go to the mall? This is something to watch, dear readers.

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Seana Mulcahy

Seana Mulcahy is vice president, director of interactive media at Mullen (an IPG company). She's been creating online brands since before the first banner was sold. Her expertise includes online and traditional media planning and buying, e-mail marketing, viral marketing, click-stream analysis, customer tracking, promotions, search engine optimization and launching brands online. Prior to Mullen, Seana was vice president of media services at Carat Interactive. She's built online media services divisions for three companies and has worked with clients spanning financial, telecom, high-tech, healthcare and retail. Not surprisingly, she has taught, lectured and written about the industry for numerous trade associations and publications.

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