Hitting Shoppers Where They Work

Internet access at work means shopping at work. According to the PriceGrabber product comparison service, in November, 52 percent of visitors accessed the site from a work computer. Marketers are paying attention.

One company that’s taken note is Sears.com, which operates a Sears Clearance Center and several branded regional outlet stores on eBay . “We see two peaks during the day,” said Chuck Cebuhar, VP of Hardlines/Customer Direct, “from 11 AM until one or two, and it also peaks between 5 and 7 PM Central time. But no question, by far the biggest peak is at lunch hour.” The peak has been especially noticeable in the fourth quarter, AKA holiday shopping season. It’s so pronounced that Sears.com tries to make sure its auctions close during that timeframe.

Such day-parting, while huge on TV and radio, still is growing on the Web. “One of the big, hot trends over the past year has been day-parting,” said Young-Bean Song, director of analytics for a technology provider Atlas DMT, a unit of aQuantive . “Buying media based on day-parts is particularly important not only for retail companies but also people like McDonalds who want to reach people at lunchtime.”

Atlas has done an annual holiday shopping research study for the past three years and seen a fairly consistent pattern of not only shopping but buying during work hours, especially at lunch times. “This is a year-round trend,” Song said, “but it’s more pronounced during the holiday shopping season.”

Last year, Song said, Web publishers didn’t have sophisticated enough ad servers to sell ads based on day-part. Now, he said, “There’s been enough buzz about it where publishers have created that kind of inventory.” He estimates that around half of all publishers now offer time-of-day inventory.

At least one tech vendor enables employers to respond to the shopping-at-work issue by day-parting workers’ Internet access. WebSense , a vendor of employee Internet management software, lets companies meter out time for employees’ personal Web use.

Washington ENT Group, for example, is a busy ear, nose and throat practice with 35 employees. As with any medical office, the Internet is a bit problematic. Access is a part of doing business — and Washington ENT is more tech-savvy than most. It prides itself on being an all-digital office and it uses an integrated electronic medical record and practice management (PM) system. The company even has computer kiosks in waiting rooms so patients can go online while they wait.

COO Bart Doroshuk made the decision some time ago to provide all employees with Net access. But he wanted to block access to certain sites or classes of sites and set daily time limits for employee access to non-business-related Web sites.

Doroshok set up his company’s system to provide each employee with 60 personal minutes of Web use a day. It can be spread out throughout the work day, but, “We encourage people to use it during the lunch hour,” he said. “But if at 10 in the morning, they want to check delivery of a present on the FedEx site, they should be able to do it.”

As employers like Washington ENT realize it’s better to keep employees at their desks — even if they’re shopping online instead of working — e-commerce at work will be as mainstream as coffee and donuts. Will we see more Gap and Wal-Mart ads on sites like Yahoo Finance and Internet Advertising Report? Stay tuned.

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