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Bentley Professors and Burke Inc. Study Employee Online Shopping at Work

May 10, 2005

Waltham, Mass. -- Employees are blurring the boundaries of work and personal life and some companies are helping them by allowing online shopping during working hours, according to a recent survey of employees in the U.S. and Canada by two Bentley College professors and Burke Inc., an international research and consulting firm. Although 27.5% of the respondents did not know if their companies had online shopping policies, and 33 % did not know if their companies monitored online shopping behavior, the study suggests there is employee respect for company-declared boundaries and conduct-at-work policies.

"Online retailers may like to promote the relaxing image of consumers shopping online in their pajamas or lounging on the couch, but the reality is that online shoppers are more likely to be wearing business clothes and sitting in front of their computer at work," said Associate Professor of Management Susan Adams and her co-authors of the study.

Adams and her co-authors conducted the study to understand more about the underlying factors related to personal online shopping in the workplace. In a survey of 852 employees from the United States and Canada, 72% indicated that they had shopped online at work. The amount of online buying conducted from the workplace was related to country differences, personal opinions about whether shopping from work should be allowed, and company practices and policies. The survey also revealed a link between an employer policy allowing workers to shop during work hours and job satisfaction.

The study's researchers were also interested in understanding more about the role companies play in allowing online shopping. These are critical issues for company executives cognizant of work-life balance issues who want to craft ideal policies for a productive and satisfied workforce. Also, answers to these questions have broader implications for marketers who want to reach their customers.

The use of various corporate policies and the practice of monitoring online usage were investigated as they related to employee online shopping. The degree of leniency in corporate online shopping policies was consistent with the percentage of shopping conducted at work, ranging from 2.6% where no shopping was allowed to 31.3% where it was allowed when it didn't interfere with work. At companies with no policy, employees carried out 16.5% of their online shopping at work. In companies with no policy, behavior was consistent with personal opinions about whether online shopping should be permitted at work. Those who felt that shopping at work should be curtailed did less than those who believed shopping anytime should be allowed.

The researchers expected that employer monitoring would reduce the amount of online shopping. However, it seemed to have no impact on online shopping behavior at work, but was negatively related to job satisfaction! Interestingly, 27.5% of the respondents did not know if their companies had online shopping policies and 33 % did not know if their companies monitored online shopping behavior. Most employees who participated in the study believed that online shopping should be limited or restricted in some reasonable manner, such as during one's lunch break. Employees' beliefs about whether shopping should be allowed at work were consistent with the amount of shopping conducted at work. A number of other factors were related to personal online shopping behavior at work.

The study also found:


  • Higher educated workers were more likely to shop at work.
  • The proportion of personal online shopping conducted at work was more prevalent in those with a higher education, higher salaries and a greater number of hours spent at work.
  • Part-time workers reported online shopping, including both at home and at work, an average of 7.7 hours a month compared to 5.5 hours for full-time workers. However, the percentage of online shopping at work for full-time workers (15%) was significantly greater than for part-time workers (5%).
  • In professions with greater access to computers at work, there was a higher percentage of online shopping in the workplace.
  • Computer connection speed, at home versus at work, related to where employees preferred to conduct their shopping - 19.2% of the respondents cited this as the primary reason for shopping at work. Other reasons cited for shopping at work included boredom (17 %), convenience (15.2%), balancing work and life commitments (15.1%), and no time outside of work (13.6%).
  • Employees in the United States reported conducting 16.5% of their personal online shopping at work compared to Canadian employees who reported 9.4% of their online shopping at work. The study suggests that the country differences may be explained by greater access to high-speed connections at home in the United States and by a greater concern for privacy among Canadian employees.

    Some questions arise out of this study for those marketing online shopping. Where and when will they find their customers if companies tighten policies? With a limited amount of time available for shopping, are online shopping experiences quick enough? Given the high incidence of online shopping at work, marketers would likely benefit from proactively targeting this segment of online shopper by devising strategies to better serve these ?at-work' employee customers.

    An article detailing the study appeared in the April 2005 issue of Interactive Marketing. The authors, Susan Adams and Bruce Weinberg from Bentley, and Diane Surette and Jaci Jarrett Masztal from Burke, Inc., came together with different perspectives to address the issues of the study. Adams investigates issues surrounding personal and organizational changes related to career satisfaction and success while Weinberg, a marketing professor, studies e-commerce.

    The two Burke executives were interested in learning more about employee perceptions and behaviors relating to online shopping at work, and understanding the impact of those perceptions and behaviors on employee engagement, productivity, and job satisfaction. They worked together to add questions about the topic to Burke's semi-annual Workforce Perspectives survey. The Workforce Perspectives survey collects data from members of the North American workforce focusing on a variety of topics important to employee satisfaction, commitment, and engagement including leadership, company practices, manager and co-worker relationships, job involvement, career development, performance management and customer/client service orientation.


    Burke Inc. is one of the premier international research and consulting firms in the world. For nearly seven decades, Burke has been a market leader. Burke helps their clients to understand marketplace behavior, customer loyalty, and employee engagement with a special emphasis on linking data and outcomes across organizational functions, for instance, by understanding the role employees play in impacting customer loyalty and the bottom line. Burke strives to be a valued business partner by providing customers with data, information, and guidance with a targeted focus on finding and implementing solutions to the most critical problems facing their clients today. Burke's employee owners add value to research and consulting assignments by applying superior thinking to help clients solve business problems.

    The Authors: Susan Adams (PhD Georgia Institute of Technology), Associate Professor of Management, and Bruce Weinberg (PhD Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Associate Professor of Marketing and E-commerce, are from Bentley College. Jaci Jarrett Masztal (PhD Illinois Institute of Technology), Vice President & Practice Leader of Employment Engagement & Retention Management, and Diane Surette, Senior Vice President & Practice Leader of Strategic and Organizational Consulting, are from Burke, Inc., an international research and consulting firm. Diane has a BS from Bentley ('83) and is an active alumnus.

    BENTLEY UNIVERSITY is one of the nation’s leading business schools, dedicated to preparing a new kind of business leader – one with the deep technical skills, broad global perspective, and high ethical standards required to make a difference in an ever-changing world. Our rich, diverse arts and sciences program, combined with an advanced business curriculum, prepares informed professionals who make an impact in their chosen fields. Located on a classic New England campus minutes from Boston, Bentley is a dynamic community of leaders, scholars and creative thinkers. The Graduate School emphasizes the impact of technology on business practice, in offerings that include MBA and Master of Science programs, PhD programs in accountancy and in business, and customized executive education programs. The university enrolls approximately 4,100 full-time undergraduate, 140 adult part-time undergraduate, 1,430 graduate, and 43 doctoral students. Bentley is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges; AACSB International – The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business; and the European Quality Improvement System, which benchmarks quality in management and business education. For more information, please visit

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