When Cyber Monday first became “a thing” almost two decades ago, the concept of remote and hybrid work was the stuff of dreams for many workers commuting five days a week to the office.
Now, the emerging weekly patterns on when people work in the office and at home could be a boost for retailers eyeing Cyber Monday profits.
That’s because the middle of the week has shaped up as the time when more white-collar workers come to their offices. Meanwhile, office attendance on Fridays and Mondays tends be softer — which could allow people to peruse Cyber Monday deals in the lulls between calls, assignments or when they’d otherwise be commuting.
“For some consumers, Monday may be the first chance they’ve had to pay attention to deals,” said Katherine Cullen, senior director of industry and consumer insights at the National Retail Federation, who also happened to be working from home on Monday.
After a busy Thanksgiving weekend and with her kids now back at school, “today was first day I could pay attention to sales” for her own gift lists, Cullen noted.
This Monday, consumers were projected to spend between $11.2 billion and $11.6 billion, according to Adobe Analytics. That would surpass the $10.7 billion people spent last year during Cyber Monday, Adobe said. Days earlier, there was a record $9.12 billion in online Black Friday sales, Adobe
The National Retail Federation forecast total holiday season sales this year between $942.6 billion and $960.4 billion.
The big spend is in spite of the four-decade high inflation that’s pinching wallets. Or perhaps, many people are spending now because the expensive cost of living is making gift deals seem extra alluring.
It’s tricky to estimate how much of the Cyber Monday purchases are being propelled by people working from home, Cullen and others say — but it’s a factor for the day.
It’s also tricky to compare the work-from-home dynamic last year to now, Cullen added. The Omicron variant was starting to emerge and in-person work policies were also likely different in 2021, she noted. Still, Cullen added, “it’s part of the bigger story of what’s going on with consumers and how consumer lives have changed.”
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“Not being tethered to a desk and/or a supervisor gives you a little more option to spend a little more time,” said Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst at The NPD Group, a market research firm.
Like Cullen, Cohen said it’s unclear how much the work-from-home trend will play into Monday’s sales, but he’s willing to say it will add something. “If we didn’t work from home and if Monday wasn’t a big work-from-home day, would sales be less? Probably yes.”
Shoppers are more focused on budgets and spending discipline this year, so they may spend less, said Rachel Dalton, head of retail insights at Kantar. But they might be more focused on Cyber Monday deals if they haven’t jumped at promotions already. “It is a toss up whether working from home on Cyber Monday will directly affect Cyber Monday sales. But I would say it can only help,” Dalton said.
Working from home and hybrid work on a mass scale started as a pandemic contingency plan and morphed into a feature of the white-collar work landscape.
(Albeit an uneven one: just ask anyone working at Twitter who is now expected to physically be on the job after Elon Musk purchased the social media company.)
Now the question is whether a hybrid mix is the new normal going forward.
In the three weeks before the Thanksgiving week, office occupancy rates either hit high points on Wednesdays or nearly hit them, according to Kastle Systems. During that stretch, average occupancy was always around the 55% point, while it hovered in the low 40% range on Mondays, the data showed.
The security technology provider has been using key card swipes, key fob and app uses in 2,600 buildings with 41,000 businesses to gauge office occupancy as the return to office debate unfolds.
In another hint about workers’ movements, the same trend plays out on ridership along New York City’s subways and metro-area train lines coming from the suburbs of Long Island, Westchester County and Connecticut. Ridership crests between Tuesday and Thursday and hits a lull on Mondays and Fridays, according to data from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
During November’s first three weeks, data from Inrix, the vehicle traffic data analytics firm, shows Mondays comprise 15% of the weekly trips in the nation. Tuesdays make for 16% of the weekly trips and the rest of the workweek, from Wednesday to Friday, is 15% each day.
When companies offer flexible schedules, many workers are now tending to come in during the middle part of the week, said Andrew Challenger, senior vice president at Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a Chicago-based outplacement firm.
“When you are in office, you’re trying to make the most of your time,” he said, but when working from home, the boundary between office and personal life duties can fade. That’s how Cyber Monday shopping might seep into the workday, he said.
Of course, even if more people are using their work-from-home arrangement Monday to land holiday deals, that’s not necessarily to say they are being less productive in their job. But that might depend who you ask.
The question whether remote work saps productivity may be a touchy subject where staff and management do not agree.
Many workers feel they are working harder than ever when they work from home, but many bosses are skeptical. In one survey earlier this year, 87% workers said they were just as productive working from home while just 12% of managers were fully confident in their staff’s productivity during a hybrid work arrangement.
This fuels a “productivity paranoia” on both sides, according to researchers at Microsoft
“It’s clearly still a divide between employers and employees,” Challenger said.