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Online Christmas shoppers cost companies billions

Businesses could lose more than seven billion pounds in the run-up to Christmas as employees waste company time browsing the Internet for presents, employment experts said on Monday.

Lured by increasingly sophisticated websites designed to keep consumers online for as long as possible, more than two million people took up Internet shopping in the past 12 months, the Employment Law Advisory Services (ELAS) said.

It calculated the potential cost in lost company time by estimating an average of half an hour a day spent shopping online at an average hourly wage of 12.50 pounds.

"For many employers, every hour a member of staff spends looking for Christmas presents online is an hour they should have spent working," said Peter Mooney of ELAS.

ELAS' prediction of nine billion pounds in Christmas Internet sales this year chimes with other recent forecasts for booming online shopping.

Hitwise UK, a leading tracker of Internet trends, has already forecast record Christmas online purchases as better delivery times and improved search engines encourage shoppers to browse cyberspace rather than visit crowded high streets.

Industry body IMRG said in August UK Internet sales outpaced total spending in shops by 10 times as traditional retailers such as supermarket giant Tesco start to compete for Internet business with online sites like Amazon.

ELAS advised companies to lay down rules for staff now to help limit the distraction of cyberspace's seasonal offerings.

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