Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

by : 
Kim Perkins
October 1, 2013

Question: Do you have rules about employees surfing the Internet and/or using cell phones? It seems to me my sales people are always “just quickly checking email” or “sending a fast text” if I question what they are doing on the computer or their phone when I walk onto the sales floor. I think this reflects poorly on my store image if my employees are using the sales station for personal messages when customers are in the store. When I say something, they think I’m being unreasonable and get a little distant or moody. Please help!

Answer: Your question should be simple to answer, but my sense is there are more layers to the problem than you have indicated. Let’s start with the obvious: When employees are “on the clock,” their focus needs to be on your store and your customers and not on their personal business, whether in conversation with others or on a computer or phone! They can tweet, text, email, and Facebook on their own time (break and lunch) if you allow Internet access to them during the day.

Your computer on the sales floor should be strictly for customer service, including ringing sales, lookups, locating special orders, and so on. If you provide a computer in the back room for their convenient use at lunchtime, make sure it is adequately virus protected, as you never know when they might unintentionally venture onto the wrong website (we once caught a virus from a national news website, so it happens). In addition, cell phones should be set on vibrate during working hours and kept off the sales floor.

The underlying issue here is not really the Internet or cell phone usage, though. It sounds as if you may have a bigger issue of not being decisive or sticking to what you say. I am guessing at this, yet if your employees scoff, brood, or otherwise give you a hard time for setting perfectly reasonable rules, the problem may be lack of respect. There are many reasons why employees might respond this way, chief among them being you may not be fair and consistent when asking others to follow rules you have set, or you many lack the confidence to be a strong boss and firmly set rules that are in the best interest of your store. Looking honestly at these possibilities and making changes when needed will probably eliminate these scenarios in the future.

Kim Perkins is co-owner of Elysian Fields Books & Gifts for Conscious Living (, an award-winning store in Sarasota, Fla. Send your retail questions to