To eBay's CEO John Donahoe, employee loyalty means actually using your employer's products.
"I see competitors' boxes coming to our mailroom," Mr. Donahoe told a group of 2,500 eBay employees assembled at the San Jose Civic near its headquarters, according to a profile of the company in Fortune. "You should be using our products and using PayPal products wherever you see them."
The remark was just a small part of the extensive profile of eBay, but drew some attention across internet blogs with many assuming the "competitors' boxes" had to be Amazon's. The overall article detailed eBay's successful shift from online auctions to a full-service e-commerce model that helps retailers compete against the likes of Amazon. Mr. Donahoe said in the article, "Retailers are coming to us and saying, 'We need to have a technology partner.'"
Outright banning employees from buying a competitor's product appears rare. But, depending on their competitive nature, a code of conduct — often unwritten — appears to exist at some companies. In the mid-2000s, Ford earned some attention for forcing workers at its Dearborn truck plant not driving a Ford vehicle to park in a lot across the street.
Last year, Microsoft reportedly banned departments from purchasing Apple products, although employees weren't prohibited from buying Macs and iPads for their own personal use. Still, an article in The Wall Street Journal at the start of the current decade detailed how many Microsoft employees hid the use of their personal iPhones at work, especially in front of CEO Steve Ballmer.
In an article last year written for cbsnews.com, Steve Tobak, a consultant and former high-tech executive, advised that highly visible execs should probably avoid using a competitor's products to avoid any negative PR. For the rest, using their own money to buy a competitor's product "should be nobody's business but their own."
Healthy discounts can be used to maximize the opportunity to make a company's workforce their "best evangelists," he adds. At the same time, such efforts can backfire if employees can easily find the company's products at lower prices elsewhere or if they start reselling their discounted perks.
Should a company be able to require that its employees not purchase competitive products?