Staffing in a pandemic: Which retailers have furloughed, laid off or hired employees
One of the largest impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, aside from temporary store closures, has been the furlough of store associates and — in some cases — corporate staff and distribution center employees.
As stores remain closed to customers in many parts of the country, retailers are generating significantly less revenue than they’re accustomed to, forcing them to fall back on credit lines, negotiate with landlords on rent, work with suppliers to push out orders and payments and, in some cases, file for bankruptcy protection.
While the pandemic is challenging for the entire retail ecosystem, it’s hitting retail employees particularly hard. Even with top executives forgoing or reducing salaries, many companies have turned to furloughs and layoffs to help cut costs.
Of 144 retailers Retail Dive has been tracking during the pandemic, over half have announced furloughs of some kind. That count includes large retailers like Macy’s, Best Buy, J.C. Penney and Ross, young companies like Casper and b8ta, and many companies that were struggling with their finances long before the pandemic hit.
Over half of the retailers studied have furloughed employees in response to the pandemic
Each square is a retailer, categorized by whether they have announced furloughs in response to COVID-19. Hover over a square to see the name of the retailer or use the search bar to find one.
Each square is a retailer, categorized by whether they have announced furloughs in response to COVID-19.
The full impact of retail furloughs is hard to measure. The total number of employees impacted is uncertain, as companies present the news with varying degrees of transparency. It’s also difficult to compare a retailer like Nordstrom, which employed 71,000 people on a full- or part-time basis in 2018, to a business like RH (formerly Restoration Hardware), which employed 5,100 employees as of February.
What we do know is that big and small businesses alike are furloughing, or in some cases laying off, employees — and many are doing so in significant numbers. Based on our data, over half of the retailers that have announced furloughs have done so for a majority of their store employees. That number could be even higher: While some of the remaining retailers have furloughed fewer than a majority, many have furloughed an undisclosed number.
And these are just the retailers that have made public announcements.
Of those that have announced furloughs, over half have furloughed a majority or all of its employees
The number of retailers that have announced furloughs of a majority of its employees in response to COVID-19.
Fewer layoffs have been announced, so far.
Several DTC brands — a segment that was struggling to reach profitability before the pandemic — have instituted layoffs, including Away, Casper and Everlane. In addition to the woes that all retailers currently face, DTC brands have the added challenges of being less financially stable than established players, narrowly focused on a specific product category and more reliant on raising capital to keep operations going.
That being said, it’s not purely small businesses strapped for cash that are laying off staff. Apparel giant Gap also makes the list, as well as REI and Lord & Taylor, which was acquired by Le Tote in November and is now reportedly planning to liquidate its store base in bankruptcy once stores are able to reopen.
While the number of retailers laying off staff remains relatively low for now, it could increase depending on how long retailers have to stay closed. It’s also unclear how many associates who are on furlough right now will ultimately be told not to come back.
A small portion of retailers have announced layoffs
Each square is a retailer, categorized by whether they have announced layoffs in response to COVID-19. Hover over a square to see the name of the retailer or use the search bar to find one.
Each square is a retailer, categorized by whether they have announced layoffs in response to COVID-19.
While the pandemic is a harrowing time for most retailers, there are small pockets of success.
Retailers have innovated new ways to connect with their shoppers, from virtual appointments to contactless pickup or delivery. Consumers have also turned to e-commerce to fulfill some of their needs throughout the many shut-downs and stay-at-home orders, giving retailers much-needed sales — though analysts note that behavior won’t offset the revenue retailers would make if brick-and-mortar stores were up and running. For some retailers, even e-commerce operations have temporarily shuttered to protect distribution center employees.
Mostly, the pandemic has benefited — or, at least, not been a total disaster for — essential retailers. Pet retailers have seen a boost, and dollar stores, drug stores and general merchandisers have as well. While over half of the retailers we studied have had to furlough employees, a small number of essential retailers have announced that they are hiring.
Walmart and Amazon alone have hired a combined 375,000 workers. Rite Aid, CVS and Walgreens have started hiring for around 65,000 roles between them, while Lowe’s stated it is hiring 30,000 employees. While some have said they are prioritizing applicants who have been furloughed in hard-hit sectors like retail and hospitality, the number of retailers furloughing workers is still significantly larger than those hiring.
Very few retailers are hiring new employees
Each square is a retailer, categorized by whether they have hired new employees in response to COVID-19. Hover over a square to see the name of the retailer or use the search bar to find one.
Each square is a retailer, categorized by whether they have hired new employees in response to COVID-19.
For the most part, hiring trends are as-expected: Essential retailers are hiring, while everyone else is not. However, the breakdown of furloughs, layoffs and hirings is slightly more nuanced in specific sectors.
Of 67 apparel retailers measured, 41 have furloughed employees, while 9 have laid off employees. Eight out of 10 department stores, some of which are facing a potential liquidity crunch should the pandemic last much longer, have announced furloughs, while three out of seven beauty retailers have.
Large differences in decisions to furlough, lay off or hire employees by retail sector
The number of retailers in each sector that have announced furloughs, layoffs or hirings in response to COVID-19.
This data provides a snapshot of how employees have been impacted by the pandemic up until now. However, much remains unknown, including: whether layoffs will pick up or drop off; how many recent hires could be out of a job once demand falls back to normal levels at essential retailers; and when or if furloughed employees will be welcomed back to stores.
These are all questions we’ll be watching as retailers start on the long path back to a sense of normalcy.
Here is a table of the 144 retailers included in this story, along with whether each has announced furloughs, layoffs and/or hirings.
For this article, Retail Dive used data from 144 retailers we have been tracking over the course of the pandemic. The number of retailers that have furloughed, laid off or hired employees is based on company announcements and SEC filings as of May 5. There may be some retailers on this list that have furloughed, laid off or hired employees without making a public announcement.
To determine if a retailer had furloughed the majority of its store employees, Retail Dive looked at what language the retailer used in announcing furloughs (for example, the terms “majority,” “most” or “all” fell into this category). When a specific number of furloughed employees was given, Retail Dive compared it to the total number of employees last reported by the retailer, when this information was available, and determined a majority or not using that number. If the information was not available and it was not possible to determine a majority, Retail Dive did not include them under the “majority” count.