Retail layoff announcements for 2016 are on track to be the highest since the depths of the recession, according to a new report from Credit Suisse.
While layoffs are not a rare response to declining sales, analyst Michael Exstein said this time it’s different. “What makes this cycle different is that much of the decline is due to a secular change in consumption,” said Exstein, “both due to new online competitors as well as the shift in sales to the lower margin e-commerce channel.”
Exstein referred to Bloomberg, which tracks the headlines that reveal retail layoffs. Retail layoffs year-to-date in 2016 have hit 24,000 and that includes the recently announced Sears store closures.
Last week, Nordstrom Inc. said it was cutting 350 to 400 jobs and the month before the retailer said it would lay off 130 in the technology side of its business. Macy’s Inc. is eliminating 1,200 jobs from headquarters and the back office. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is cutting 100 corporate jobs and that is on top of the 10,000 or more sales associates who will lose their jobs when their store closes. Today, Coach Inc. said it was adding another 300 to the job cut list.
Exstein noted that historically, two-thirds of the layoffs typically happen in the first third of the year. With that in mind, this year could see more than 37,000 layoffs, which would be the highest since the start of this tracking in 2008. He believes that, with more retail bankruptcies likely in 2016, the number could be even higher.
Last year, there were 17,219 job cuts in retail, according to the tracking. Prior to the expected level this year, the highest number of layoffs was in 2010, when 30,273 retail jobs were lost.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics also provides projected employment statistics. It projects that department store employment will drop 16.4 percent from 2014 to 2024. Clothing store employment will stay flat, while shoe store employment is projected to actually grow 14 percent.
The majority of the job losses come at the store level as retailers close underperforming units. With the increase in e-commerce, physical stores are seeing declines in traffic. Also, as wages rise for these sales associates, retailers are finding they can’t afford to hire as many as they once did.
The costs to build out an e-commerce business and develop an omnichannel strategy are very expensive. It looks like retailers are making cuts at the corporate level to offset these increased expenses in the IT department.
“With so much of these companies’ total expenses related to labor,” said Exstein, “there are few other levers for retailers to pull in order to reduce their cost base. What makes this cycle different is that the pressures on retail workers are not just cyclical but also secular.”