04 August 2022
Restructuring brings layoffs at Walmart, Glossier, Allbirds
Workforce reductions come as job openings fall to nine-month low.
Photo by Marques Thomas on Unsplash
Workforce reductions come as job openings fall to nine-month low.
It’s been a year of shifts for brands and retailers, from coping with supply chain challenges to iOS 14.5 to a return to more in-person shopping to inflation raising costs and prices. Factor in a stock market downturn for many pandemic high-flyers and interest rate hikes from the Federal Reserve, and it’s a recipe for a shakeout.
This week’s sign of how changes are impacting individual companies came in the form of layoffs at several of the most notable names in ecommerce and retail. Here’s a quick recap:
Beauty brand Glossier is undergoing a restructuring as it transitions to an omnichannel strategy that adds wholesale and more of its own in-person retail shops on top of its vaunted digital direct-to-consumer business. Last week, Glossier signed its first wholesale partnership with Sephora, and announced expansion plans for new retail stores, including a location that opened in DC on Friday.
With this shift, the beauty brand laid off about two dozen people, Modern Retail first reported this week. At the same time, the brand is hiring for retail, product, supply chain and wholesale distribution. The focus of the restructuring is to align “structure, scale and talent" with the new strategy, the company wrote in a letter.
This comes after the company laid off about 80 people in January as it ended plans to build out its own tech platform. The latest changes are being made under new CEO Kyle Leahy, who stepped into the leadership spot in June after founder Emily Weiss moved to an executive chair role.
“Glossier’s first chapter was almost exclusively focused on a single channel of distribution,” Leahy wrote in a letter to the team. “Now, we’ve grown, the marketplace has evolved, and our consumers are looking for us to meet them where they are: in-store, online, at retail partners, and around the world.”
Footwear brand Allbirds is among the largest direct-to-consumer brands, and the publicly-traded company has already stepped into wholesale and expanded owned retail. It is operating in a tough environment that brought supply chain challenges and privacy-oriented changes from Facebook that rewrote marketing playbooks. The brand’s stock has dropped 70% year-to-date as of this week.
This week, the brand laid off 8% of its global workforce, which amounted to 23 employees, according to SFGate.
"We have thoughtfully evaluated roles and processes in each department, and in each market, to ensure our operating structure is set-up for the next phase of growth,” the spokesperson said in a statement to the outlet. “In this process, we looked for ways to streamline workflows, reduce duplicative efforts, and put past learnings and operational insights into practice.”
Allbirds employed 710 people as of December 2021. It will provide a further update when it announces second-quarter earnings on Monday.
Walmart has been one of the retailers at the center of the latest economic swings of the pandemic era: First, it started markdowns after supply chain delays left it with inventory that was mismatched to demand. Then, inflation caused shoppers to spend more on food and fuel, leaving sales for more profitable general merchandise such as apparel, home goods and electronics down. Last week, the company warned that its profits for the second quarter would fall as a result of the latter.
This week, news reports indicate that Walmart is set to lay off 200 employees among its corporate staff, with merchandising, real estate and global technology among the most affected areas, the Wall Street Journal reported. At the same time, the company plans to invest in growth areas, including ecommerce and advertising.
“We’re updating our structure and evolving select roles to provide clarity and better position the company for a strong future. At the same time, we’re further investing in key areas like e-commerce, technology, health & wellness, supply chain, and advertising sales and creating new roles to support our growing number of services for our customers, suppliers, and the business community,” a spokesperson said.
Walmart has 1.6 million employees. It is set to report earnings later in August.
This week's layoffs follow other recent job cuts across ecommerce and retail. Last week, Amazon said it shed 99,000 jobs in the second quarter after overstaffing during the worst of the omicron surge and overbuilding fulfillment center space in the pandemic. Shopify said it laid off 10% of its workforce, or about 1,000 people, as a result of a pullback on ecommerce growth. In recent months, companies including Stitch Fix and Tonal also announced job cuts.
The news of the latest layoffs come on a week when jobs are the focus of the federal government’s monthly economic reporting cycle.
On Tuesday, the US Labor Department data showed that job openings fell to about 10.6 million, which was the lowest since September 2021. The latest unemployment rates and change in overall jobs will be reported for July on Friday.
While retailers tend to watch consumer spending-related data the closest as they divine the macro picture, this week offers a reminder that jobs are an important part of the economic equation. The labor market has shown continued strength amid 40-year-high inflation, with many pointing to the low unemployment rate as a sign that the economy was not in a recession despite two straight quarters of GDP declines. Hiring slowdowns at big tech companies and any sign that layoffs are mounting will call that into question. Still, it's difficult to draw conclusions from layoffs in specific sectors and companies that plan to continue to hire even after making cuts. Friday’s data will go a long way toward providing a sharper snapshot on the state of the job market as a whole.
Still, plans to buy big-ticket items ticked up.
Those were a couple of the words used to describe consumer confidence in May. The Conference Board reported that the index fell to a six-month low amid debt ceiling anxiety and increasing concerns about employment.
“Consumer confidence declined in May as consumers’ view of current conditions became somewhat less upbeat while their expectations remained gloomy,” said Ataman Ozyildirim, senior director of economics at the Conference Board, in a statement. “...While consumer confidence has fallen across all age and income categories over the past three months, May’s decline reflects a particularly notable worsening in the outlook among consumers over 55 years of age.”
The dip among those over 55 came as Congress negotiated a deal over increasing the debt ceiling that included talk of cuts to programs such as social security and Medicare. While officials reached an agreement over Memorial Day weekend, the Conference Board’s survey was fielded prior to that date.
The job picture appears to be more anecdotally cloudy, as the number of consumers reporting jobs as “plentiful” fell to four percentage points to 43.5%. The job market has been consistently robust for nearly three years, as unemployment remains near historic lows. In April, the economy added 253,000 jobs, which remained a positive sign despite being below the gains of prior months. The confidence reading comes ahead of fresh data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday.
Despite the declines, there were signs that consumers are not completely pulling back on big-ticket items. Plans to buy big-ticket items such as cars and appliances ticked up on a monthly basis. It’s worth watching whether this extends to providing resilience in other discretionary categories, which have seen a pullback in early 2023.
Nevertheless, the index offered another sign that the consumer mood is getting more pessimistic. It was the fourth time in five months that confidence fell. On Friday, the University of Michigan offered another with a consumer sentiment report that showed a 7% dip.
Brands and retailers must work to reach consumers that are increasingly in less of a buying mood than the month before.