Store workers to Black Friday shoppers: Don’t blame shortages on us

Retail workers in supermarkets and malls across America want you to know that they don’t control pricing, hiring, or the global supply chain.

“We get a lot of angry customers in the morning — they just come into the world angry,” said Jessica Rieffenberg, manager of the Williams-Sonoma department store in Crossgates Mall in Albany, New York. She said, but soon opened a store late due to lack of staff.

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Rieffenberg said that most stressful interactions in her store involve products being ordered back. The 23-year-old said most customers are happy and that the level of items in stock has improved in recent months. She said her store has struggled to hire enough seasonal workers, but that the current pool of workers is strong, so “we’ve hired enough to survive.”

Millions of retail workers are on the front lines on Black Friday during an extraordinary time for the industry, as the Covid-19 pandemic looms over its second holiday season. Last winter felt more stress in stores, retail workers say hourly, as many employees dealt with people unhappy with controversial mask policies. This year, there is a different tone to customer complaints, as shoppers are back in force and some stores don’t have enough merchandise or staff to satisfy them.

FILE: Shoppers grab their bags of Nordstrom as shopping rushes ahead of Thanksgiving and the Christmas holidays at the King of Prussia Mall in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania (Reuters)

Demand for many products is high, with industry watchers expecting a jump in holiday sales this year, major retailers such as Walmart Inc. For strong returns this season. Retailers and their suppliers have struggled to manufacture and move products fast enough to meet demand, with supply chain complexities around the world and Covid-19 complicating production, leading to product delays.

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At the same time, more people left retail jobs as competition for hourly workers led to labor shortages. In August, 750,000 people quit work in the retail sector, the highest seasonally adjusted monthly figure since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking it in 2000. In September, the most recent data available, the number fell to 685,000, still close to historical highs .

CFO Julie Wallen said in a call with analysts last week that levels of recalls are at record levels at Williams-Sonoma Inc. The company, which also owns Pottery Barn, West Elm and other brands that sell homeware, furniture and holiday decorations, expects its revenue to jump at least 22% this fiscal year.

One of the most important signals of future inflation began to subside in the past month, a development that should reassure the Federal Reserve in its prediction that the recent inflation spike will be largely temporary. Photo by Brendan Hoffman / (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images/Getty Images)

The delays are less serious than competitors, Williams-Sonoma CEO said, and it’s proactively inviting shoppers to warn of problems, which has led to “a reduction in escalation, cancellations and calls to the care center.”

Executives at other chains, including Gap Inc. and Urban Outfitters Inc. and Victoria’s Secret & Co. In their latest earnings report, they said they lost sales due to a shortage of inventory that may persist into holidays.

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Consumer awareness of the issues is growing as more is heard about labor shortages or supply chain constraints, said Joel Baines, global co-chair of the retail practice at AlixPartners, a consulting firm. “But we haven’t seen retail consumers as a group become more tolerant of retail employees who objectively have more difficulty doing their job.”

Some retailers provide guidance to workers on how to explain the changes to shoppers. When Dollar Tree Inc. That it will sell more products over $1 to offset rising costs. Earlier this fall, the company distributed talking points for stocking workers with answers to common questions, including “Why is the dollar tree raising prices?” (Answer: Provide more variety). The company is also adding new signage for stores showing the change.

Messi’s aisles crowded with shoppers on Black Friday?? It is so called because more shoppers may drive retailers to profitability. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

In other cases, workers are given little guidance on how to respond to customer questions.

At a PetSmart store in Howell, Michigan, customers are frequently asked about shortages of Friskies, Fancy Feast, and some types of Tidy Cat litter, said Isabella Burroughs, a closing manager who started at the retailer last year. “I get asked about it six different times a day,” said the 19-year-old, who is a member of United for Respect, a retail advocacy organization.

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Ms Burroughs said prices for many items have also gone up, leading to rude comments from customers. She said she did her own internet searches for explanations that might appease customers, such as a lack of ingredients and plastic packaging. “I don’t think it clicks in their heads because we can’t do anything about it,” she said.

During the pandemic, more people have added pets to their families, which has increased the demand for pet food which has led to shortages of wet food producers and packaged food supplies, a PetSmart Inc spokeswoman said. The retailer is “actively working with our manufacturing and shipping partners to ensure supply is increased,” she said.

A spokeswoman for Nestle SA, which makes Friskies, Fancy Feast and Tidy Cat, said the company is doing everything it can to meet demand. “Companies continue to face unprecedented volatility in transportation as well as component supply and packaging,” she said. “As we produce and ship more than ever, there is a huge demand for our wide range of pet food and litter products.”


Victoria Garcia, who works part-time at Pottery Barn in Albany, said that after some people cut back on parties last year due to COVID-19, many have returned to social gatherings this year, planning parties and beautifying their homes with new décor and furniture. Mall. The 20-year-old design student said that led to some tense interactions with customers about product delays amid the stress of the holiday. “We don’t feel the joy of Christmas,” she said in those moments.

write to Sarah Nassauer at

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