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Leon Kaye headshot

Department Store Enlists Corporate Employees for the Black Friday Front Lines

By Leon Kaye
Black Friday

As Black Friday approaches, many retailers are sweating it out as they keep scrambling to find temporary workers who can stock items, fold clothes and run the cash and credit registers.

To that end, Macy’s isn’t taking any chances. Although the department store leader last reported a healthy quarter – as in $345 million in net income – year-over-year sales have overall been in decline as the pandemic exacted its own shocks while American shopping habits continue to change. With Black Friday just a week away, the retailer is asking its corporate employees to step up, as in stepping into its stores to help out.

According to the Washington Post, which was able to get its hands on some of the company’s internal emails, the company is asking employees is asking corporate employees to join its retail workers in making sure its stores can function during the upcoming holiday season.

“As a company, we understand that business continues to be different, and where we can, we want to influence our high traffic moments, finding ways to elevate the customer experience,” explained one email. In other words, start by helping to clean up those dressing rooms and move items from the back storerooms.

That request, or thinly-veiled demand, may come as a shock to someone who hasn’t worked a Black Friday or a very late Friday night in December since their college days, but it’s not the most absurd request on the face of the earth. Macy’s is, after all, in a long-term struggle, and analysts are in general agreement that this holiday season will help shape the company’s long-term fortunes – a mantra that has been repeated over the past several years. “With your support, our store colleagues will be able to stay focused on elevating the customer experience — helping them check every gift off their list, and maybe a few for themselves as well,” said another recent Macy’s internal email.

While we’re on the topic of elevating anyone’s experience, there’s another important reason why Macy’s “all hands-on deck” strategy could pay off. Yes, it’s that important Macy’s customers have a decent experience in their stores – it’s one reason the department store chain is in business. But there’s a potential teachable moment here.

Retail workers have been taking it on the chin (sadly, too many literally) over the past year and half, which has led them fueling in part the “Great Resignation” we’ve been hearing about so much the past several months. Nothing is guaranteed, but there is a chance that what white-collar workers see and feel on the shop floor at Macy’s could help on the empathy front, and gain buy-in for policies and programs that will help them retain these employees.

While a boost in pay to $15, $17 or even more surely helps, as does a commitment to tuition reimbursement, retail workers have also been screaming for something that is also important: being treated with a certain level of dignity and respect.

Throwing corporate employees out to the wolves is nothing new: For decades, many corporate rotation hiring programs, which lured new graduates out of colleges or business schools, had long adopted that tactic in part to offer these new hires a better understanding of the companies’ business. And last month, Louisiana-based Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers deployed a program similar to that of Macy’s in a move to tackle the ongoing shortage of workers. The chain had trained its corporate employees on tasks such as operating cash registers and deep fryers while boosting pay for its restaurant workers.

Who knows, this Black Friday roundup lends an opportunity to learn new life skills, such as this ingenious Japanese method of folding shirts that makes tidying up a clothing display so much easier.  

Image credit via Macy’s

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye