From what I can tell, no one in the establishment press yesterday attempted to quantify the total employment impact of yesterday’s announcement by Best Buy that it will reduce its headquarters headcount by 400 and close 50 stores. One thing is certain: It’s not just 400, as the headlines and verbiage in certain media reports might lead readers to believe — and it’s not excusable to say that the company itself didn’t specify the number of employees affected by the store closures.
An estimate of how many jobs will really be lost is after the jump, followed by a few misleading media examples. Note that the media review is based on reports from Thursday; today, we began learning which stores will be closing. They include five in the Twin Cities area where the company is headquartered.
Here is very rough math which conservatively estimates the job losses:
- The company’s 10-K from a year ago reported that it had 180,000 employees. The company doesn’t segregate its U.S. headcount.
- About 75% of Best Buy’s sales are in the U.S., which would lead one to infer that it has perhaps 125,000 employees in all stores after subtracting those who work at headquarters, distribution, and other support personnel.
- The company had about 1,400 U.S. stores before the announcement, including about 1,100 big box locations. It’s reasonable to estimate that a typical big-box location has about 100 full-time and part-time employees (125,000 minus 15,000 employees at other smaller locations divided by 1,100).
- Conservatively assuming that stores targeted for closure have 75 employees (with perhaps lower headcounts because of lower sales volume), that would lead to an estimate of 3,750 store employees who will lose their jobs as locations close (50 x 75). I would expect that the net effect of transfers by employees whose stores have closed on total company employment will be virtually zero (those who don’t lose their jobs will mostly replace employees who left still-open stores for other reasons).
- The relatively immmediate job losses at Best Buy based on yesterday’s announcement would thus appear to be over 4,000 (3,750 + 400 = 4,150).
- While it’s true that the company intends to open 100 smaller “mobile” stores, they won’t go online until sometime between now and March 31, 2013, they will probably require fewer than half the number of employees, and many won’t be in locations where employees losing their jobs are. The big-box store closures are likely to be consummated quickly.
Even a vague (but true) indication that “thousands” or “several thousand” will be losing their jobs would have been an improvement on the establishment press’s handling of yesterday’s Best Buy announcement.
Media reports on the announcement are in many cases weak and misleading, and none that I found attempted to quantify the job losses at closing stores.
The headline at Minnesota Public Radio’s report by Martin Moylan (“Best Buy closing 50 stores, cutting 400 jobs”) is incorrect, giving readers the impression that a total of 400 jobs are disappearing. The following sentence in Moylan’s report is misleading: “Many of the 400 job cuts announced will land at the company’s Richfield headquarters, as Best Buy slashes costs by $800 million.” It’s not “many,” it’s “most.” The company’s earnings announcement yesterday clearly states that it is undertaking a “reduction of approximately 400 positions in our corporate and support areas.”
At the Los Angeles Times, the headline was was in full “hide the bad news” mode, while the sub-head gave the impression that only 400 jobs are being lost:
Best Buy to close some stores after reporting losses
Electronics retailer Best Buy plans to cut 400 jobs, close 50 superstores and shrink others.
At Reuters, Dhanya Skariachan also gave the impression that 400 is the grand total: “Best Buy Co. reported weaker-than-expected quarterly sales and said it would close 50 large U.S. stores and lay off another 400 employees, disappointing investors looking for even deeper cuts to turn around the world’s largest consumer electronics chain.” Readers are also disappointed, Dhanya.
At ABC News, Jeanette Torres at least made it clear that far more than 400 jobs are going away: “Along with the store closures, Best Buy also plans to eliminate about 400 jobs in its corporate and support areas.”
An advanced search on “Best Buy” (in quotes, newest first) at the New York Times indicates that it relied on wire reports for yesterday’s related news. A Times-carried item originating at the Associated Press told readers about the corporate job cuts but didn’t try to get specific about the store cuts: “Best Buy said Thursday it plans to close 50 of its U.S. big box stores, cut 400 corporate jobs and trim $800 million in costs.”
The headline at Bloomberg’s story by Chris Burritt seemed to come from another planet: “Best Buy Profit Tops Estimates as Store Closings Planned.” It said nothing about the number of jobs which might be lost at stores, and delayed noting the 400 corporate job cuts until the ninth paragraph.
One can’t help but think that the economy, which media reports continue to tell us is moving along at a “robust” pace, is really so fragile that the press didn’t want the news about Best Buy to do anything to shake up consumer confidence.
Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.