GameStop hasn’t been making any friends throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
The video game retail chain first caught the public’s attention over their unwaivering insistance on staying open when most “non-essential” stores around them had already closed. One YouTuber even snuck onto a conference call, where GameStop’s corporate office was caught stating that they would not be paying employees who “chose” not to work, even if they had coronavirus-like symptoms.
At one point in the call, a regional manager asked if they were ever going to put “people over profits” by closing the stores. Because of the contagious nature of the coronavirus, most states have implemented a lockdown or shelter in place order of some sort by now, which entails only essential stores to remain open. Essential stores being pharmacies, grocery stores, and not video game retail establishments.
“The comapny put up a post on Facebok today saying, ‘Don’t worry we’re still open,'” the store manager said to executives. “I don’t know if you saw the comments, but there were about 150 comments of people saying ‘we’re terrible and that we should close our stores.’ I’m not saying it’s what everyone thinks, but it’s a bad look. In a long eough timeline, we should be proactive and shut down for a couple of weeks.”
This was met with backlash during the meeting, where most of the corporate employees insisted that they should stay open until further notice. This is not a surprising call from GameStop, which has been struggling in recent years. They closed around 200 stores in 2019 and have been struggling to remain relevant as most gamers turn to digital downloads.
Instead of closing their doors as the panic worsened, GameStop decided to call themselves “essential retail” and even continued to accept used controllers and consoles despite having a lack of cleaning products at many of their locations.
“Due to we carry that enable and enhance our customers’ experience in working from home, we believe GameStop is classified as essential retail and therefore is able to remain open during this time,” the retailer stated in a memo to employees earlier this week.
Even more alarming, GameStop told employees to defy law enforcement, with corporate instructing employees to show them the aforementioned memo if police inquire why they are opened during lockdown.
Yesterday, GameStop finally made a motion to put the public’s safety above their need to stay afloat. The video game retailer announced that all of its stores in California would be closed until they “obtain more information from the California Governor’s Office.” This was from a note sent to stores, obtained by Kotaku.
According to the same source, employees were told to use personal time or even file for unemployment, since they were not going to be paid while the store complies with the lockdown.
Many within the gaming community wondered what had finally changed GameStop’s mind. California’s shelter in place order was already in effect long before their announcement. The comapny even had lines out the door for the release of Animal Crossing. So why were they deciding to close now?
Most people suspect it’s a mixture of employee and public backlash. Many retail workers, including cashiers and managers, took to Reddit to share their horror stories and resignation letters. Others shared emails of them striking by telling GameStop all employees would not be coming into work due to the risks involved.
Probably even more concerning to corporate, company stock prices fell by over 10% in under 24 hours.
Even though GameStop decided to label itself “essential” during lockdown, Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf decided it wasn’t up to the retail chain to decide.
Yesterday, Wolf revealed a newly updated Industry Operations Guidance, which classified electronics retail as non-essential. And he isn’t even letting GameStop fight law enforcement on this matter. Instead, he stripped the video game store of its Operating Permit, leaving their license suspended until further notice in Pennsylvania.
A copy of the note on Reddit shows that nobody may enter a GameStop location without “proper protective attire,” including a respirator mask.
The backlash in Pennsylvania seemed to be the last straw for GameStop, who decided to close access to all US storefronts, starting tomorrow, March 22.
Instead, the struggling retailer stated in a press release that they would be processing orders on a digital basis only. They would also provide curbside pick-up at stores. Their games can still be purchased online, which will be delivered directly to customers’ homes.
GameStop’s CEO, George Sherman, called this an “unprecedented time,” but stated the company’s priority has continued to be the “well-being of our employees, customers, and business partners.” He also stated that they have been adhering to CDC-guided safety and local government orders for retailers within each of their communities.
“As millions of Americans look to GameStop to adjust to their new normal of increased time at home, for work, learning and play, we have implemented practices to help ensure the safety and health of our employees, customers and partners,” Sherman said.
While employees and GameStop haters couldn’t help but applaud at the recent events, they still felt jaded that GameStop had essentially told them they were not going to be paid while the store remains closed. Luckily, it seems that GameStop had a change of heart after their intial conference call.
The press release noted that the company will pay all employees who had hours eliminated for an additional two weeks. They will also be reimbursed one full month of employee benefit contributions.
“All U.S.GameStop employees have been ensured that they do not have to work if they are not comfortable and should stay home if they feel sick. Additionally, the company has announced it will pay all U.S. employees whose hours have been eliminated an additional two weeks at their regular pay rate based on the average hours worked in the last 10 weeks. In addition, the company will reimburse all benefit eligible U.S. employees, one month of the employee portion of benefit expenses,” the press release stated.