Retailers dominate worst places to work list

Jun 24, 2014

People seem to really like complaining about their jobs in retail and they can apparently cite quite a few reasons for their unhappiness, according to 24/7 Wall St., which has published a list of the 11 worst publicly-traded companies to work for in the U.S. Seven of the businesses making this year’s list, its third, were retail chains.

To determine the worst places to work, 24/7 Wall St. analyzed thousands of employer reviews on, a website with a database of millions of those evaluations, CEO ratings, salary reports, and more to help connect jobseekers with the right companies.

The company ranked as the worst place to work was Books-A-Million, a chain of more than 250 stores, which had a 2.3 rating out of five. Only 14 percent of workers said they would recommend the company to a friend and only 23 percent approved of CEO Terry Finley’s leadership.

Among the negative reviews for Books-A-Million found on Glassdoor:

  • "Incessant emphasis on selling overpriced discount card, at the expense of customer service."
  • "They bad mouth and treat the employees like trash and admit that customer service is not the focus."
  • "You not only don’t get your commission, but you also lose out on your below-minimum wage hours."

As a point of contrast, here’s how bookselling rivals compare:

  1. 3.3 rating; 64 percent would recommend company to a friend; 85 percent approve of CEO
  2. Barnes & Noble: 3.3 rating; 61 percent would recommend company; 59 percent approve of CEO
  3. Half Price Books: 3.7 rating; 76 percent would recommend company; 87 percent approve of CEO

Among the other retailers to make 24/7 Wall St.’s worst list are:

  1. Jos. A Bank: 2.3 rating; 25 percent would recommend company; 25 percent approve of CEO
  2. Dillard’s: 2.3 rating; 29 percent would recommend; 24 percent approve of CEO
  3. hhgregg: 2.4 rating; 31 percent would recommend; 36 percent approve of CEO
  4. Family Dollar: 2.4 rating; 28 percent would recommend; 40 percent approve of CEO
  5. Children’s Place: 2.4 rating; 28 percent would recommend; 27 percent approve of CEO
  6. RadioShack: 2.4 rating; 24 percent would recommend; 46 percent approve of CEO

As a final point of contrast, here are some better places to work in retail according to Glassdoor’s reviews:

  1. Costco: 3.8 rating; 82 percent would recommend; 92 percent approve of CEO
  2. Starbucks: 3.7 rating; 78 percent would recommend; 88 percent approve of CEO
  3. Whole Foods: 3.6 rating; 74 percent would recommend; 84 percent approve of CEO
  4. Container Store: 3.2 rating; 60 percent would recommend; 71 percent approve of CEO

How important is employee job satisfaction as a predictor of long-term success for a retail business? How would you rank factors such as compensation, culture, work/life balance, senior management and career opportunities in creating successful retail businesses?

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23 Comments on "Retailers dominate worst places to work list"

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Dick Seesel

Without judging the companies who ranked low on the survey, this is a good lesson in reputational management, not just employee relations. The companies at the top of the list (Costco, Starbucks and Whole Foods among them) are some of the most respected brand names among consumers, who can see the difference between a happy or unsatisfied workforce. Companies like these realize that their own employees can be among their best ambassadors and their best customers, too.

Bob Phibbs

Glassdoor is a real-world check on brands. I must admit, from a customer perspective, I’ve never found Jos. A. Bank a horrible experience, quite the opposite. RadioShack, is it the company or the company’s troubles as a brick-and-mortar retailer playing into the ratings? It’s not clear to me.

What is clear is that the reason The Container Store and Starbucks are at the top is not a mystery.

I recommend that every C-level executive in retail check Glassdoor once a quarter, to keep from being in an ivory tower.

Kelly Tackett

Yes, there’s a trickle down effect from employer sentiment about their employees, particularly around the shopping experience, which surely impacts the company’s financial performance. Additionally, by providing a good work environment these retailers not only are lessening turnover, but also building management talent from within, which can only benefit the company in the long run.

Bryan Pearson

There’s a long-held view that you can’t love your customers if you don’t love your employees, and a corollary to that is that you can’t win customer loyalty if you haven’t earned employee loyalty. Genuinely engaged employees deliver something that strategy and effective execution never will—and that’s heart.

The best way to infuse employees with the customer-committed attitude is to adopt it yourself. Doing so requires steadfast attention to the layer of management that exists between you and your front-line employees. This is where process issues, legal requirements, financial controls, technology snags and a host of other corporate disjointedness originates.

In my experience, the “process layer” is where bureaucracy lives. Apologies for being trite, but as leaders, we’re either part of the solution or part of the problem.

David Livingston
3 years 2 months ago

It depends on the labor model a company wants to use. All those good company poster child employers view labor as an investment and will hire employees who tend to be a step up in class compared to the typical employee. All those companies that rank low could care less about job satisfaction and the factors that impact those ratings. Labor is an expense and they want high turnover. They only need warm bodies, not career-minded people who will stick around to get vacation, health insurance and a raise.

Those who invest in labor hire the best and those who don’t get the rest. As an investor you want your company to implement the labor model that gets the maximum ROI. As an employee, you just need to decide where you want to fit in the labor food chain. I predict over the next 10 years that with so much emphasis on raising wages, more employers will want to cultivate a smaller, more productive, motivated, and satisfied workforce to replace the larger, slower, unproductive, lower paid workers. Having more retail cults will benefit those who want a retail career and make for a better shopping experience.

Max Goldberg

This survey may not have any grounding in reality. Glassdoor is not scientific or necessarily representative of retail employees. That said, retailers usually rank lower than other employers due to lack of management commitment to employees. Management may talk about the need to provide great customer service, but, for the most part, don’t take good care of their employees. Too often retail is seen as an entry into the workforce and not a career. Thus turnover is high and employee loyalty is low. Management manipulates employee hours to minimize benefits, while not paying a living wage.

Unfortunately, I don’t see this changing. As long as there are more people looking for work than there are jobs, retailers will not have problems filling open positions, and the revolving door of employees will continue.

Frank Riso

Job satisfaction is very important and I think it begins with the store manager. A good store manager runs a good store and it is infectious. A good manager means good staff and that becomes good customer service. It is long hours and sometimes a thankless job being in retail. When I was being interviewed to move on to a supervisory role, HR asked me if I really wanted to leave being a store manager. I replied that every store manager wants to leave the stores. I got the job and enjoyed weekends off and working only 40 hours a week for the most part. I spent many years working in and for stores providing me a great background to work in retail automation for many more years. Money was always good not great but the people at store level for me were always the best.

Tom Redd

Not a tough question. It is simple. People are your number one resource for long-term success. They are the link to shopper satisfaction and share price. Say what? Shoppers influence many other shoppers—especially with all this techno-social stuff. The employee’s attitude is a major variable in the shopper satisfaction space. Happy employees work harder to make a shopper leave with both an external and internal smile; to make a shopper HAPPY.

This is all long-term, meaning you can’t put Band-Aids on locations to improve things for just a while. You need to keep this process up and make the HAPPY theme (shopper happiness and employee happiness) a long-term standard. Costco did it and many other retailers have, too.

With store teams money is always key, but tied tightly with that is the management team —end to end—from the store to corporate. Your people need inspiration and a desire to make the store/site a proud place and a sales generation engine.

Margins are not in the game of just pricing. Margins and profits are highly influenced by your people. Make people FIRST and Wall Street second. You will see what happens and YOU will be HAPPY too.

Nikki Baird

You know, I don’t think it’s as complex as multiple factors like compensation, culture, etc. I mean, sure, all these things contribute and they matter, but to me it all comes down to respect. Do you respect and care about your employees? Or are they cogs in the wheel?

If the latter, I think customers will definitely sense it. Whether in the upkeep (or lack thereof) in the store, in the sullen interactions of employees, or in CYA behavior on the part of employees or managers. It shows, in the end.

Phil Rubin
3 years 2 months ago

It has been well documented, perhaps best in Fred Reichheld’s “The Loyalty Effect” that there is a strong correlation between loyal employees and loyal customers. Those are key ingredients for success in retail and any other business with customers. Better than the ratings, look at the stock price performance of the bests and worsts from the list over the last five years and it will be obvious why compensation, culture, leadership and even balance are important. I”m not sure any of them are more important as it’s the combination, albeit with different weights in different companies, that have the fundamental impact on employee loyalty and satisfaction.

Sid Raisch
Sid Raisch
3 years 2 months ago

Quality of workplace is rapidly becoming more, not less important to both employees and consumers as enabled by the Internet. Of the companies mentioned that I have read much about, these findings are not a surprise.

Some people just don’t get it. Never did. Never will.

Lee Peterson
Classic retail associate statement, “this would be a great job if it wasn’t for the customers.” When you hear that, you know you’ve got a problem. But that statement says it all about the physical retail experience today. Why do people like working for Starbucks, Apple and Whole Foods? Answer: they have built great brands, they train their associates well AND the benefits are pretty good. Easier said than done, but if you’re a retailer, the first place to look is under your own hood. If your brand is junk with customers, it’s going to be the same with associates, and on down the line from there, resulting in a lousy place to work. The online guys have done the right thing; assess the opportunity and nail it. Customer service is number one, simplicity is number two and speed is number three. All qualities sorely lacking with brick-and-mortar retail. Of course, the other factor they don’t have to deal with is an army of associates face-to-face with customers every day. But if you look at that as an advantage, and train for one, two and three above, your physical assets could go a long way to building the brand and… Read more »
Mel Kleiman

If having great customers and return customers is important, all one needs to do is remember that employees treat the customers the way they are treated.

No wonder so many of the companies at the bottom of the list are the same companies that rate low in customer satisfaction.

Without a great customer experience how could Starbucks sell a cup of coffee in a paper cup for $5?

Randy Snyder
Randy Snyder
3 years 2 months ago

Employees need to be viewed as the “customer” in the eyes of management and owners. If they treat them like their personal customers and strive to get favorable ratings from the aforementioned managers and owners, everyone wins! Employee appreciation in the form of incentives, rewards for customer praise etc., help. Sometimes a simple “good job” or “keep up the good work” or “we appreciate you and what you do for the company” will help.

Dissatisfied employees lead to dissatisfied customers, as has been proven over and over! Managers need to lead, not manage, and leadership by example is the best teacher! Do as I do, not do as I say should be the mantra of owners and managers!

Doug Fleener

You can’t ask people to give service with a smile unless you give them something to smile about. Clearly not many people smiling at Books-A-Million! You gotta wonder why people would even stay there if they wouldn’t recommend it to friends.

I agree with Bob that every CEO needs to read Glassdoor from time to time. Sure they’re are a lot of people moaning and complaining about their jobs, but these are the same people serving your customer. I would even require my leadership team to identify the top five issues on a quarterly basis and take action to improve the employee experience.

vic gallese
3 years 2 months ago

Apparently, pretty important, based on the list from Glassdoor!

It would seem that one would have to look at the rankings over time to really get a good read on where a company stands. Some of the “worst” companies are surprises to me! Also, was “Fast Food” part of the pool?

Compensation, career opportunities and culture are probably the top three, although which of the three is most important could be argued forever.

Ed Rosenbaum

I am sure the companies at the top of the list, especially The Container Store and Costco, belong there and have earned that position of employee loyalty. I am not sure the companies at the bottom are as bad as they’re made out to be. I do question RadioShack on the lower end. Is it truly because they reflect poor management? Or is it the financial situation they have been in for several years?

Craig Sundstrom

And the flip side of Dick’s observation is true as well: bottom rankers such RadioShack and Dillard’s are perpetual Wall Street underperformers as well. None of this, of course, is a surprise; the more meaningful question is: what drives what? Do the poor working conditions lead to poor performance, or does the poor performance force changes that harm working conditions? Or does unenlightened management thinking drive both?

Shep Hyken

All you have to do is look at the list of retailers who get good ratings compared to those that don’t. The companies at the top get press for all of the right reasons. They have the culture focused on both customers and employees. It seems some of the lower rated companies focus on revenue over everything else. You can also compare stock prices and see the difference.

Employee job satisfaction is not an indicator by itself. It does factor into the culture and core values of the company. It all adds up. And, what is happening on the inside of the company with employees, culture, etc., is going to be felt on the outside by the customer.

Mark Burr
3 years 2 months ago
An interesting case study would be determining how Jos. A. Bank consistently delivers a great customer experience while at the same time ending up on a list like this one. Conventional wisdom would say the opposite. The commentary so far validates that conventional wisdom. One thing is true, “Company culture and values” and “Work/Life balance” currently show 76% of this group believe this as most important. These two categories, needless to say, go hand in hand. They are also increasingly most important to the current generations younger than myself. Most any study never finds compensation as a leading factor in how an associate feels about its employer. These factors while they may play a role in a retailer’s long term success, do not necessarily hold true across the board. If that were true, Walmart could not have become the nation’s largest employer by leaps and bounds over any other employer being even close. Interestingly, McDonald’s does not show up on the list after being the target of such great lament over wages of late. Could it be the case because they have a high rate of career opportunity from within? Again, not ranked as high. There are always instances that… Read more »
Kai Clarke

Happy employees make for happy customers. At retail, poor compensation, often negative work environment, and insensitive management only contribute to a declining arena for all retailers in general. The fact that so many retailers have ignored employee satisfaction points to the poor perspectives of management and how their employees are considered.

Alexander Rink
3 years 2 months ago

Employee job satisfaction, or at least engagement, is critical to the success of a business. When employees are happy, customers are happy. And when customers are happy, businesses thrive. Employee satisfaction is comprised of numerous factors, and there is no silver bullet or specific list that a company can follow to ensure their employees are satisfied. At the risk of oversimplifying, what I find works best is a commitment from the CEO and top leadership team to have a happy and engaged team, and then everything will flow from there.

Alan Cooper
Alan Cooper
3 years 2 months ago

JoS. A. Bank is not a surprise as the volume and intensity of their radio ads suggest, to us retail veterans, that some sort of surprise or attempted “switch” is forthcoming. Hhgregg is not a surprise where a commission/quota environment promotes selling service contracts and accessories more than the product, plus, where management, according to the blogs, is not exactly the progressive, employee-focused culture.

Echoing the sentiment, happy employees equal happy customers, equal greater sales and greater average ticket.


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