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GameStop has a robbery problem and employees want change

Corporate offers a bounty for information, but no policy changes

A person wearing a yellow coat, a red hat, and a mask in front of a GameStop store Photo: John Smith/VIEWpress via Getty Images
Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

At least 12 GameStop stores in the southern California area were targeted in armed robberies in early February, with thieves seeking out expensive gaming consoles that were in limited supply in previous years — specifically the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. The same week, three GameStop stores were broken into or robbed in Memphis, Tennessee — an area that was hit around the holidays, too.

Nearly 30 GameStop stores across the United States were robbed in just over the past three months, based on press reports. It’s a fraction of GameStop’s roughly 3,000 stores in the U.S., but some GameStop workers think it’s a trend — and that GameStop needs to step in.

The company is offering a $5,000 reward for information about the robberies in California, GameStop loss prevention boss Alan Fagergren told Los Angeles’ local Fox affiliate following the California robberies. But one thing GameStop can do to protect its employees, workers say, is to stop staffing stores with single coverage, especially at night.

For this report, we spoke with five GameStop employees from across the country, and heard a shared concern for safety. (Current and former GameStop workers that spoke to Polygon have been granted anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the press.) On a GameStop subreddit, more employees shared those concerns. According to these employees, the robberies have GameStop workers on edge, and some employees blame policies like the corporate cost-cutting measure of having a single person cover an entire store. (Not all stores have one person on at a time at all times, but many do, according to workers Polygon spoke to.)

GameStop’s sales and profits have decreased in recent years, and the company reported a net loss of $361.3 million for the first three quarters of the year. GameStop’s falling numbers led to waves of layoffs, the closure of more than 1,000 stores, and the shuttering of its 630,000-square-foot Texas e-commerce facility. GameStop is also cutting hours for its staff, forcing managers into roles requiring them to oversee multiple locations, and getting rid of assistant managers, according to a Kotaku report and corroborated by Polygon’s sources. With less staff, stores sometimes have just one person working at a time, which some workers said is dangerous because it’s seen as an easy target for theft.

The other main reason these robberies are happening now, multiple GameStop employees speculated, is that the so-called console shortage is over. Stores actually have the new PlayStation and Xbox consoles in stock.

“It’s gotten to the point where I’m at least a little concerned whenever a customer [or] caller asks if we ‘really have PS5s in stock,’” one current GameStop employee told Polygon.

Consoles are often targeted due to how easy they are to resell at high prices — particularly Sony’s PlayStation 5, which had been in short supply until recently.

A former GameStop worker told Polygon that people on employee forums and elsewhere frequently talk about quitting: “Their life is not worth more than GameStop’s profits,” she said. She added that GameStop keyholders — people who literally hold the keys to the store, so they can open and close it — are trained with robberies in mind, and instructed to constantly switch up the timing of their bank visits, for instance. But that can only go so far, she said — it’s easy to tell when a single person is covering the whole store, and that negates any training that could prevent violent robberies.

GameStop has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

Other workers say they would like to see increased security at stores alongside additional workers. One former GameStop worker said their store was robbed years ago and fitted with cameras and a security guard for a couple weeks. They said the cost of it was docked from their store’s profit and loss numbers — numbers reported to corporate to judge how a store’s doing. In another instance, a GameStop manager was reportedly blamed and fired after an Easton, Pennsylvania store saw a $5,000 robbery last month. It upset workers even more to see one of their number punished for something outside their control. Kotaku reported that several employees allegedly quit in protest.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration provides guidelines for retail worker safety for high risk establishments that are open at night; its risk factors include having a solo worker and isolated locations, as well as the “exchange of money” and other valuable items. It has several recommendations to mitigate risk to workers, including the use of alarms and ensuring everyone is trained in advance, as well as increased staffing, especially at open and close. An OSHA representative pointed Polygon to these recommendations when asked about the dangers of solo coverage at work.

Anxiety over the recent robberies stands on top of the general frustration GameStop retail employees feel toward the company about matters including the low pay and minimal raises promised during the meme stock boom, restricted overtime, and reduced staff. One current worker said workers are just worn down by corporate decision-making.

Correction: This story previously cited GameStop’s gross profits, instead of net profit, indicating that recent quarters have been profitable for the company. GameStop has posted a net loss in its most recent quarters. This story has been updated to include more accurate financial information.

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