Shopify laying off 10% of staff as explosive pandemic growth fizzles

Ottawa-based e-commerce company Shopify Inc. is laying off roughly 1,000 people in reaction to slowing growth in its business.

Affected staff will be notified today. Most of the lay-offs will be in recruiting, support and sales, the company says. 

According to regulatory filings, the company had about 10,000 employees at the end of 2021, twice the amount they had before the pandemic. The cuts amount to 10 per cent of the company’s entire work force.

“For a company like ours this news will be difficult to digest,” founder and CEO Tobi Lütke said in an email to staff that was later published on the company’s website.

Like many digital-focused companies, Shopify saw demand for its services explode during the pandemic, as lockdowns forced consumers and businesses to adapt quickly to buying and selling online.

In response to this increased demand, Shopify expanded aggressively, hiring staff to keep up with the mass of new customers for its core service of helping real-world retailers sell goods online.

The boom was so massive that at one point in mid-2020, Shopify became the most valuable company in Canada, topping the Royal Bank of Canada, with a valuation of almost $300 billion.

While the uptick in sales and revenue was very real, maintaining that momentum proved difficult, as the company’s growth showed signs of slowdown toward the end of 2021. Today, the company is worth about $50 billion. Shares in the company fell about 15 per cent when the TSX opened on Tuesday.

Shopify isn’t the only tech company to feel the pinch of a slowdown. U.S. giants like Netflix, Google, Apple, Microsoft and Paypal all saw their prospects dim as the spectre of inflation took a bite out of consumer spending.

However, Shopify had boosted its staffing levels on the assumption that explosive growth would continue.

“We bet that the .. share of dollars that travel through e-commerce rather than physical retail would permanently leap ahead,” Lütke said. “It’s now clear that bet didn’t pay off.”

The company is slated to reveal its quarterly results on Wednesday morning, and financial analysts who cover the company have been scrambling to downgrade their expectations.

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