Best Buy told store employees this week that it is cutting jobs and reducing their hours.

The Richfield-based electronics retailer declined to give details of job changes, but it has said that its workforce needs to evolve.

"We don't generally comment on specific personnel matters," the company said in a statement to the Star Tribune. "However, as we have said before, customer shopping behavior will be permanently changed in a way that is even more digital and puts customers entirely in control to shop how they want."

The retailer's workforce, it said, will need to change to meet those needs and provide "more flexible opportunities for our people."

Best Buy's comparable sales grew nearly 23% in August, September and October. It will release its fourth quarter results later this month. Its shares ended the day up less than 1% Thursday.

The job reductions were first reported in a Wall Street Journal report that quoted sources familiar with the matter and a Denver store employee who was told his hours would be reduced and said some of his colleagues were laid off.

Trevor Whittow, 23, said he saw the writing on the wall in December when he decided to give his notice to the small Best Buy store in Delafield, Wis., about 30 minutes west of Milwaukee. He had worked as a part-time merchandising specialist for Best Buy for two years.

During the 2019 holiday season, he had worked close to 40 hours a week during the holidays. Last year, he was furloughed during the first months of the pandemic and then rehired. But during the normally busy holiday season, he was not able to get more than 20 or 23 hours a week.

"Once December hit and I was just barely working, that was the point where I was just like 'Do I even have a job?' " Whittow said Thursday.

He said his manager told him there would not be any hours for him come January. Whittow said he wished Best Buy had given workers more notice about staffing changes.

"Finding a job right now is extremely difficult," he said. "It's a matter of who can get there first."

Another Best Buy sales associate, who asked to remain anonymous because he is still working at Best Buy for the next few weeks and does not want to affect his severance pay, said a manager at his Cincinnati-area store told him Wednesday that he could choose to have his hours reduced from full time to about 15 hours a week or be laid off.

"They put me in between a rock and a hard place," he said.

Best Buy has made a variety of changes to its stores and how its employees operate in recent months.

In September, it began to turn 250 locations, about a quarter of its stores in the United States, into store hubs meant to handle significantly more online order volume. Late last year, it also completed a handful of store remodels in the Twin Cities that cut the shoppable square footage almost in half with checkout, customer service and store pickup being reoriented.

Best Buy furloughed 51,000 employees early during the pandemic. After stores reopened, about two-thirds of associates were brought back to work, and remaining furloughed employees were asked to return as seasonal employees for the holidays.

In August, it also pledged to hire more than 1,000 new tech employees in the next two years with a goal of 30% being people of color or women.

In a call with analysts last quarter, Best Buy CEO Corie Barry said the company was continuing to work on a "flexible workforce initiative," which would allow store employees to become certified in tasks outside their primary jobs as a way to help them learn new skills and possibly work additional shifts. At the start of November, more than half of associates were eligible to flex into different work zones and almost 20% of associates were scheduled in more than one department, she said.

Barry said over time, those employees would be able to fulfill multiple roles which could "drive efficiencies in labor planning and cost."

Neil Saunders, managing director of data analytics firm GlobalData, said he didn't think the job cuts were related to current trading.

"They are more likely a response to the ongoing change in shopping habits and consumer behavior," he said in an e-mail.

"Best Buy has seen a massive shift in where people buy products, probably more so than other retailers. As a result of that it needs to refocus its staffing and resourcing. Inevitably, fewer people are needed on the shop floor of stores."

A petition on posted this week calls on Best Buy to compensate employees who have recently experienced major reductions in their hours.

The petition, which by Thursday afternoon had close to 600 signatures, said that over the past four weeks, Best Buy has heavily reduced worker hours at more than 150 store locations.

"Without getting into more confidential details, stores and their leadership have no say in these decisions, which is why I am calling on the CEO directly to rectify this mistake," read the petition. Last month, Barry spoke virtually at CES.

"We set three guiding principles right at the beginning of the pandemic," she said. "It was to keep employees and customers safe, it was to protect the employee experience as much as we could for as long as possible, and it was to come out of this not just a vital company, but a vibrant one. And in all decisions, we were trying to strike the balance between those things."

Nicole Norfleet • 612-673-4495

Twitter: @nicolenorfleet