Wet Seal Store Front

One of the things I enjoy most about social media is how easily it brings people together, regardless of physical location, time or other constraints. During events like the World Cup, strangers and friends alike can experience the big moments and share their commentary with ease. Just last night I joined my fellow anxious Canadians during the Gold-medal game in the World Junior Hockey Tournament.

The collective conversations that happen on social media don’t just happen over big events, they’re also used to raise awareness, share stories and in some cases, voice protests. The latter is currently happening on social media over the layoffs and store closings of the popular 90’s retailer Wet Seal.

Up until today, I’d never heard of Wet Seal but it looks to have been a popular store in the US. While reading up on the company and the protests of the last few days, I’ve learned that Wet Seal hasn’t been performing well financially recently. They had reported sales declines in the last 11 out of 12 recent quarters.

Business Insider spoke with former Wet Seal employees who said that it was clear to them that the retailer was in trouble.

Kaitie Rosiu, a former employee from Ohio began to grow suspicious when the shipments that arrived after Black Friday were nowhere near what was usually received. Eventually, all Rosiu’s store received were dozens of empty, unassembled boxes.

The first photo to be made public was taken in a now-closed store in Seattle on Sunday. By Monday night, it was at the top of Reddit’s front page. According to the note left in the store’s window, employees were only given a day’s notice that they were losing their jobs.

The note also says that the employees lost 19 weeks of vacation and sick time, and were denied transfers to other Wet Seal locations nearby. The note also mentions that the (now former) CFO received a $95,000 raise.

Wet Seal Employee Note - 1


Similar photos began to spring up both on Twitter and Reddit.

Wet Seal Employee Note - 2


Wet Seal Employee Note - 3


The reaction on Twitter has been mostly a showing of support for the employees, with some backlash against Wet Seal.

On Facebook, there’s been much more of a backlash on the retailer’s recent posts:

Wet Seal - Facebook Comments

Wet Seal - Facebook Comment


It should be noted that there haven’t been any responses from Wet Seal on their social media channels nor have there been any posts since January 3.

Clearly, the world has changed as businesses no longer operate in their own bubble. 20 years ago, store closings the extent Wet Seal is currently going through may have made the pages of the business section of the newspaper. The focus of the story would have been the financial side of things, with the reporter breaking down the impact of the store closings on the company’s stock and investors.

Until social media, employees didn’t have the opportunity to voice their concerns or air their grievances beyond their immediate network of friends and family.Today, social media is allowing Wet Seal’s employees and former employees to share their disappointment and unemployment troubles in a very public way.

Even though the retailer is likely going out of business, there is a lesson here for all brands. What happens within the confines of an organization’s walls is no longer private and every company – big or small – needs to be aware of the new rules of business.

Top Photo Courtesy of FRSH Pulp