This is how far a business is willing to go to generate revenue during the coronavirus pandemic.
GameStop, the video game retailer, sent employees in Massachusetts back to work on Friday — despite the statewide order shutting down all nonessential businesses. But instead of allowing customers inside, the store is doing curbside pickup, and employees have been given a set of specific and highly unusual instructions to let people pay at the door, according to a manager at a local store.
Workers have been told to wrap a plastic bag around one hand to protect it from exposure to the virus, open the door a crack, and take the customer’s credit card, the manager said. Employees are then to run the card with a hand still encased in the bag, flip the bag inside out, leaving the card inside, put the purchase in the bag, and hand it back through the door.
Customers can also order and pay for products online and pick them up at the door.
The instructions e-mailed from a district leader to managers on Monday almost seemed like a prank, said the 24-year-old manager, who asked to remain anonymous because he feared retaliation.
The message, titled “Chip card best practices," says: “Lightly (you want to be able to get it off easily) tape a Game Stop plastic bag over your hand and arm. Do not open the door all the way —keep the glass between you and the guest’s face — just reach out your arm.”
"It's like they're an animal or a pet," said the manager.
The manager said it was “infuriating” that he is being sent to work at a video game store and and being told to protect himself with a plastic bag while a pandemic is raging.
“I have to make a choice between doing a job that nobody needs during a pandemic and not being paid, and possibly infecting people or being infected,” he said. “We know for a fact the disease is contagious even when you’re asymptomatic.”
GameStop is not considered an essential service, according to the state, and is not allowed to offer curbside pickup. Violators may face criminal penalties or a civil fine of $300 per violation. The manager said the district leader explicitly told him that the store had permission from the state to open.
GameStop did not respond to questions about allowing payments at the door and instructing employees to wrap plastic bags around their hands. The company also did not address the fact that its services are not considered essential in Massachusetts. Employees who answered the phone at several area stores confirmed that customers could come to the store and pay with credit cards.
In a statement, the company said: “With employee and customer safety as our paramount concern, all our stores remain closed to customer access, including those in Massachusetts. We are processing orders on a digital basis through our new curbside Delivery@Door shipping service. Only employees may enter our stores at this time. Importantly, all GameStop employees have been assured that they do not have to work if they are not comfortable, or need to stay home to care for a family member. While GameStop is best known as a provider of gaming and home entertainment systems, we also offer a wide array of products and devices that are important to facilitate remote work, distance learning, and virtual connectivity.”
More than 15 states have ordered nonessential businesses to close, each with their own definition of what services are still allowed. Among those allowed to remain open around the country: liquor stores, bicycle shops, a candy manufacturer, gun sellers, and golf courses.
A number of businesses with tenuous claims to being essential have also been keeping their doors open. Dog groomers in Massachusetts are grabbing on to the exception in the state’s nonessential business shutdown order for “organizations and workers responsible for the care and custody of animals, pets and livestock,” according to Cheryl Purcell, a dog breeder and groomer in Hanover who shut down her business.
Pet grooming is not considered essential in Massachusetts, the state said.
On Sunday, GameStop started limiting its operations to online sales and curbside pickups, and business was booming, said the manager, who worked Monday and said it was busier than he expected it to be. On a conference call discussing Sunday sales, store leaders kept saying, “we earned $2 million in one day,” said the manager, who wasn’t sure how many stores that involved.
After the state shutdown order went into effect Tuesday, stores were shut down for several days before reopening on Friday for curbside pickup, according to the manager.
GameStop, which is based in Grapevine, Texas, and operates more than 5,500 stores worldwide, according to its website, has been struggling in recent years as gamers increasingly play online. The company announced in September that it was closing up to 200 stores by the end of last year, according to news reports, and on Friday, it said sales declined 26 percent last quarter on a same-store basis.
But GameStop chief executive George Sherman said on Thursday that with millions of Americans stuck at home for the past few weeks, demand for video games had increased. “The COVID-19 outbreak has led to changes in how consumers work, play, and learn,” he said in a statement. “While still early, we are pleased with the progress we have made to date in our initiatives to stabilize, optimize, and transform the business.”
Material from Globe wire services was used in this report.