For the first time in nine years, Amazon's headcount declined from one quarter to the next. The slight decline comes amid layoffs that followed years of rapid hiring.

Share story

There’s at least one area where Amazon isn’t growing by leaps and bounds: the size of its workforce.

After a hiring binge that made Amazon the No. 2 U.S.-based employer behind Walmart, the Seattle retail giant appears to have hit the pause button for the first time in years.

Amazon had 563,100 employees at the end of March, it said in reporting quarterly earnings Thursday, down slightly from  566,000  employed at the end of 2017. That’s the first decline from one quarter to the next since the depths of the financial crisis in early 2009.

The company’s most recent headcount still represents a massive, 60 percent gain from the prior year — about half of which was from the inclusion of employees at Whole Foods Market, the organic grocer that Amazon purchased last year.

But after that acquisition, and years of frantic hiring at the company’s Seattle headquarters, Amazon has started to make rare, outright cuts.

The company earlier this year began a round of corporate layoffs, targeting relatively mature, retail-focused areas of its business. Employees also reported hiring freezes, and teams that found themselves with too many people for the work in front of them. Layoffs also fell on Amazon subsidiaries, including Whole Foods, self-publishing unit Createspace, and footwear seller Zappos.

The company continues to hire, particularly for growth areas like its Alexa voice-activated software business and the Amazon Web Services cloud-computing unit.

The company had about 15,800 open jobs listed this week. In Seattle, Amazon was seeking 5,200 people, up from the multiyear low of 3,200 in January.

On a call with reporters to discuss the financial results Thursday, Chief Financial Officer Brian Oslavsky said the slight headcount decline in the most recent quarter was due to seasonality.

Amazon’s business peaks with the U.S. shopping season during the last quarter of the year, leading to a relative lull in January. But the company typically hires through that lull: during the last 15 years, Amazon’s workforce has grown by an average 5 percent during the first three months of the year.

Pressed for details, Oslavsky added: “We’re certainly evaluating all hiring as we always do. But we continue to hire for the investment areas that we see.” Oslavsky highlighted software developers in particular as being in demand. 

Amazon earlier this year disclosed that its workforce in Seattle totaled more than 45,000 people. A spokesman said on Thursday that figure remains accurate.