Staff arriving at Wollongong's David Jones on Wednesday morning had no warning they were were about to lose their jobs.
But by the end of the day about eight workers had been told they would made redundant - some with more than 30 years' experience at the department store.
More jobs are to be cut on Thursday, the Mercury has been told, in what may be part of a "transformation" of the company flagged earlier this year to revise sagging revenue.
One shocked employee spoke to the Mercury after being made redundant on Wednesday.
"No-one had any inkling of anything that's happening," she said.
"No staff members were told. There were closed-door meetings then people started being called in.
"A lot of these people have worked there for a lot of years - more than 30."
A spokesman for David Jones confirmed the redundancies had started, but would not say how many jobs would go.
"These changes were not made lightly and reflect a difficult time in retail," he said.
"Meetings today were the commencement of the consultation period and we will now work with affected team members to consider redeployment, other options, and transitional support," he said.
The employee said none of the redundancies were voluntary - and were based on performance signing customers up to promotional programs such as the department store's branded credit card.
"Even though your sales record is 100 per cent, you're shown the door."
But David Jones denied this, saying the cuts were based on "objective factors". "This did not include any assessment of sign-ups to American Express Card program," the company spokesman said.
Workers were not impressed with the redeployment opportunities made available.
"They're not actually offering you another job - they've got some pages of jobs you can apply for in the David Jones-Country Road group, but they're in Sydney, Western Australia, all over," the employee said.
The once-mighty chain of stores was bought by the South Africa-based Woolworths Holdings group for $2.1 billion in 2014.
Then, Woolworths forecast earnings growth of more than $130 million, but the results have been the reverse - a 67 per cent drop in earnings over two years.
The "transformation" announced in response was to include closing some David Jones stores, and shrinking others, to reduce the group's footprint by a quarter.
Jobs were also lost when DJs closed its Wollongong gourmet food hall in January.