Sears, Roebuck and Co. said Saturday it has begun notifying some store office workers they'll either be transferred or laid off after New Year's Day.

The Deseret News was unable to locate local Sears officials for comment Saturday night.The affected employees are an undetermined number among the estimated 20,000 people who work in areas including customer service, accounting and payroll in the 850 Sears stores across the nation, spokesman Gerald Buldak said.

"It's really too soon to tell" how many employees will be affected, but most work part time, Buldak said.

He said some staff functions will be merged at some stores.

"Employees displaced would have an opportunity to work elsewhere in a store, if a job existed, or would not have a job," he said.

Last fall, the company began seeking ways to improve customer service and cut costs, Buldak said. Using employee ideas, Sears tested pared-down procedures at 10 stores, he said.

The company began notifying workers late last week that they could be either transferred or lose their jobs through a nationwide cost-cutting effort, Buldak said.

Last month, Sears reported sharply lower net income for the third straight quarter, with overall earnings down 30 percent, but said its retail unit had improved.