While consumers are still mulling what they’ll wear on Halloween, retailers already have begun filling seasonal holiday positions.
Holiday hiring typically gets underway in earnest in October with the bulk of the hiring in November, but this year 52 percent of retailers have hired or plan to start hiring their share of temporary, seasonal workers this month, according to Snagajob.com.
Despite the early start, at least one expert is predicting that retailers will hire fewer seasonal workers this year — about 700,000, compared with 751,800 in 2012, according to Challenger, Gray and Christmas Inc., a Chicago-based employment consulting firm.
The hiring is not only an indicator of how long checkout lines might be but also can reflect how consumers and store owners are viewing the economy.
Retail has been one of the top job-producing sectors this year. Between March and August, retail employment grew by 482,000, up 42 percent from the 340,000 workers hired during the same stretch last year. The numbers climbed again from June to August, with the retail sector adding 218,600 new employees to its payrolls, compared with just 67,000 during the same period last year.
For Challenger, that’s another reason seasonal hiring might be lower this year.
“Retailers aren’t coming into the season so depleted,” said John Challenger, chief executive of Challenger, Gray and Christmas.
Locally, Borsheims, Nebraska Furniture Mart and Gordmans all plan to beef up their payrolls.
Borsheims plans to add 25 to 30 temporary workers to its full-price store’s roster, about the same as last season, but this year it will hire an additional 10-plus people to staff its new outlet store, Borsheims Boutique, which opens Nov. 15 at the new Nebraska Crossing Outlets mall in Gretna. The shopping center’s 65 stores are expected to hire several hundred employees in time for the Nov. 15 opening.
The Mart is stepping up its holiday hiring, though it wouldn’t provide numbers. “We’re hiring more than last year. We’re optimistic for the holiday season,” said Robert Batt, the company’s executive vice president.
Gordmans, which operates 93 stores in 19 states, plans to hire more seasonal workers this holiday than last season because of new stores. Omaha-based Gordmans, which opened 10 new stores this year, is seeking 2,700 seasonal workers, including up to 350 at the company’s Omaha-area stores and Omaha distribution center.
Officials with Nebraska-based Cabela’s and the Buckle declined to comment on their holiday hiring.
Whether retailers hire more or fewer seasonal workers, one thing is certain — this year’s shopping season is shorter. Shoppers will have six fewer days this year to tick off the names on their holiday list — just 25 days separate Black Friday from Christmas this year, versus 31 days in 2012, which could put the squeeze on consumers’ shopping excursions.
Store visits are expected to decline 1.4 percent in November and December, ShopperTrak reported. It’s unclear if that’s the effect of a shorter shopping season, a boost in online sales or a combination of the two.
“Price-conscious consumers are doing more and more of their holiday shopping online, where they often find the best deals and can typically enjoy free delivery and no sales tax,” Challenger said.
Still, retail sales overall are predicted to rise 2.4 percent this year during November and December, the traditional holiday season. That’s less than the 3 percent increase in sales that marked the 2012 holiday season, according to ShopperTrak.
Consumer confidence fell slightly in August, the Conference Board reported this week.
“Although the economy continues to recover slowly, consumers remain cautious about spending and are not ready to splurge,” ShopperTrak’s founder, Bill Martin, said.
But consulting firm Deloitte LLP is forecasting up to a 4.5 percent increase in holiday sales this season, a rate that’s “on par with last year’s gain.” Deloitte is forecasting that retailers will ring up sales of $963 billion to $967 billion from November through January.
“Rising home prices with steady job creation may buoy consumers’ confidence in the economy and create a wealth effect,” Daniel Bachman, Deloitte’s senior U.S. economist, said.
That could be good news for the nation’s retailers, many of whom count on holiday sales to help keep their doors open all year. For some, the holiday season can account for 20 percent to 40 percent of their annual sales.
Two of the nation’s largest retailers, Walmart and Target, say they plan to boost the holiday hours of current employees, eliminating the need to super-size their seasonal sales force.
Target plans to hire 18,000 fewer temporary employees this year — 70,000, compared with 88,000 last year. Target says the decrease isn’t related to an expected drop in sales, but a nod to members of its permanent, full-time staff who want to work extra hours during the holidays.
Walmart plans to hire 55,000 seasonal workers this year, up 10 percent over last year, but the world’s largest retailer is also planning to give current employees additional hours by converting about 35,000 of its part-time workers to full-time employees and giving 35,000 of its current temporary employees permanent, part-time status. The retail giant says it wants to expand the “opportunities for the people that already work for us.”
“Fewer temporary workers will be needed due to increased efficiencies and a desire among its permanent, full-time staff to reap the rewards of extra holiday hours,” Challenger said.
Kohl’s is planning to hire more than 50,000 seasonal employees, an average of 40 per store, about the same as last year, the company said. However, hiring at its distribution centers and credit operations will be stepped up, with the retailer hiring 6,400 seasonal workers at its centers and 350 temporary credit operations workers. Some gains could be related to the fact that Kohl’s opened at least a dozen new stores this year.
“Overall, we are hiring more seasonal associates than last year,” a Kohl’s spokeswoman said.
Larger retailers are using the data they’ve collected to model consumers’ holiday shopping patterns to inform their hiring and staffing patterns. For example, consumer traffic often tapers off after the Black Friday rush and then picks up again in mid-December.
“The era of Big Data has armed everyone with the information they need to more accurately predict the ebbs and flows in sales activity and adjust hiring accordingly,” Challenger said.
Whatever the final hiring number, the holiday season is expected to be bright, and adding an estimated 700,000 season workers is “still very positive,” Challenger said. “Even though there are some factors that are not quite the equal of last season, this should be a good holiday.”