The moderate increase in retail spending expected for the holidays this year won't necessarily translate to more employees on sales floors.
The nature of holiday spending has changed so much that the Amazons and FedExes of the world are expected to gobble up many seasonal jobs instead. And with unemployment now at 5.1 percent, many national retailers have been staffing up throughout the year, said Andrew Challenger, vice president of Chicago-based Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a Chicago-based outplacement and career consulting company.
"There's not as much slack to pick up in the hiring force," Challenger said.
Some Omaha retailers, including Nebraska Furniture Mart, say the same.
The Omaha company estimated that it will add 80 to 100 warehouse and cashier positions in Omaha, about the same number as last year. The company will host hiring events through mid-October.
"We'll have students," said Stacy Harbaugh, employee relations manager, plus "people that have full-time jobs and this is a supplement for their holiday shopping. We have some returning staff that have done it before."
Gordmans said it plans to hire 350 seasonal workers — also the same number as last year — in its Omaha-area retail stores and its Omaha distribution center, said Roger Glenn, senior vice president of human resources.
Oriental Trading Co. is working to fill 650 seasonal positions, in line with last year, in its distribution and call centers, spokeswoman Sarah Osborne said.
Omaha Steaks plans to add about 4,000 local truck drivers, warehouse workers and call-center employees, slightly up over last year, according to spokeswoman Kelsey Bugjo.
"We're anticipating an increase in gift-giving for 2015, so we're hiring a few additional employees to help fulfill those gifts for our customers," Bugjo said.
But many retailers have already boosted their staffs. Retail employment increased by 449,500 from March through August, according to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's up from 437,000 jobs added during the same period a year earlier.
New York-based accounting firm Deloitte estimated total holiday sales will climb to between $961 billion and $965 billion, a 3.5 percent to 4 percent increase in November-through-January sales (excluding motor vehicles and gasoline) over the same period a year earlier, which had a growth rate of 5.2 percent.
Online and mail-order spending, on the other hand, is forecast by Deloitte to grow 8.5 percent to 9 percent over a year earlier.
As more shoppers move to the Web, jobs are migrating there as well, Challenger said.
UPS and FedEx added a combined 145,000 seasonal workers last year, nearly double the 75,000 planned hires reported in 2013. FedEx plans an increase of 5,000 more hires this year. Additionally, Amazon said it would hire 80,000 holiday workers for its nationwide network of warehouses in 2014, up from 70,000 the previous year.
Walmart plans to hire 60,000 people nationally and 525 salesfloor employees in Nebraska and 900 in Iowa for the season, said Todd Van Essen, manager of the 120th and L Streets Walmart. That's slightly more than last year, but only because the chain has opened a new store in Council Bluffs since last year's season.
Seasonal positions turn into year-round employment for many. That's how Van Essen was introduced to his career with Walmart.
"I started out as a seasonal cart pusher. That was in November of 1998 in Sioux Center, Iowa," he said.
Many who applied for seasonal positions at a Nebraska Furniture Mart hiring event Wednesday hoped for the same, including Valerie Estes, who works another part-time job.
"I'm hoping I can get hired on seasonally and perhaps stay on," Estes said.
That was also the case for Gabriela Jamie, 17. Jamie said that she works at Old Chicago but that the Furniture Mart's hours work better with her schedule. She plans to work both jobs through the holiday season and hopes to stay with the company beyond January.
"Hopefully I can prove to them as much," Jamie said.
The company keeps "quite a few" seasonal employees throughout the year based on their performance and the business' need, Harbaugh said.
"About the first part of January they'll start making those decisions," she said.
But others, like many Omaha Steaks employees, just want some extra cash for the holidays. The company offers bonuses to returning seasonal employees, and a year-round discount on products.
Although many shoppers aren't thinking about the holidays yet, retailers are. Most said they hope to have all seasonal employees signed up for work by mid-October to allow for training and acclimation ahead of Black Friday, which is the day after Thanksgiving and known as the busiest shopping day of the year.
"Even though the bulk of hiring decisions happen in early October to late November, it's important to get out there and start searching today," Challenger said.
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