Falling temperatures usually indicate rising numbers of retail employees as many companies prepare for the heavy holiday shopping season that traditionally begins the day after Thanksgiving.
Retail hiring is expected to be high this year, but it’s not expected to surpass last year’s ultimate total — the highest in 12 years. Industry experts predict this year’s hiring will at best match last year’s.
Between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, 2012, retail employment increased by a nonseasonally adjusted 751,800 jobs, according to a survey published by Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., a Chicago-based executive outplacement services provider. That total was an 11 percent increase from 2011, and the fourth consecutive increase in holiday retail hiring.
Last year, total holiday retail sales reached $579.8 billion, a figure that did not meet expectations, according to a National Retail Federation industry analysis report.
There are several reasons — uncertain consumer confidence, the continued rise of Internet shopping and increasing retail workforce efficiency — for why this year’s holiday hiring boom may not be as strong as last year’s.
In October the Consumer Confidence Index fell to 75.2 points, down from 77.5 points in September — the lowest figure since January.
Aside from shaky consumer confidence levels leading some industry experts to predict a weaker hiring season, the Internet and other technological advances are also responsible. “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,” said John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
Retailers have increasingly incorporated Web stores into their business strategy, Challenger said. Because of the ability to compare different products online first before going to a brick-and-mortar store, customers are more certain about what they want and spend less time roaming around the store, he added.
Retailers have also become more efficient with how they use their workforces during holiday hours, leading to a decreased need for large numbers of holiday help.
Companies can determine what days and hours will be the busiest and staff accordingly, Challenger said.
“We’re getting smarter in terms of anticipating how many resources we need when guests are really going to be shopping the hardest,” said Jodee Kozlak, Target Corp.’s executive vice president of human resources, in a written statement.
Another reason why this year’s retail hires aren’t expected to exceed last year’s numbers is because retailers have been hiring more workers during the course of the year, Challenger said. In 2012, after realizing their workforces were too thin for the holiday shopping season, many retailers needed to make a large number of hires quickly to pick up the slack, Challenger said.
“Just as the holiday ads and decorations appear earlier and earlier each year, we may be seeing earlier holiday hiring. With enough flexible, part-time workers, retailers can handle the wide fluctuations that occur in the last half of the year, starting with back-to-school sales, followed by Halloween, and culminating with Christmas,” Challenger said.