Low unemployment, high consumer confidence and other sunny economic metrics are expected to lift holiday sales this year. They could also boost hiring and wages as retailers try to fill seasonal slots in their stores and operations.
NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said at an Oct. 3 press conference that the association estimated that retailers would hire 650,000 seasonal workers for the holidays in 2018, up more than 10% from last year's hiring.
In September, outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas noted that retailers and logistics companies were gearing up for a "huge shopping season," and predicted a strong economy would likely push up holiday hiring for the year.
Retailers hiring for 2018 holiday season
|Company name||Planned seasonal jobs|
|American Eagle Outfitters||22,000|
|Dick's Sporting Goods||5,000|
Source: Company press releases
"Retailers have been aggressively hiring seasonal workers since July to combat the tight job market," Andrew Challenger, vice president of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, said in a Sept. 13 release. "Retailers will have to offer competitive compensation or other perks to attract the workers needed for this holiday season. Already, we have seen some retailers offering discounted merchandise or special shopping days for their employees."
Challenger, Gray & Christmas noted that retail holiday hiring last year increased 4.3%, or by 668,400 workers, compared to 2016. In warehousing and transportation, the spike was even sharper at 13.4%.
Snag, a marketplace for hourly work, said it expected wage growth in retail to jump as much as 54%, more than the hospitality and restaurant industries, according to a survey of employers. Human resources firm Randstad said it has seen strong demand for warehouse and support workers that follows the growth in e-commerce.
But not all the data point to robust holiday job growth in retail. A report from Indeed Hiring Lab looked at seasonal retail job postings for the year and found they were down 21% compared to 2017, though they were trending above 2016 (by 5%) and 2015 (by 35%). The Indeed report noted: "Two trends are emerging: (1) Seasonal sales job postings are only slightly below last year's level, while seasonal non-sales jobs are down significantly. (2) It's possible that more job openings are becoming permanent rather than seasonal."
Non-sales jobs here include workers in production, office and administrative support, transportation and logistics. Indeed found these postings were down 25% from last year. The report noted that hiring growth last year may have been an outlier. But the current trends could also be indicative of other shifts going on in the industry.
"Given the tight labor market overall — and strengthening demand in retail as job openings increase — a bigger phenomenon might be at work here," the Indeed report noted. "Employers may be trying to use their traditional seasonal hiring spree as an opportunity to snag full-time workers."
Indeed said the retailers with the most postings, in order, were: Macy's, Target, Lowe's, Kohl's, Bath & Body Works, Famous Footwear, Sears, Cherry Hill Programs, Victoria's Secret and Office Depot/Office Max.
As the season unfolds, we're making a list (and checking it twice) of who is hiring and how it stacks up against last year's strong holiday season. Here's a look at who's making moves in holiday hiring so far, based on their own announcements:
Around 23,500, or nearly 30%, of Macy's 80,000 hires this year will be based in direct-to-consumer fulfillment facilities that "support sales generated by the company's omnichannel business strategy," the company said. That figure is 5,500 higher than what Macy's hired for its fulfillment centers in 2017.
Macy's said 1,500 associates would be hired to interact with customers via telephone, email and online chat at customer service centers. Another 1,000 would support Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Santalands and other holiday events. The rest, presumably, would be serving in stores.
Last year, Macy’s posted better-than-expected same-store sales during the holiday period, buoyed by strong consumer spending and in a year where it moved to close dozens of stores.
Target's plans to fill 120,000 jobs for the holiday represent a 20% increase over the past year. The company said all hires begin at $12 an hour and also receive a 10% discount at stores; 20% off fruits, vegetables and other "wellness" products; and holiday pay for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The mass merchant is also planning to double from last year the number of employees hired to fulfill digital orders, with expectations it will hire 7,500 workers in fulfillment and distribution centers.
Last year, Target posted a 10% year-over-year sales jump during the holiday quarter, with comparable sales up 3.6%, traffic up 3.2% and e-commerce sales up 29%. For this year, along with other possible sales gains, the company is making a big play on holiday toys in the wake of Toys R Us' liquidation. In early September, the retailer said it was doubling its offering of new and exclusive toys to more than 2,500.
Kohl's said in September that it was hiring 90,000 seasonal associates to staff its 1,100 stores, nine distribution centers, five e-commerce fulfillment centers and credit centers. In trying to lure workers, the company offered an "unprecedented 35% discount" on merchandise during "the heart of the season" along with an immediate 15% discount.
Kohl's, like Target, posted a banner holiday season for 2017, with sales rising nearly 7%, better than the company originally anticipated. For this year's holiday season, Kohl's sales could get a bump from its expansion into the toy category, partnership with Amazon to sell devices and take returns, and through a revamp of its loyalty program.
The department store retailer said it is planning 39,000 hires for the season across its store, supply chain and customer care center operations. That figure is about 1,000 less than what the company planned to hire last season, a period when sales fell short of expectations, prompting J.C. Penney to slash 360 corporate and support jobs. In a blog post, the company said this year it is offering associates a 25% discount and entry into a kind of raffle, in which eight employees will be awarded a $5,000 trip to Alberta, New York City or Miami.
Gap Inc. said in September it was bringing in 65,000 seasonal associates to its Banana Republic, Athleta, Old Navy and Gap brands as well as it's call centers and distribution centers. Last year, Gap logged an 8% top-line sales increase during the fourth quarter and pushed its same-store sales up by 5%. Old Navy, as is typical, led the way with a 9% increase in comps, but even Banana Republic moved the needle, with comps increasing 1%.
It's no surprise that the scale of Amazon’s holiday hiring plans is massive. The company said in an Oct. 17 release that it planned to fill 100,000 seasonal jobs across its fulfillment and delivery facilities. That, however, is 20,000 fewer positions, or about 17% less, than last year, when Amazon's fourth quarter revenue increased 38%. A company spokesperson said Amazon is "focused on more ongoing full-time hiring" at its facilities this year.
The e-commerce giant won much attention for boosting its minimum wage to $15. (Perhaps not coincidentally, the move came after the company publicly tussled with U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders over treatment of its fulfillment center workers.) The company also received interest from prospects. Amazon said it received more than 70,000 applications within 48 hours of the wage hike announcement, and more applications came in the week of the news than the entire month of August.