September 23, 2013

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U.S. retailers may equal, but not improve on, their hiring of seasonal workers in the fourth quarter this year compared to 2012, a hiring expert forecasts, so workers should expect job competition.

Shaky consumer confidence and retailer “efficiencies” are likely to result in about the same holiday hiring this season as last, according to one outlook released Monday, but another forecast looks rosier.

The outplacement consultancy of Challenger, Gray & Christmas expects little gain over last year, while SnagAJob, an hourly employment job board, says a survey indicates that 6 percent more hiring managers expect to add jobs.

The Challenger firm said 2012 retail employment increased by a non seasonally adjusted 751,800 between October 1 and December 31, the “heaviest holiday hiring binge since 2000” and 14 percent more than 2011.

“There are several factors that could keep holiday hiring from reaching last year’s level,” said John Challenger, the company’s chief executive. “While the economy and job market are improving, it has now been four years since the recession officially ended and millions of Americans are still unemployed or underemployed. As a result, consumers remain uneasy.”

The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan consumer confidence survey found that sentiment slipped to its lowest level since April.

The retail research firm ShopperTrak predicts that sales at U.S. stores will rise only 2.4 percent in November and December compared with increases of 3 percent in 2012, 4 percent in 2011 and 3.8 percent in 2010. Meanwhile, store visits are expected to fall 1.4 percent during those months, the company said.

“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. “The ongoing shift to Internet shopping could see some seasonal hiring in this area, but the numbers will never match the employment gains seen in traditional brick-and-mortar establishments.”

According to the SnagAJob survey, 69 percent of hourly hiring manager who could hire year-end, seasonal workers expect to do so this year, an increase of 6 percent over the fourth quarter 2012.

SnagAJob also said that the managers who expect to hire more workers this year than last year also expect their fourth-quarter sales to be better.

“While there have been lackluster gains in the overall job market recently, hourly employers will still have a strong need for seasonal employees,” said Megan Overton, spokesperson for Snagajob.

Both Challenger and SnagAJob urged would-be workers to start their seasonal job hunt early this year.

“Among those who will be hiring, 52 percent expect to begin their hiring by the end of September – if not sooner – compared to 48 percent last year, an increase of 4 percentage points,” SnagAJob said. “The peak for holiday hiring should be October, when 31 percent of hiring managers will begin their hiring.”

Wal-Mart said Monday it would boost holiday hiring to 55,000, a 10 percent increase from last year’s 50,000 seasonal hires. The company also will move 35,000 workers to full-time status from part-time and another 35,000 to part-time from temporary.

Among other retail hiring plans announced so far: eBay, 2,000 workers; Eddie Bauer, 1,200; Kohl’s, 53,000, and Target, 70,000.

Even if hiring does not meet last year’s level, Challenger said that holiday hiring could still be in the 700,000 range. And retailers are not the only employers adding seasonal workers. Last year, FedEx added 20,000 workers and UPS brought in an extra 55,000 to help with holiday deliveries, he said.

“The bulk of the seasonal hiring decisions will be made in October,” Challenger said. “However, do not give up if your first attempts at finding a job are unsuccessful. There is constant churn in the retail industry.”

He reminded applicants that “on-the-floor” sales positions aren’t the only seasonal jobs. Big box stores need more workers in their shipping facilities and overnight stocking positions, and there are jobs in catering, shipping, restaurants and movie theaters.

Temporary workers are advised to be flexible in the hours and type of work they’re willing to do

“If there are certain retail outlets where you would prefer to work, start going there when business is slow and try to make a connection with a manager or assistant manager. The key is separating oneself from the pile of applicants the store will see between now and Halloween,” Challenger advised.

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