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Black Friday loses ground to Cyber Monday: What will it mean for workers?

Growing preference for online deals could have an impact on the kinds of seasonal work available during the holidays.

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    A consumer looks at Cyber Monday sales on her computer at her home in Palo Alto, Calif. on Nov. 29, 2010. Retailers are rolling out online deals on so-called 'Cyber Monday.' But now that shoppers are online all the time anyway, the 10-year-old shopping holiday is losing some of its luster.
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More people this year chose to avail of holiday deals online instead of hitting the mall, suggesting a shift in consumer shopping habits that could lead to a gradual change in the nature of holiday hiring.

The growing preference for online deals on Black Friday and Cyber Monday – the two busy shopping days after Thanksgiving – is transforming the face of holiday retail, as retail website outages in the face of heavy consumer traffic slowly replace the frenzied crowds that once rushed into brick-and-mortar stores.

The rise of online shopping could also mean a decline in in-store holiday jobs in favor of a demand for workers in delivery and e-commerce, some say.

“It used to be that the bulk of holiday hires would be in customer-facing positions on the sales floor and behind the cash register,” said John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an outplacement firm based in Chicago that is the oldest in the United States, in October. “These extra workers would also help pick up the slack in the backroom, helping to receive and stock increased deliveries.”

“Now, as more and more shopping is completed online, the holiday hiring is shifting away from stores and into the warehouses,” he said.

More than 103 million people said they shopped online over Thanksgiving weekend, compared to less than 102 million who said they shopped in stores, according to initial data released Sunday by the National Retail Federation.

Over the November and December shopping period, online sales are expected to rise 14 percent to $70 billion – just a shade slower than last year’s 15 percent, research firm Comscore reports.

Cyber Monday itself is expected to be the biggest online sales day – both of the season and ever, exceeding $3 billion in sales. As of Monday morning, $490 million had been spent online, 14 percent higher than a year ago, according to Adobe, which tracks 200 million visitors to 4,500 retail websites.

Online shopping’s impact also extends to the nature of available jobs, as seasonal work at online retailers and delivery firms sees a boost. Amazon in October said it would be hiring 100,000 people over the holidays, up 25 percent from last year, while FedEx said it will hire 55,000 seasonal workers in a 10 percent increase.

“We may be moving toward more ... Uber-economy-type drivers and employment in years to come,” Mr. Challenger told the Seattle Times in early November. “And that will further take a bite out of the need for in-store personnel.”

Still, other retailers and shipping companies – such as Target, Walmart, and UPS – will be hiring about the same number of seasonal workers this year as last, suggesting that when it comes to online shopping’s impact on employment, the picture is more nuanced. 

Nonetheless, “The shift to online is not something that anyone can discount at this point,” said Traci Gregorski, vice president of marketing for Chicago-based research firm MarketTrack, to USA Today. “It's part of the reality of retail.”

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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