Holidays to cheer: Retailers plan to increase hiring this season

Good back-to-school sales and rising consumer confidence are leading many retailers to add more seasonal jobs than they did last year – and many could become permanent.

Elise Amendola/AP
In this photo taken earlier this month, a clerk straightens out her display at a shoe store in Salem, N.H. US consumer confidence jumped this month to the highest level since February, bolstered by a brighter hiring outlook.

Despite all the negative political ads, retailers are getting increasingly optimistic for the holiday season.

Many of them are planning to hire more seasonal workers than they did last year. And not only are they planning to hire earlier, but some of the jobs may become permanent positions.

“The fact retailers are increasing their hiring compared to last year is a great sign of what is to come both in sales and the mind-set of retailers,” says Liz Moughan, director of the retail and hospitality practice group at Kronos Inc., a workforce-management software provider in Chelmsford, Mass. “The fact that so many are hiring more than last year shows that they are finally putting their money where their mouth is and investing in their labor.”

According to a survey by the Hay Group, a Philadelphia-based consulting company, 36 percent of the merchants they surveyed said they will be hiring more, up from only 10 percent who said they planned to increase hiring last year. The Chicago-based outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas is estimating retailers could hire about 700,000 workers this year, up from 660,00 last year.

Retailers are more positive about the holiday season because of solid back-to-school sales in August and some signs that consumer confidence is beginning to improve. On Tuesday, the Conference Board, a New York-based business research organization, said its index of consumer confidence jumped nine points for September, led by a surge of optimism about the future.

“Not even $2 billion in negative ads could depress the consumer who seems to believe that things are getting better,” says economist Joel Naroff of Naroff Economic Analysis in Holland, Pa., in an analysis referring to political ads run by Republicans. “The job market is considered really tough, but workers seem to think there will be a growing number of openings going forward.”

Retailers are optimistic even though gasoline prices – now beginning to fall – have remained relatively high. The unemployment rate, too, is still above 8 percent, and the Federal Reserve, in its pronouncements about the economy, has been very cautious and has started another effort to stimulate growth.

Despite those concerns, some large retailers have announced they plan to increase the number of holiday workers.

One of those is Milwaukee-based Kohl’s, which has said it will hire 52,700 seasonal workers, up from 40,000 last year. In addition, reflecting the growth of online hiring, Kohl’s says it plans to hire an extra 5,700 workers at its distribution centers and will add another 30 for temporary credit operations jobs.

Another large retailer, Toys R Us, based in Wayne, N.J., says it will hire 45,000 temps, up 5,000 from last year.

The nation’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart, has said it will hire 50,000 seasonal workers, up slightly from last year, and will give its existing staff extra hours.

As opposed to prior years, when many retailers bulked up their hiring to support online sales, this year the Hay Group survey found that 74 percent of the hiring will be in stores, compared with only 12 percent in distribution centers.

The hiring is coming about three to four weeks ahead of last year, says Chris Lawson, the chief executive officer of Eli Daniel Group, a Dallas-based staffing company.

“There is definitely a lot of big chains looking to add to head count, and a lot of talk that some of those jobs will turn into permanent positions,” says Mr. Lawson.

According to the Hay survey, 43 percent of the retailers say they will have more permanent workers and fewer seasonal workers this year. “With renewed confidence and a bullish outlook for 2013, retailers want to retain more workers beyond the holiday season,” said the company in its analysis in mid-September.

Last year, Toys R Us kept about 15 percent of its workers as full-time employees, and Target kept 30 percent of its seasonal hires.

Target, the Minneapolis-based retailer, will buck the trend of increased hiring. It says it will hire between 80,000 and 90,000 seasonal employees, down from 92,000 last year.

Anyone hoping to do seasonal work should be applying for the jobs now, says John Challenger, CEO of Challenger Gray & Christmas.

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

Lawson advises people looking for the jobs to make sure their résumé matches up exactly with their online application. “If any dates are wrong, you will get passed up,” he explains.

For people who apply for jobs in person, he advises them to be prepared for an interview right away. “Dress sharp. You may get an interview on the spot,” he says. “Showing eagerness will separate you and writing a thank-you follow-up note is a good idea.”

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