Shift in Retail Impacts Holiday Hiring

More employees work behind the scenes.

December 17, 2019

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Big retailers are expected to hire some 790,000 seasonal workers this year, marking the second year of major growth after several years of stagnation, reports But with changing consumer preferences, holiday hiring has changed, putting more emphasis on speed and e-commerce.

Much of that growth in seasonal workers is due to Amazon, which said it would hire 200,000 seasonal employees this year, double the number from 2018. As a result, nonsupervisory retail jobs dropped by about 23,000 in the past year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retail jobs increased by 1.4% over the same period.

Target said it plans to add 130,000 seasonal workers this year and noted that many will become permanent positions after the holiday ends. Target also doubled the number of team members it has dedicated to fulfillment, including same-day services, to ensure guests get their orders even faster.

The trend is common throughout the sector, with retailers hiring more behind-the-scenes workers this year as store traffic declines, says Jan Kniffen, retail consultant and CEO of J Rogers Kniffen WWE. “We’re hiring less customer-facing people and a lot more people that are doing something else to help the customer, taking care of ‘order online and pick up in store,’ curbside pickup. That requires a lot more people, they are doing the job the customer used to do.”

Other retailers are giving holiday hours to current employees. For example, Gap set out to hire 30,000 seasonal workers this year across its brands, including Old Navy and Banana Republic, but it also turned to current staffers to offer additional holiday hours. Walmart is reportedly skipping seasonal hiring altogether, taking the hours available during the holidays and giving them to current employees. Some seasonal hiring may take place on a store-by-store basis, the company said.

Target checks with current workers to understand their availability and interest in working additional hours ahead of its seasonal hiring. “This is so much easier, if you can get someone who knows the job who is already working for you to burn more hours, because then you don’t have to do the retraining and hiring and all of the things that are really costly,” Kniffen said. “Any time you can spread the hours over the existing workforce, and they are willing to do it, it’s going to be easier to do.”

Recently, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic presidential hopeful, introduced a bill that will protect part-time employees during the holidays. The measure would require large employers to offer current workers more hours before hiring and scheduling new employees or subcontractors, and it would allow part-time workers to take part in pension plans and be eligible for family and medical leave.

The move may also prove strategic in a highly competitive and tight labor environment. Companies “are all struggling to keep the place full, because there are opportunities out there that are paying more, or may be more fun places to work,” Kniffen said.