Every year, Theresa Miller looks forward to October. Not because she likes to watch the leaves turn color and sip pumpkin spice lattes, but because that’s when her favorite department stores hire seasonal workers to help with the holiday rush.
In the past, she has worked third shift stocking shelves at Target. This year, she spends the wee hours at Macy’s, unloading trucks and putting security sensors on clothing.
A paralegal by day, she likes the short-term commitment and flexible hours of seasonal work. It also helps boost her holiday shopping budget.
“I feel like I’m getting double benefits,” Miller said. “In addition to the extra money, I get a store discount.”
Retail hiring counts have varied wildly so far this year, but when all the ups and downs are tallied, hiring levels are expected to be flat, according to predictions by outplacement agency Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
Macy’s is hiring 3.8 percent more workers this year. Walmart also will hire more, and make 35,000 part-timers full-time employees. Amazon will have a large increase in its warehouse personnel. Toys R Us will hire the same number as last year. And Target is planning to hire 20 percent fewer.
If seasonal job numbers don’t increase this year, it will end a four-year streak of growth since 2008. But since last year’s seasonal employment rolls were the highest in more than a decade, this year’s numbers will still be better than most years since 2001, whether levels budge or not.
The National Retail Federation’s projections are slightly rosier.
The trade association expects retailers to hire at least as many seasonal workers as last year – 720,000 – and maybe as many as 780,000.
“We think that makes sense given what we’re projecting about growth in the holiday sales process,” said Matthew Shay, NRF president and CEO, during a conference call last week.
Some companies, like Target, are hiring fewer seasonal workers and offering current workers additional hours. That cuts down on the amount of training necessary and keeps the aisles filled with more knowledgeable staff.
“This approach takes into account recent trends that are becoming more and more pronounced — the busy periods are busier than ever, while the early part of December is quieter,” Target said in a statement. “And with year-round team members looking for more hours, we want to accommodate their requests first.”
The NRF is predicting a modest 3.9 percent growth in holiday retail sales this November and December.
As more and more consumers shop online, more seasonal work is moving away from traditional sales floor jobs and into distribution and fulfillment centers.
“It’s interesting that many of these jobs are coming in new places. They’re getting shifted around as retailers change their tactics to reach and serve their customers,” Shay said.
In fact, digital sales – purchases made online through a retailer’s app or website – are growing faster than any other retail segment and are expected to grow 13 to 15 percent this year, according Shop.org, the NRF’s digital segment.
“We think that’s going to continue to grow and expand,” Shay said. “Consumers love it. That’s the way consumers live their lives today.”
Amazon, the 800-pound gorilla of the virtual shopping universe, will boost its warehouse personnel by 40 percent, adding 70,000 full-time positions to keep up with seasonal demand. Walmart, in an attempt to compete with Amazon, has been using its stores as a type of fulfillment center, shipping 10 percent of its online orders directly from its retail locations. It is hiring 10 percent more workers this year.
That means the companies that deliver the packages to fill those online orders need extra help, too. In 2012, UPS made an average of 16 million deliveries a day. On its busiest day during the holiday rush last year, it made 28 million.
UPS declined to say how many workers it will hire this year (that number will be given when it announces its earnings later this month), but said most of its temporary workers will act as “driver helpers” who load and sort packages on the truck and help drivers run packages to doorsteps.
“E-commerce and online shopping has compressed the peak shipping season to the last two weeks before Christmas,” said Natalie Black, a spokeswoman for UPS.
That will send things into a frenzy this year, with the shopping season between Thanksgiving and Christmas nearly a week shorter than last year.
But the holiday season doesn’t end December 26.
Fisher-Price will add about 100 people from October to February at its East Aurora campus to work in customer relations. They will assist customers with product questions and problems on the phone, via live chats and on social media.
In all, prospects should be good for holiday job seekers this year, predicts John Slenker, a labor market analyst for the New York State Department of Labor, barring any unforeseen complications.
“Retail has been improving. The overall economy in Western New York has been improving for over three years now, especially in the private sector,” Slenker said.