Holiday hires will deal with growth in online shopping

Janet I. Tu
Seattle Times

Seattle — Across the country and in cities like Seattle, holiday hiring for the big shopping season is expected to reach about the same level as last year — but with some crucial differences.

The nature of those jobs is shifting, with more people doing their shopping online and expecting quick deliveries.

Amazon is expected to hire 25 percent more workers this holiday season than it did last year. About one out of seven of Nordstrom and Macy’s holiday hires will be working at their e-commerce fulfillment centers.

And, with relatively low unemployment rates, shipping companies such as United Parcel Service, FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service may have trouble filling all their holiday positions.

UPS, which expects to hire 90,000-95,000 seasonal workers nationwide this year, says it’s indeed facing a tighter labor market than in past years.

The challenge is particularly acute in the Seattle area, “given our healthy job market,” said Jessica Scrace, a UPS spokeswoman.

That’s why the company is offering retention bonuses for certain positions in its area facilities for holiday hires who stay through the end of December.

Last month, it began offering retention bonuses of $3,500 to semitrailer drivers, $450-$500 to loaders, unloaders and sorters, and $500 to package drivers.

The U.S. Postal Service expects to face challenges filling holiday positions, too.

Last year, it was authorized to hire about 480 people for the holidays in the Greater Seattle area but was able to hire only 285, said Ernie Swanson, a Postal Service spokesman. This year, it’s hoping to hire 790 people locally.

Nationally, the Postal Service is hoping to hire between 25,000 and 30,000 seasonal workers.

FedEx, meanwhile, expects to add more than 55,000 seasonal positions nationwide.

The National Retail Federation expects retailers to fill between 700,000 and 750,000 seasonal positions this year — on par with last year.

(That forecast does not include positions at shipping companies such as UPS, FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service.)

The retail federation also forecasts holiday sales to increase 3.7 percent over last year to $630.5 billion.

Of those expected sales, nearly half — 46.1 percent — will be made online this year, up from 44.4 percent last year and the highest since the federation started surveying in 2006, according to a federation report.

Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a global outplacement consultancy, expects retailers to add about 755,000 jobs nationwide this holiday season (not including shipping-company positions) — about the same as last year and down from 786,800 in 2013.

One reason the number of holiday retail hires is forecast to remain flat, even as consumer spending is expected to rise, is that retailers already hired more people earlier in the year, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Another reason is a shift in what and how consumers are buying.

“There’s some indication that consumer spending is moving toward more experiential sorts of directions” — restaurant outings or trips, for instance, said John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

At the same time, consumers’ move toward online shopping and expectations of ever-faster delivery mean a shift from traditional in-store retail jobs toward jobs in warehouses, fulfillment centers and at delivery services.

That leads to a tighter market for employers looking to fill those positions.

Potential employees may be “comfortable taking a holiday seasonal job working in a store,” Challenger said. “They may say they like the store, they like customer service, but they’re not sure they’d like working in a warehouse.”

This is also the first holiday season where “we’re really seeing the whole idea of speedy delivery” — one-day or one-hour delivery, Challenger said.

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

The boom in holiday online shopping is certainly borne out in Amazon’s plans for seasonal hiring.

The online retail giant plans to add 100,000 seasonal positions — up from 80,000 last year — at its fulfillment and sortation centers across the country.