Stores struggling with hiring for the holidays

Jackie Crosby
Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

A mixed picture of holiday hiring is emerging, even as mega-retailers such as Target Corp. aim for a record number of temporary workers to handle a hoped-for sales surge in the next two months.

Signs point to a holiday hiring season that could stagnate or even decline this year.

“It says more about the labor market than it does about the desire to hire,” said Andrew Challenger, vice president of global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, which suspects that traditional retailers might never again hire the numbers they once did, particularly as warehouse work becomes more automated.

Target is among the companies using mobile technology to recruit seasonal help.

Yet staffing remains the critical component for retailers of all sizes in what can be a make-or-break shopping season. Consumers said they plan to spend an average of $1,047.83 this holiday season, up 4% from last year, according to an annual survey by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics.

The battle for workers is well underway. Kohl’s began recruiting last summer to get a jump on the season and start training workers. The chain held its first-ever national hiring day in October to try to land 5,000 of its 90,000 holiday workers in a single day.

Target said it’s on track to hire about 133,000 seasonal workers in stores and distribution centers, the most of any retailer to date. It will double the number of temp workers dedicated to filling online orders through curbside and in-store pickup.

Best Buy Co. Inc. doesn’t release holiday hiring numbers, but held job fairs with on-the-spot interview opportunities the second week of October at all stores and 11 distribution centers.

The nation’s largest consumer electronics retailer said that 30% of its full-time store staff got a foot in the door as holiday hires, one of several retailers this year promoting their record of turning temp jobs into permanent ones.

Michael’s boasts it has held onto 40% of holiday hires, while Macy’s reports that nearly a third of its store managers started with seasonal work. At delivery service UPS, where the company’s chief executive began as a part-timer, 35% of seasonal workers have been hired on for good.

It’s one way retailers are trying to attract a more loyal base, said Kimberly Schneiderman of outplacement firm Randstad RiseSmart, who urges job seekers to consider their holiday jobs as an audition.

Some are students who worked at the store during the summer and are returning for the holidays. A loyal cadre of past employees, some with ties going back 40 years, also get back into mix for the busy gift-giving season.

The holidays bring in 15% to 20% of combined annual sales at its flagship stores near downtown Minneapolis and in Duluth.

“Our busy time is one week before Christmas,” Meyerring said. “We’re a procrastination destination.” At that point, it’s “all hands on deck” for the 60 employees, many of whom will get paid overtime.

Retailers are looking for any edge to attract and hang on to good workers. For the second year, Target has set aside $2 million in “team member appreciation” bonuses that will give two workers at each store a $250 Target gift card and a matching $250 charitable donation.

Others are promoting brand love to woo their customers as temporary workers, Schneiderman said.

Dick’s Sporting Goods is highlighting flexible scheduling and discounts of up to 25%. A job posting for a seasonal sales associate at the Mall of America blared in a headline: “Do you LOVE Victoria’s Secret PINK?”