Retailers Ramp Up Hiring for a Piece of the $655 Billion Holiday Sales Pie

It’s time to get out the Halloween decorations, but retailers already have their eyes on the all-important holiday season.

Industry group the National Retail Federation released its annual holiday sales forecast today, and it projects holiday spending to increase 3.6 percent this year, topping $655.8 billion. Online sales are expected to climb 7 percent to 10 percent over last year’s results, reaching as much as $117 billion. The firm also said retailers would hire between 640,000 and 690,000 seasonal workers this holiday season.

“All of the fundamentals are in a good place, giving strength to consumers and leading us to believe that this will be a very positive holiday season,” NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay said.

Consulting firm Deloitte LLP announced similar findings for its holiday shopping survey, but put greater emphasis on online growth in 2016. The firm predicted growth of between 3.6 percent and 4 percent for overall sales, but said sales online could grow as much as 17 percent to 19 percent year-over-year. A digital component — such as price comparisons with a smartphone, for example — will factor into about 67 percent of all retail store sales, too.

The Christmas display inside the Boulevard Haussmann Galeries Lafayette store in Paris
The Christmas display inside the Boulevard Haussmann Galeries Lafayette store in Paris.
CREDIT: Getty Images.

It’s quite a bump compared to the average 2.5 percent growth over the past 10 years, according to the NRF. Last year, sales were projected to top $630.5 billion, but tepid consumer confidence and bad weather kept shoppers at home. Holiday sales last year only reached $626.1 billion.

“This year hasn’t been perfect, starting with a long summer and unseasonably warm fall, but our forecast reflects the very realistic steady momentum of the economy and industry expectations,” Shay continued.

Shay underscores consumer jitters driven by the presidential campaign, global events such as Brexit and attacks in Europe, and continued concerns over incomes, despite results.

Not surprisingly, stores are already banking in a big way on the success of online sales, and they are staffing to support orders there first and foremost.

Deloitte Consulting’s Nathan Sloan said that more stores are looking to support sub-sectors such as its warehouses and call centers during the holidays to get product in the hands of consumers quickly. “The focus on call centers really is also a focus on the experience and trying to help the buying and return experience,” he said.

Macy’s Inc. said it would hire 83,000 associates this year, slightly less than last year’s 85,000 seasonal openings. The firm said 15,000 associates would fill openings in distribution centers and 1,000 would work in a customer support capacity. About 19 percent of the seasonal hires this year are focused on customer support or distribution, compared with last year’s 16 percent.

Target also announced hiring plans that ramp up its focus on digital support. The company wants to hire 7,500 for the distribution and fulfillment centers for holiday, which is roughly 1,000 more than last year. In all, the stores plan to hire 70,000 workers.

In addition to hiring for call centers, a key trend this year, according to Sloan, was the growing focus on hiring earlier due to increasing competition for talent, and recruiting through more national hiring days. He emphasized stores should hire soon and offer plenty of training to make sure associates on all fronts are prepared for the season to support the experience.

“It’s important brands look to balance in-store and the online experience,” said Sloan. “Especially when you look at store labor, as it could affect cost and revenue down the road.”

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