Retailers from Wal-Mart to Kohl’s and Target each ramped up their seasonal hirings ahead of an expanded promotional holiday throughout 2014. Shoppers armed with more cash from lower fuel costs are still out trying to wrap up their holiday purchases in store and online as of Monday, Dec. 22.
Wal-Mart said it ramped up its seasonal workers by 60,000 this year, a 10% gain from 2013 as well as adding more hours for employees already on staff.
“We know this is the busiest time of year for our stores and we are going to make sure we are delivering for our associates and customers. We will have more registers than ever open during peak shopping hours between Black Friday and Christmas,” Gisel Ruiz, former chief operating officer for Walmart U.S, said in September.
The retailer declined to break out what that meant on a per-store basis. Scott Swenson, store manager at the Bentonville Walmart Supercenter, told The City Wire that he hired enough workers to fulfill the promise of opening all check-out lines during peak shopping hours.
“We also added staff to the toys and electronic departments to make sure our customers could get the service they need during this busy time,” Swenson said.
The promotional season at Wal-Mart and in retail at large began a full week ahead of Thanksgiving this year as they layered on additional savings for Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday and most recently Super Saturday.
Swenson admitted the promotions have been broader this year but said the added staff has helped his store operations run smoothly. He said shoppers come in asking about the deals which are being well received from the public.
“It’s been a very good season but we are ready to wrap things up this week so we can enjoy the holiday with our own families,” Swenson said.
Kohl’s added 34% more holiday staff this year hiring an estimated 67,000 temporary workers nationwide. Target said it hired about 70,000 workers which is on par with 2013 season employment.
United Parcel Service said this week it is turning some of its larger parking lots into sorting centers for added speed during crunch time.
“It all goes back to 585 million packages in the month of December,” said corporate spokesman Dan Cardillo. “It’s a lot more packages than we usually handle.”
UPS said It expects six days this month to surpass its single-busiest shipping day of last year. Things should peak Dec. 22 with an estimated 34 million items dropped off at homes and businesses. UPS announced back in September it would hire 95,000 seasonal workers, almost twice the amount in 2013, to help avert the repeat of last year when thousands of packages were not received until after Christmas.
According to the most recent jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nation’s retailers added 434,500 people to their payrolls in November.
Pew Research notes that retail payrolls surge in November and December as stores hire for holiday shopping, typically jumping 3% to 4% between October and December.
Locally that has helped the state jobless rate dip to 5.8% in November. In Northwest Arkansas the jobless rate also fell to 3.9% in October, while Fort Smith’s unemployment rate slid to 5.4%. Holiday hirings could help these local rates dip lower when the November and December reports are revealed. But rates could tick back up in early 2015 if history holds true.
The November numbers were positive in Arkansas. In the Trade, Transportation and Utilities sector — Arkansas’ largest job sector — employment during November was an estimated 244,900, up from 242,900 in October and ahead of the 243,400 during November 2013. Employment in the sector hit a high of 251,800 in March 2007.
Last year, Pew notes that retailers added 626,200 jobs in November and December, representing a 4.1% gain. While the pre-holiday hiring surge is impressive, the post-holiday drop is even more dramatic.
“Retail payrolls typically fall 5% to 6% between December and February, as retailers with disappointing holiday sales lay off staff and close unprofitable stores. This past year, retailers shed a combined 880,000 jobs in the two months after Christmas,” noted the Pew Research Center report.
Wal-Mart reports that 22 million customers shopped in stores on Black Friday, which is more people than visited Disneyland in an entire year. The retailer said Thanksgiving Day was its second highest sales day in company history.
Retail analyst Liz Dunn, with Talmage Advisors, said the big box stores did well with Black Friday door buster deals on electronics. She said this came at the expense of lower-end mall retail traffic early in the holiday season. Dunn said that changed this past weekend on Super Saturday as the malls across the country were packed with last-minute shoppers purchasing mostly clothing and jewelry.
“Over the past few years, we’ve noticed a trend in customers waiting until the last minute to finish their shopping,” said Scott McCall, senior vice president of merchandising for Walmart U.S. “While many customers start their Christmas shopping in November, the majority don’t put their lists away until Dec. 24.”
Dunn said online has also been huge this year, but at this point if consumers want to guarantee they have the gift by Christmas they are likely to head out to their local mall or favorite big box retailer.