As retailers continue to shutter their brick-and-mortar stores due to dwindling foot traffic, part-time seasonal employees are feeling the effects.
Historically, the holiday season has been rife with jobs for potential employees looking for a part-time gig as a means of securing a full-time position down the road or making extra money. However, the National Retail Federation reported that retailers are forecasted to make fewer hires this year, adding an estimated 500,000 to 550,000 workers, down from 575,000 during the holiday season last year. Rather than hiring more help, companies including Walmart are opting instead to increase hours for existing employees or implement hiring freezes.
Several factors are contributing to the decreasing availability of part-time holiday jobs, including the continued growth of online shopping, increased competition from e-commerce juggernauts like Amazon and the challenge for brands to adjust to cross-channel capabilities, like “buy online, pick-up in store.”
Francoise Carre — research director at the Center for Social Policy at the University of Massachusetts and co-author of “Where Bad Jobs Are Better” — said retailers are having difficulty determining staffing to handle strategies like “buy online, pay in store” that are less labor-intensive by cutting out the in-person point-of-sale process. Ultimately, brands are still calibrating the amount of workers needed during a period of digital growth and increased automation, she said.
Though brands are driving more and more consumers online, Carre said many companies have yet to adequately optimize their websites to handle the increase of web traffic during the holidays. As a result, online shoppers trying to score deals at places like Lowe’s and the video game site Games this Black Friday reported website crashes and slow browsers, which caused them to miss timely deals. Likewise, Lilly Pulitzer struggled to handle the swell of traffic during events like its bi-annual sale this August, which forced 90,000 consumers onto a virtual waitlist to even access the site.
“For a website to absorb 10 times the traffic it usually has, there is significant advancement that needs to happen,” she said. “Online shopping experience isn’t always that convenient; people still go to stores around the holidays and they still need to staff. Building a website is a significant financial investment. It’s a very different problem from having a store that is crowded.”
The dip in seasonal jobs also comes during a period of economic vitality in comparison to recent years. Consumer confidence is at higher levels than last year and unemployment is down — at 4 percent, nationally — ultimately transpiring to a lowered demand for part-time seasonal jobs, despite the rise in anticipated spending.
Carre’s findings — which look more broadly across all sectors of retail, with a particular focus on consumer electronics and the grocery industry — show that the dip in available jobs will be less dramatic than what the NRF is projecting, though she was unable to share an exact number. While some fear that the ubiquity of Amazon will end up threatening traditional competitors and putting people out of work, Carre said she anticipates it will have the opposite effect.
Amazon has continued an aggressive hiring spree after announcing plans to hire upward of 120,000 seasonal employees in 33 states. Additionally, Carre said workers will still be needed to account for the influx of shipping that results from upticks in e-commerce sales, especially at companies like FedEx, UPS and other fulfillment locations.
“There’s such high turnover in retail,” she said. “Part of seasonal retail is also checking people out who are good for a [full-time] job. It allows people to get a foot in and bid for a more regular job.”