A handful of retailers that successfully made the leap into e-commerce are hiring, but temporary, seasonal work as a store clerk or cashier during the holidays is no longer plentiful, thanks to the pandemic’s battering of an already stricken retail industry.
“There is just so much uncertainty for traditional retailers this year, and the pandemic is causing an acceleration in trends we’ve been seeing,” Andrew Challenger, vice president of recruiting firm Challenger Gray & Christmas, told CBS MoneyWatch. “Brick-and-mortar stores are where we’ve seen the most jobs lost in the economy the last three years.”
Upended by online shopping, retailers small and large were already struggling when the coronavirus struck in March. The economic shutdown that ensued transformed the steady exodus to e-commerce into a stampede. While overall retail sales fell 3.9% from the first quarter of 2020 to the second, e-commerce sales spiked 31.8% to $211.5 billion during the same period, estimates the U.S. Department of Commerce.
“A lot of Americans have moved their shopping online for the first time. Now that they’ve broken the in-store habit, are they ever going to go back?” asks Challenger.
“Many retailers have been reticent to put out hiring targets this year,” said Challenger, whose firm tracks hiring and layoffs. Normally, the bulk of holiday hiring has taken place, but that’s been pushed back as retailers await better information about what’s ahead, he noted.
Challenger’s research does not include small businesses. But, anecdotally, it seems many small retailers that may have two or three employees and typically hire one extra during the holidays, probably won’t this year. “We know small businesses have been hurting so badly for seven months now, and for a lot of them the holidays are a bit of an Alamo, where they are making a last stand here,” Challenger said.
Data from time-tracking company Homebase shows the number of open businesses and employees working both down by one-fifth relative to their pre-pandemic levels. (Homebase counts 60,000 small businesses among its clients, largely in the food and retail sectors.)
The slow start to holiday hiring can also be seen in data from Glassdoor, which found seasonal job openings posted on its website to be down 8% from last year. Meanwhile, applications for retail jobs on Glassdoor are up 36%, reflecting the millions of Americans currently out of work.
According to Indeed, retail job listings are down 4% from their 2019 level, while jobs in transportation are down 13%. Warehouse job listings are up, however, reflecting the shift to online shopping.
The pay picture for retail employees is a mixed bag. Amazon’s push into the holiday worker market three years ago and its decision to pay a minimum of $15 an hour pressured other companies fighting for seasonal staff to hike pay as well. Yet the current labor surplus lessens the case for elevated pay, and many large retailers declined to state their base wage.
Retailers need workers to package up products and load them curbside, coinciding with the trend of buying items online and picking them up at the store. “I wonder if there’s a little advantage there in terms of last-minute shopping,” said Challenger of the notion that some holiday shoppers might prefer to pick up their gifts rather than wait to have them delivered.
Those hoping to land seasonal retail work might look to warehouse or delivery jobs, but where one lives could make a difference. “There is a bit of a shift geographically in terms of these jobs,” away from stores spread across the country, to warehouses and distribution centers typically located near large metro areas, said Challenger.
Amazon has already hired 200,000 workers— the bulk of them in March and April as the pandemic spurred an explosion in orders — and plans to hire another 100,000 for the holidays. Walmart and Target, two major retailers that have successfully jumped into e-commerce, are also hiring.
Retailers have so far announced 378,200 seasonal hires, according to Challenger, which tallied 702,000 retail jobs for 2019’s holiday season.
Here’s a MoneyWatch rundown of major retailers that say they are hiring for the holidays and beyond, and what they say —or don’t say — about how much they’re paying:
- Amazon continues , saying in recent weeks it would hire 100,000 full- and part-time workers across the U.S. and Canada to sort customer orders and make deliveries. It pays at least $15 an hour and offers signing bonuses of up to $1,000 in some cities. Amazon last month also said it would be filling 33,000 technology and corporate positions, many paying salaries in the six figures.
- Best Buy is hiring thousands of workers for jobs including sales, customer service, merchandising inventory and car install technicians, along with positions in the retailer’s distribution centers. Hourly pay starts at $15 an hour.
- Dick’s Sporting Goods is for the holidays, upping its seasonal workforce by more than 1,000 from last year, the retailer said last week. The Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based sporting goods retailer described its wages as “competitive,” but would not state its hourly pay rate.
- 1-800-Flowers.com plans to hire more than 10,000 to work in gift assembly and customer service —quadrupling its workforce to meet holiday demand. The majority of jobs are located in Illinois, Ohio and Oregon, the gourmet foods and gift provider said. It did not return a request for information on wages paid.
- Gap hired more than 50,000 workers in the first half of 2020 and is currently looking for 10,000 seasonal workers to pack and assemble merchandise and serve in customer contact centers. It’s also looking to add staff to its more than 2,500 Athleta, Banana Republic, Gap, Intermix, Janie and Jack and Old Navy stores. The company is not disclosing what it pays.
- Hobby Lobby plans to hire as many as 14,000 seasonal employees for the holiday season by November 1. It’s already hired around 10,500 at its 923 arts-and-crafts stores. The retailer raised its hourly minimum to $17 at the start of the month.
- Home Depot is hiring across the country right now, but is not offering a head count or information about hourly wages.
- JCPenney has not announced hiring plans or numbers this year, after hiring 37,000 last year. The retailer, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in May, is selling its business to the mall operators Simon Property Group and Brookfield Property Partners.
- Kohl’s is also hiring seasonal workers for its 1,160 stores, distribution and e-commerce fulfillment centers across the country, according to the retailer. The company isn’t giving a specific head count, but expects hiring to be comparable to previous holiday seasons, which would put it at about 90,000. It describes its wages as “competitive,” but is not providing specific figures.
- Lowe’s hired more than 10,000 workers for its home-improvement stores for the spring and summer seasons and continues to actively hire at its stores, distribution centers and supply chain facilities across the U.S. It declined to elaborate on the number of available positions or offer minimum pay rates.
- L Brands planned to hire up to 4,000 seasonal workers to bolster its distribution centers for the holidays, with pay ranging from $16.50 to $22 an hour. The holiday prep by the retailer reportedly came as the operator of the Victoria’s Secret, Pink and Bath & Body Works brands cut 850 positions in New York City and Ohio.
- Michaels Companies last month said it would hire more than 16,000 seasonal workers across its U.S. and Canada stores and distribution centers. The arts-and-crafts retailer did not respond to requests for further information including on pay.
- Sheetz is hiring more than 3,000 in a half-dozen states: Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio. The restaurant and convenience store chain needs additional staff for its more than 600 locations, as well as in its food operations, distribution services, construction and maintenance and corporate departments. Starting pay ranges from $10 to $15 an hour.
- Target is bringing on more than 130,000 seasonal workers to its nearly 1,900 stores and 43 distribution centers, on par with its holiday hiring in in 2019. Target’s starting pay is $15 an hour, up $2 from last year.
- Walmart in September said it would hire more than 20,000 seasonal workers for its e-commerce fulfillment centers across the country. The positions include order fillers and power equipment operators, with starting pay ranging from $15.75 to $23.75 an hour.