Sep 26, 2022 - Economy

Holiday hiring slows down: Retailers adding fewer seasonal jobs

Illustration of Christmas lights forming a downward trending arrow.

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Retailers are approaching holiday hiring with caution, adding fewer temporary workers than last year as they brace for a smaller bump from this year's shopping season.

Why it matters: At least half a million people relied on seasonal retail jobs in 2021, according to the National Retail Federation.

Driving the news: Several retailers have already said they're pulling back:

  • Walmart will hire 40,000 temporary workers, down from 150,000 in 2021.
  • Macy's said Monday it plans to hire 41,000, down from 76,000 in 2021.
  • Dick's said Monday it plans to hire 9,000, down from 10,000 in 2021.

The big picture: The economy is rebalancing, as consumers are shifting their spending from physical goods to more services, including travel and entertainment, after binge-shopping earlier in the pandemic. Plus, inflation is dampening shoppers' enthusiasm.

  • Deloitte projected that overall holiday retail sales will grow by 4% to 6% in 2022, down from an increase of 15.1% in 2021.
  • It's not just in-store sales. Retailers are not expected to enjoy the same sort of robust online sales growth they enjoyed in 2020 and 2021, meaning they're less desperate to hire warehouse and distribution staff.
  • "Retailers are a lot more cautious," Neil Saunders, managing director at GlobalData, tells Axios. "That’s really because the demand environment isn’t as robust as last year."

Yes, but: In some cases, stores have a fuller roster of full-time staff this year, lessening their need to bring on part-time help, Saunders says.

  • "Retailers are in a very different position," he says. "[They're] saying ... we don't necessarily have the recruitment crunch that we had last year, and we can actually afford to be a bit more cautious in our hiring."

Meanwhile, Walmart said in a statement last week to Axios' Kelly Tyko that its “staffing is stronger heading into this holiday season than it was last year.”

  • The company reported approximately 1.7 million associates in the U.S. at the end of January, up from 1.6 million the year before, according to SEC filings. The share of workers with full-time jobs increased five percentage points to 69%.

Worth noting: For seasonal workers who do get jobs at retailers this year, the perks are expected to be fewer than in 2021, when retailers were dishing out bonuses to lure workers amid widespread labor shortages.

  • “They might try to keep a leaner ship and then try to make more adjustments on the fly, rather than overshoot, promise wage increases, promise big signing bonuses — and then fall short if indeed the holiday season isn’t as hot as they may hope,” Alan Benson, a labor professor at the University of Minnesota, told Marketplace.
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