NEW YORK — Retailers are hiring holiday workers later in the season and taking on fewer of the part-time employees compared with previous years.
Analysts and consultants said the reason is that retailers are fretting over rising operating costs in a soft sales environment.
“There are concerns,” said John Challenger, chief executive officer of consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “Retail in particular is essential to the shopping season, but from what it looks like, many will be very cautious this year.”
Challenger said firms are keeping a closer eye on margins, operating costs and sales trends.
“The state of hiring reflects the state of the economy,” said Emanuel Weintraub, founder of Weintraub Associates. “With everyone watching the bottom line, hiring will be done, but only after every last expense is taken into consideration.”
Tim Lyons, senior public relations manager for J.C. Penney Stores, said the company is staffing up for the holidays. “We are looking mainly for restocking and replenishing the sales floors,” he said. “We know it’s peak season, and every store is looking to add help.”
Meanwhile, Sears, Roebuck & Co. said it has been hiring on a store-by-store basis. This year, the company initiated a more aggressive approach early on in the season, reaching out to 45,000 retired Sears employees. Its plan was to hire early and hire more.
Hoping to cover all levels of customer service, Sears began hiring early in October as a way to better train associates.
Other retailers have augmented their ranks with seasonal workers, but consumers may not notice the extra help because the part-timers are typically scheduled only during high-traffic times, such as a few evening hours and on the weekends.
As a result, analysts are saying this year will go down as one of the more lackluster in terms of seasonal hiring. For shoppers, a dearth of sales associates can be irritating.
“Our research shows consumers complaining of long lines,” said Britt Beemer of America’s Research group. “Retailers might have geared up for the season, but staffing is much lower than years past.”
For those looking for work, it’s a “buyers market.” With job-seekers outnumbering seasonal openings, very little recruiting is needed by the larger companies. Retailers such as Target and J.C. Penney can reach people on short notice and staff up quickly through online job postings.
And while it’s too early to determine a retention rate of those hired as seasonal help, some retailers intend to keep some of these workers into the new year.
“From an employers’ view, they can watch and see who the best of the winter seasonal hires were,” Challenger explained. “It’s at their discretion who they keep on board after the holidays.”
A strong holiday shopping season is what the economy needs right now, analysts said. Strong sales into January may provide a lift for retailers and help to retain some of the temporary staff that was brought on board.