A Wal-Mart store

Retailers are adding more workers to their payrolls for the holidays, but the gains are roughly in-line with last year.

Chains are trying to contain costs since competition for workers has forced them to pay more, just as they focus on transforming their businesses to serve shoppers digitally and in their stores.

Judith McKenna, chief operating officer of Wal-Mart’s U.S. division, said Thursday the retailer would offer its workers more hours and bring on board 60,000 seasonal associates, with a starting rate of at least $9 an hour. The additional headcount is in line with what the company planned to add for the holidays last year.

Wal-Mart will have more associates in our stores working more hours this season, all with a focus on providing service and convenience to our customers,” she said.

McKenna said the discount chain was adding department managers in more than 3,500 of its 4,588 of its stores to serve customers collecting online orders.

“We want to help people pick up their order and get back to the rest of their day as quickly as we can,” she said.

More than half of the workers who joined Wal-Mart on a seasonal basis last year stayed on in permanent roles. The discount chain drew sales of $288 billion last year and, together with its corporate sibling Sam’s Club, employs about 1.4 million in the U.S.

Elsewhere in retail, Target Corp. is planning to bring on 70,000 workers, the same as last year, and Kohl’s Corp. is hiring 69,000 seasonal workers this year, up slightly from the 67,000 it targeted a year ago.

Kohl’s seasonal additions average out to 50 associates per store, plus 9,500 seasonal workers at distribution and e-commerce fulfillment centers and another 660 in the company’s credit operations.

Overall, retail hiring for the holidays will be on par with a year ago, said Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc.

“Once again, most analysts are anticipating healthy holiday sales this year,” said John Challenger, chief executive officer of the outplacement firm. “However, there are several factors that may prevent these strong sales expectations from translating into increased hiring. For one, we have seen increased hiring earlier in the year, which may preclude the need for a lot of extra hiring as the holidays approach.”

All together, the firm projected seasonal employment gains of about 755,000 over the last three months of the year. That’s down 4 percent from 786,800 two years ago — the best year for seasonally hiring since 1999, when the sector added 850,000 workers.

“Changes in the way consumers shop are making it possible for stores to meet increased holiday demand with fewer extra workers,” Challenger said. “When retailers do add holiday workers, fewer of those jobs are in traditional spots, such as sales clerk or cashier.”

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