Holiday hiring may go back to the dot-com boom days

Discussion
Sep 19, 2014
George Anderson

Retailers are planning to hire more than 800,000 seasonal workers for the quickly approaching holiday selling season, perhaps reaching the nearly 850,000 hired in 1999, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Retailers have been adding to their seasonal payrolls, from a recent low of around 325,000 in 2008. Total hires for the fourth quarter of 2013 came to 801,1000. That number was achieved by a dramatic increase in hiring in December when retailers added 176,500 jobs.

"The last two years saw holiday hiring return to prerecession levels," John Challenger, CEO of the outplacement firm, told CNBC. "This year, we could see hiring return to levels not seen since the height of the dot.com boom."

Retailers will be hiring more workers this year for jobs other than working on the sales floor. The increase in online purchases means companies are looking to put bodies in distribution centers and stores to handle digital orders.

A survey by Hay Group found 24 percent of retailers (compared to nine percent last year) plan to hire more seasonal staff to improve support across multiple channels. Twenty-nine percent plan to increase seasonal staffing levels in distribution centers.

Hay Group also found that retailers are looking to not only add more workers, but to improve the quality of hires for the holiday season.

"Retailers can no longer settle for point-and-sell stockers when it comes to staffing their stores," said Maryam Morse, national practice leader for Hay Group’s retail practice, in a statement. "Consumers now expect a seamless shopping experience across channels. To respond to this demand, retailers must have well-trained and nimble in-store employees who can serve as true brand ambassadors, leading customers to the point of sale, regardless of where the product resides."

How do you see retail hiring for the holidays changing? Will retailers be successful in training temporary help to become “brand ambassadors” and not just extra bodies on the sales floor during the holiday season?

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14 Comments on "Holiday hiring may go back to the dot-com boom days"


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Don Uselmann
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Don Uselmann
5 years 10 months ago

The trend reflects what is happening across many industries, from the factory floor where one may now need a college degree to operate the robotics, all the way through service industries. Technology has delivered vast amounts of information to the consumer. Consequently service businesses need to ramp up the quality and training of employees in order to add value to the transaction. Else the customer may well go it alone and perhaps to the competition. In retail, sales associates need to deliver added value to the transaction with fluency in all channels, superior product knowledge, selling skills and strong interpersonal attributes that build long-lasting, trusting relationships. Success comes through repeat business and increased share of wallet. Extra bodies simply don’t cut it.

Nikki Baird
Guest
Nikki Baird
5 years 10 months ago

I’ll tell you, I’ve seen a ton of “Hiring” signs in windows lately. They went up even before high school and college kids went back to school. So it definitely seems like something is afoot, at least in the Denver area.

While I agree that hired help needs to actually be helpful, retailers are barely good at training permanent staff, let alone temps. So from that perspective I think it’s going to be just as bad as always—untrained people faced with systems they don’t understand trying to help consumers who have more access to information and product availability on their own phones than cashiers do at the registers.

But I think there’s another big miss heading retail’s way, and that’s around the wage they’re offering. I know several independent retailers in the Colorado area, and they are complaining bitterly at the lack of quality help they can get for minimum wage.

Hint hint. That means you probably need to pay more.

Steve Montgomery
Guest
5 years 10 months ago

If retailers are going to have well trained employees “who can serve as true brand ambassadors, leading customers to the point of sale, regardless of where the product resides,” then they cannot hire 20-plus percent of them in December as was done in 2013. If they do, then they had better be employees filling non-crucial support roles (if there is such a thing during the Christmas rush) and not on the sales floor.

It takes time for employees to become familiar with the products, their location, sales policies, etc. Many holiday hires are part-time, which means their training has to fit in a relatively short time frame — perhaps enough time to know where most things are but definitely not enough to be brand ambassadors. The unfortunate news is that we have become so used to the lack of service we don’t notice it anymore. When we get great service, we are surprised, where many years ago we expected it.

Lee Peterson
Guest
5 years 10 months ago
Customer service from store employees is more important and more difficult than ever, so, MUCH more time and effort needs to be spent on training. The execution of Buy Online Pick Up In Store (BOPIS), for starters, is very poor at retail right now and it’s mostly due to design and associate service. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg for consumer expectations. The question is, “why should I go to your store?” For retailers, we’d like them to come to the store to buy more than they planned or to “feel” and fall in love with the brand and all its glory. But for consumers, the answer to that question right now is very dubious, like, “I don’t know, why should I?” Retailers need to give consumers a reason to go to stores, and customer service from associates is a HUGE factor in that equation. If retailers do a poor job of screening and hiring and just put a bunch of bodies out there, the opposite will happen: A lot of the newly-hired… Read more »
Naomi K. Shapiro
Guest
Naomi K. Shapiro
5 years 10 months ago
  1. If retailers need more help, it means they expect more in-store business, which is a good thing.
  2. Per the other comments, it seems impossible to create brand ambassadors that know, and can lead customers to the products—and that is what the customers say they want, in every survey.
  3. The comment that “we have become so used to the lack of service we don’t notice it anymore,” doesn’t speak for me. I have never become used to the lack of service and have decried its absence.
  4. This move to hire (and train, and succeed) with temporary employees, let alone with permanent employees, looks pretty “iffy” to me.
  5. Finally, if the retailers do their job of preparing the customer via omni-channel marketing, in-store creativity and effective “brand ambassadors,” they’re most of the way toward completing the sale when the customer is in the store.
Robert DiPietro
Guest
5 years 10 months ago

Retailers may be successful in hiring brand ambassadors, but what consumers want is a knowledgeable sales associate. It’s not good enough if the consumer says “that kid was great, but he didn’t know anything about the product I was trying to purchase.” Retailers’ best bet is to set the temp workers up for success by having them narrowly focused in a certain area, as they won’t spend much time training them.

Gordon Arnold
Guest
5 years 10 months ago

The current costs for a medium or large retail brick-and-mortar company to hire and effectively train a new floor associate are outrageous. This is compounded to frightening levels by the lack of confident projections that are available for forecasting needs. For the past several years retailers have been flooding the floors with associates that are permitted to more or less sink or swim on their own. This practice is putting pressures on the experienced employees that may be replaced by the more energetic new-hire temps. The result is a very low availability of associates that have even basic customer service assistance capabilities, as in an inability to disclose the store location of products, rest room facilities and store management. Some things just aren’t getting better in today’s search for profits.

Doug Fleener
Guest
5 years 10 months ago

I think there is a difference between big box/discounters holiday hiring and specialty retailers. In specialty retail they have to have way more than just “brand ambassadors,” but associates who can add value to the customer’s experience and sell more product.

The other side of the coin is that more and more of the specialty retailer’s holiday sales are compressed into about the last seven to 10 days. Difficult to have that extra payroll when you don’t need it, but the specialty retailer can ill afford not to have those trained extra employees at crunch time.

We’re advising our clients to increase their hiring, but especially focus on employees who can and will work longer hours during the vital times.

Mel Kleiman
Guest
5 years 10 months ago

As I write this 88 percent of those polled gave retailers either a D or an F when it came to having quality temporary sales help on the floor for the holiday season. I think if we ask the question about regular help we may have gotten a few more people giving a C grade. Point is, most retailers talk a great talk about having a quality workforce and customer experience but just don’t deliver.

This year is going to be no different. Most retailers will wait until the last minute before they hire, being unsure what the season will really be like. At that point they will hire anybody.

Alan Lipson
Guest
Alan Lipson
5 years 10 months ago

Robert hits on a key point. Don’t try to hire new folks and expect them to contribute at the same level as your more experienced team members.

Bring them on board with specific tasks to perform and if they are capable of taking on additional tasks, then by all means help them by giving them the proper training and tools to succeed.

By off-loading some of the tasks that are taking time away from the experienced staff, you are providing the opportunity for them to spend more time with customers.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
5 years 10 months ago

Temporary help is looked upon as just that—temporary help. So the retailers say, why put a lot of time and effort into training a person who is only going to be with us for less than a month in most cases? They are used for the mundane and other jobs that are time fillers for the full time people during slower times.

I would hope the future is brighter and reflects a more abundant full-time hiring program as we move forward.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
5 years 10 months ago

To be brutally honest, I believe the vast majority of challenges at the physical store level during the holidays still very much center around the perennial problems of out-of-stock conditions. We routinely survey stores with 30-plus percent out-of-stock in key categories during peak traffic times. It’s important to have as much training as possible to help advance the “brand ambassador” capability, however too many retailers still fall short of successfully keeping their shelves stocked properly. That should remain the first priority.

Gajendra Ratnavel
Guest
5 years 10 months ago

This is exciting news for everyone. More jobs!

What I would really like to see is retailers put more resources and thought into what to do with all those bodies. Training is great, but I think there needs to be more innovations in this area to help the sales agents on the floor.

Technology can play a big role in this. Tablet sales assistance for example.

Shoppers are armed with much more information now than ever before, it might require vertical specialists to properly handle the customers of today.

We’ve developed interactive, two way video/voice communication terminals that customers can use in physical retail locations, similar to how you would use online chat for online shopping, that connects a customer to the brand. This reduces some pressure on the sales agent in cases where they need an expert on a particular brand or product.

What are retailers doing to make these bodies be more efficient and provide better service? Just more bodies is not going to help the problem.

Alexander Rink
Guest
5 years 10 months ago

I don’t see a silver bullet here. Retailers may hire more seasonal workers than last year, but unless a retailer makes a longer term strategic commitment to service levels, I don’t see them improving significantly in one year.

There are certainly gains that can be made in one year, but there needs to be an underlying commitment to continuous improvement in this area for it to really take hold. It’s like a diet: anyone can go on a crash diet and lose a few pounds, but true healthy eating and weight loss is only achieved by being committed to it, day in and day out, for years.

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