Seasonal Hiring to Be Flat This Year Even As More Stores Open Thanksgiving

Oct 15, 2013

Seasona hiring 1999-2012Seasonal hiring is likely to be flat this year, as retailers worry that consumers will keep a tighter check on their spending than they did last year.

After driving up housing prices and springing for such big-ticket items as new cars, consumers tightened up their back-to-school buying, making this year the worst since 2009. Forecasts are that holiday spending will increase only 2.4% in the next two months compared to last year.

In addition, there are six fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year. Chanukah, the Jewish holiday of lights, which includes eight days of gift-giving, especially for children, begins the day before Thanksgiving, weeks earlier than usual, potentially weakening some sales.

Global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, says the outlook for seasonal hiring this year is good, but not great. The firm says retailers “are likely to at best match the level of hiring that occurred in October, November, and December 2012.” The 751,800 seasonal help hired by retailers during that period last year was the largest number since 2000, the firm reported.

“There are several factors that could keep holiday hiring from reaching last year’s level.  While, the economy and job market are improving, it has now been four years since the recession officially ended and millions of Americans are still unemployed or underemployed.  As a result, consumers remain uneasy, which is evidenced by wide monthly mood swings in confidence surveys,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

To get a jump on the holiday buying, several of the nation’s largest retailers will open Thanksgiving night. This week, Macy’s became the latest retailer to announce it will open at 8 Thanksgiving night ending a 155-year tradition to close its stores on the fourth Thursday of November. Macy’s joins Toys R Us, Target, Wal-Mart, Sears and Kmart in launching Black Friday shopping on Thursday.

The trend toward earlier and earlier openings on the day after Thanksgiving,  for what is the busiest retail shopping day of the year, started with dawn openings, then moved to  pre-dawn, and then to midnight. Deep discounts and loss-leaders brought out crowds of shoppers, who would line up hours in advance.

In 2011, Toys R Us pushed the opening to Thursday night. Following its lead, other retailers quickly did the same. So rapidly has this trend grown that next year, the Society for Human Resource Management predicts the number of businesses opening on Thanksgiving 2014 will grow five-fold.

2014 federal holiday surveyFor the last few years, SHRM has surveyed its members about the holidays and paid time off employees will enjoy in the year ahead. Last year, SHRM’s survey of some 565 businesses found 99% of them expected to be closed on Thanksgiving Day 2013.  On the day after, 71% expected to be closed.

This year’s survey says 5% of  employers expect to open Thanksgiving 2014. About 1% will close early that day, leaving 94% to observe a traditional day off. Black Friday 2014, will see 66% of the employers open; 32% will give their employees the day off.

Is this really evidence of the retail trend toward holiday openings or just a statistical quirk? SHRM’s annual days off survey typically has some variability in the percentages of employers closing or opening on the nation’s religious and secular holidays. However, looking back over the surveys, the shift for Thanksgiving openings has been fairly small; not more than a single percentage point. That is until this year’s survey, which was conducted over the summer.

The survey asked about other holidays, including the total number of paid holidays employers provide for workers. According to SHRM, 78% of employers provide 6-10 paid holidays for full-timers, while 41% offer that many for their part-timers.

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