Seasonal Hiring Expected To Hang On, Thanks To Jumps In Online Buying

Nov 24, 2017

Americans say they plan to spend more money online than in stores this holiday shopping season, according to a survey of 4,000 consumers released this week by Deloitte research.

The survey found 51 percent of shoppers planned to make purchases online compared to 42 percent who expected to spend their money at stores.

Cait Lamberton, associate professor of marketing at the University of Pittsburgh, said there is still a way for smaller mom-and-pop businesses to thrive, despite the dominance of e-commerce giants like Amazon.

"Many people want to affirm their local community, in part, because the rest of the world feels so tumultuous and chaotic," she said. "So if these smaller retailers can take advantage of that sentiment, they have a real opportunity."

Local businesses can offer unique items not found online and make personal recommendations to shoppers who are unsure about what gifts to buy family and friends, she said.

E-commerce in general has transformed the retail industry, said Andrew Challenger, vice president of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an outplacement and career transitioning firm in Chicago.

He told WBUR's Robin Young that holiday hiring is likely to be very strong in 2017, despite the closure of more than 6,000 brick and mortar stores this year.

"We always see a really big spike in employment in retail during the last couple of months of the year," he said. "It does look like this spike might be slightly down from what we've seen last year or last couple of years, but overall hiring in the sector has actually been pretty good."

Many of those jobs stem from fulfillment and delivery of online sales. Struggling retailers like Macy's are trying to get shoppers into their stores, Lamberton said, by offering more doorbuster specials and extending sales beyond Black Friday.

"It's very easy to pull up someone's Christmas list online," she said. "It's linked to Amazon, we can pay easily because we have a Prime account and delivery will come on time."

Amazon, which leases warehouse space in Pittsburgh, is expected to hire 120,000 seasonal workers nationwide this year. Shipping giants U.P.S. announced they'd look for 95,000 temporary employees and FedEx promised 50,000. Box stores Target and Macy's wanted 100,000 and 18,000, respectively.

According to the Challenger report, holiday hiring for e-commerce retail has risen ten-fold over the past decade — from 24,300 in 2007 to 228,400 in 2016, which was an 8 percent increase over the previous year. U.S. unemployment is holding at about 4.1 percent.

90.5 WESA's Maria Scapellato contributed to this report.