With a healthy job market and more people buying online, the holiday hiring picture looks a little different even though retailers are expecting to add roughly the same number of temporary positions as last year.
Locally and nationally, holiday hiring for the big shopping season is expected to reach about the same level as last year — but with some crucial differences.
The nature of those jobs is shifting, with more people doing their shopping online and expecting quick deliveries.
Amazon is expected to hire 25 percent more workers this holiday season than it did last year. About one out of seven of Nordstrom and Macy’s holiday hires will be working at their e-commerce fulfillment centers.
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And, with relatively low unemployment rates, shipping companies such as United Parcel Service (UPS), FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service may have trouble filling all their holiday positions.
UPS, which anticipates hiring 90,000 to 95,000 seasonal workers nationwide this year, says it’s indeed facing a tighter labor market than in past years. In Washington state, it hopes to fill 2,400 positions.
The challenge is particularly acute locally, “given our healthy job market in the Seattle area,” said Jessica Scrace, a UPS spokeswoman.
That’s why the company is offering retention bonuses for certain positions in its Redmond and Seattle facilities for holiday hires who stay through the end of December.
Last month, it began offering retention bonuses of $3,500 to semitruck drivers, $450 to $500 to loaders/unloaders/sorters, and $500 to package drivers.
Chris Karlik, 47, of North Seattle, had been working as a theme artist, putting together things like fake rock formations for sea-lion enclosures in zoos or artificial mountains at amusement parks.
Those jobs, though, were inconsistent and often took him away from home. He decided to look for something local and more regular. He had little trouble finding a job at UPS, as the company was beginning to ramp up its holiday hiring.
“It worked out pretty well,” said Karlik, who got hired on in September to a permanent position as a loader, making a starting wage of $11 an hour.
Though he was hired too early to get the holiday retention bonus, as a permanent employee Karlik gets medical benefits and is eligible for up to $25,000 in college tuition assistance — something he hopes to take advantage of at some point to get his bachelor’s degree.
The U.S. Postal Service expects to face challenges filling holiday positions, too.
Last year, it was authorized to hire about 480 people for the holidays in the Greater Seattle area but was able to hire only 285, said Ernie Swanson, a Postal Service spokesman. This year, it’s hoping to hire 790 people locally.
Nationally, the Postal Service is hoping to hire between 25,000 and 30,000 seasonal workers.
FedEx, meanwhile, expects to add more than 55,000 seasonal positions nationwide.
The National Retail Federation expects retailers to fill between 700,000 and 750,000 seasonal positions this year — on par with last year.
(That forecast does not include positions at shipping companies such as UPS, FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service.)
The retail federation also forecasts holiday sales to increase 3.7 percent over last year to $630.5 billion.
Of those expected sales, nearly half — 46.1 percent — will be made online this year, up from 44.4 percent last year and the highest since the federation started surveying in 2006, according to a federation report.
In Washington state, retailers are expected to hire more than 15,000 workers for the holidays — just slightly more than last year, according to economists with the state’s Employment Security Department.
Most of the hiring will be in general-merchandise stores, and secondarily in clothing and clothing-accessory stores, according to the department.
“Sales growth, particularly during the holiday season, has remained steady over recent years,” Paul Turek, labor economist with the department, said in a news release. “An improving jobs picture has supported consumer spending and should lead to a positive retail season in Washington.”
Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a global outplacement consultancy, expects retailers to add about 755,000 jobs nationwide this holiday season (not including shipping-company positions) — about the same as last year and down from 786,800 in 2013.
One reason the number of holiday retail hires is forecast to remain flat, even as consumer spending is expected to rise, is that retailers already hired more people earlier in the year, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
Another reason is a shift in what and how consumers are buying.
“There’s some indication that consumer spending is moving towards more experiential sorts of directions” — restaurant outings or trips, for instance, said John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
At the same time, consumers’ move toward online shopping and expectations of ever-faster delivery mean a shift away from traditional in-store retail jobs toward jobs in warehouses, fulfillment centers and at delivery services.
That leads to a tighter market for employers looking to fill those positions.
Potential employees may be “comfortable taking a holiday seasonal job working in a store,” Challenger said. “They may say they like the store, they like customer service, but they’re not sure they’d like working in a warehouse.”
This is also the first holiday season where “we’re really seeing the whole idea of speedy delivery” — one-day or one-hour delivery, Challenger said.
“We may be moving toward more Uber and Uber-economy-type drivers and employment in years to come. And that will further take a bite out of the need for in-store personnel.”
The boom in holiday online shopping is certainly borne out in Amazon’s plans for seasonal hiring.
The online retail giant plans to add 100,000 seasonal positions — up from 80,000 last year — at its fulfillment and sortation centers across the country.
The company declined to specify how many of those seasonal jobs will be in Washington state.
Wal-Mart, meanwhile, plans to hire 60,000 seasonal workers nationwide, with some 900 — about the same as last year — working in its 68 stores in Washington state.
Nationwide, about 3,500 hires will be specifically to assist people coming into stores to pick up their orders.
Nordstrom plans to hire 11,800 seasonal workers for its Nordstrom and Nordstrom Rack stores, as well as its fulfillment centers — 1,000 more than last year.
Of those positions, 1,600, or nearly 14 percent, will be at the retailer’s e-commerce fulfillment centers, the newest of which opened in August in Elizabethtown, Pa.
In Washington, Nordstrom is planning to hire 900 seasonal workers for its stores.
Macy’s plans to hire 85,000 seasonal workers nationwide, 2,500 of those in Washington state — both about the same as last year’s figures.
About 12,000 of the seasonal hires nationwide will be working in Macy’s fulfillment centers.