Exclusive-US retailer holiday hiring to drop to levels last seen in 2008

By Siddharth Cavale

NEW YORK (Reuters) -U.S. retailers will hire the lowest number of seasonal workers for this holiday season since 2008, due to increased labor costs and shaky consumer confidence, according to a report by Challenger, Gray & Christmas provided exclusively to Reuters.

Retailers are expected to add just 410,000 seasonal jobs this season, according to an analysis of nonseasonally adjusted data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) by the global outplacement and executive coaching firm. That is just slightly above the 324,900 workers they added during the last quarter of the financial recession of 2008.

U.S. retailers added 519,400 jobs in the last quarter of 2022, a 26% decline from the same period in 2021.

Holiday sales are estimated to grow at their slowest pace in five years as dwindling household savings and worries over the economy prompt consumers to spend judiciously, according to Deloitte.

Employers are already showing signs of hesitancy in hiring as the labor market starts to cool following a three-year period of tightness.

U.S.-based companies have so far announced just 8,000 planned hires for the holiday season, compared with the 258,201 planned hires announced by employers by this point in 2022, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas’ tracking.

“We have never gone this far into September and not had big hiring predictions from retailers,” said Andrew Challenger, senior vice president at Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “It’s really surprising”, he said adding that it signals uncertainty and lower seasonal hiring trends this year.

The Challenger review does not include all retail companies. It did not include U.S. grocery chain Kroger, which said it plans to hire “thousands” of seasonal workers, and Bath & Body Works, which it does not track.

Challenger said it will include Kroger in an updated version of the report in the coming days once more retailers make announcements. Still, the current seasonal hiring announcements remain far short of what was seen at this time in 2022.

1-800-Flowers.com on Thursday said it plans to hire more than 8,000 seasonal workers across its family of brands, including Harry & David and The Popcorn Factory.

The gifting company is seeking to fill positions in “critical areas” such as production and gift assembly, contact center, distribution, and fulfillment center operations. The majority of roles will be offered in cities like Atlanta and in the states of Illinois, Ohio, and Oregon, it said.

Bath & Body Works said it would offer flexible work hours, a $500 associate referral bonus and a 40% store-wide discount to the 2,500 seasonal employees it is looking to hire at its four Ohio-based distribution centers.

The roles it seeks to fill include merchandise processors, merchandise handlers, outbound loaders and high-lift operators, the company told Reuters.

The retailer – which sells soaps, body lotions and candles – plans to hire about 30,000 seasonal sales associates for its United States and Canada stores, the same as last year, the company added.

“All of the roles are seasonal with the potential for longer-term employment,” a spokesperson said.

U.S. grocery chain Kroger Co said it would hire “thousands” of workers for the holidays, which traditionally begins on Thanksgiving and ends on Christmas day, but has been starting earlier every year. The company, which is in the midst of a merger with Albertsons Inc that could add even more staff, did not disclose a number on the holiday staff it would hire.

The retailer is looking to fill positions in areas including retail, e-commerce, manufacturing, supply chain and healthcare.

(Reporting by Siddharth Cavale in New YorkEditing by Matthew Lewis and Deepa Babington)