Retail hiring jobs shift to warehouses, back offices during holiday season

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Lashanda Hussey, a site to store layaway associate at the Walmart in Cockeysville, works in the pickup location of the store. For the first time, Walmart is hiring managers specifically to oversee the Walmart Pickup departments, as more and more consumers shop online or mobile and want pickup in stores, sometimes on the same day.

Besides the extra cashiers and stockers Wal-Mart is hiring for the holidays, the nation's largest retailer has a new seasonal job: manager of store pickups.

For the first time, the giant chain will hire managers who will ensure that all runs smoothly for shoppers retrieving online orders at its stores.


The new jobs coming to about 3,500 Wal-Marts are part of a shift in retail hiring this season that reflects increasing online shopping by consumers. While store associates on sales floors still make up the bulk of the holiday hires, more and more seasonal hiring is shifting into warehouses and back offices, experts said.

The rise of online shopping, mobile technology and concerns about cybersecurity all are shaping the nature of holiday jobs, said Chicago-based outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. Other trends at play include one-hour delivery experiments by Amazon and Google and a need for more warehouse workers at traditional retailers.


"The trend is really making itself evident this holiday season," said Andy Challenger, a vice president at Challenger Gray. "Companies are moving away from brick-and-mortar sales operations. It just happens [that] during the holiday season we see a spike in it."

That's because the last two months of the year are expected to account for about a fifth of the retail industry's $3.2 trillion annual sales, according to the National Retail Federation.

This year, nearly half the shopping — including browsing as well as buying — will be done online, according to a recent survey by the trade group. Consumers said 46 percent of shopping will be online, up from 44 percent last year. And more than 21 percent of smartphone owners will use the device to buy gifts — the highest share since the retail group first asked in 2011.

Online sales in November and December are expected to grow faster than overall sales this year compared with last, climbing by 6 percent to 8 percent to $105 billion. By contrast, overall sales likely will rise 3.7 percent to $630 billion, which includes online, the trade group estimates.

Retailers are in the midst of hiring between 700,000 and 750,000 seasonal workers to handle the surge in business, the retail federation said in its forecast. That's in line with the 714,000 people hired for temporary jobs last year but below the peak number of 765,000 in 2013. The Challenger firm also expects overall holiday hiring to remain even with last year, largely because hiring has been strong throughout much of the year.

Another forecast, by CareerBuilder, found that 53 percent of retailers said they plan to hire seasonal workers in the fourth quarter, up from 43 percent last year. Some of the hiring started as early as September.

In an announcement in September, Wal-Mart said it would hire new managers to oversee store pickup departments. Overall, the discounter is hiring 60,000 seasonal workers, including 555 in Maryland.

"More and more of our customers are becoming mobile customers, and blending between a desktop, phone and stores, and shopping all three," said John Forrest Ales, a Wal-Mart spokesman. "We have an aggressive focus on operating clean, fast and friendly stores, and there are a number of things we're doing and new services to improve customer service, and this is a natural fit for that."


Kohl's is hiring 9,500 workers for the retailer's fulfillment and distribution centers, up slightly from the 9,300 hired for those jobs last year. Of those, about 2,000 seasonal workers will be hired over the next several months to supplement the workforce at its e-commerce fulfillment center in Edgewood in Harford County, said Maggie Lund, a Kohl's spokeswoman.

"Every holiday season, we evaluate each area of business to ensure we meet the needs of our customers," said Lund, who said overall hiring is expected to increase. "Kohl's continues to experience growth in e-commerce. By hiring additional associates at our distribution centers, we will be well positioned for the holiday season."

In Maryland, where Kohl's has 23 stores, the retailer plans to hire 50 people per store, part of the overall goal of more than 69,000 seasonal store workers. Freight processors and customer service reps will be out on the sales floors while other workers will staff registers. Yet some will have behind-the-scenes jobs, helping to fulfill orders that ship from stores to customers, while others will be dedicated to the retailer's buy online, pick up in store program.

Amazon, which opened a 1 million-square-foot warehouse on Broening Highway in March, said last week it's creating 100,000 seasonal positions at its fulfillment and sorting centers across the United States, an increase over last year to meet growing demand. The online seller also has spent recent months hiring 25,000 regular, full-time workers. In Baltimore, the online giant employs more than 3,000 workers and is adding thousands more jobs for the holiday push — workers who will pick, pack and ship customer orders, said Aaron Toso, a spokesman.

Berlin, Md.-based South Moon Under, which bills itself as a "fashion-forward" men's and women's apparel chain, boosts its hiring for the holidays at stores and at its e-commerce distribution center, said Gage Lester, vice president of sales.

"It's a busy time for us, regardless of the channel," Lester said. "The e-commerce has grown and continues to grow, and I don't see that stopping anytime soon."


Over the past several years, the number of employees involved with e-commerce and communicating with customers through social media channels has grown. But at holiday time, the need at the retailer's 24 stores is still as great.

"All of our stores have extended hours, so there is a need for people," Lester said. "People still expect top-notch customer service, and we need enough people to deliver that."

Challenger says hiring still is concentrated in stores, because that's where most sales happen.

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"But it's moving away from that," to online sellers such as Amazon or the websites of traditional department stores and others retailers, he said. "A lot of jobs are moving toward shipping and the logistics side of the operations."

As mobile technology has become one of the biggest influences on how people shop, retailers are investing in mobile app development and marketing programs, creating jobs for app designers and marketing experts.

Workers with skills in data processing, analytics and big data also are expected to be in demand, Challenger says, as more retailers add back-office jobs in retail information technology and work to target consumers by harnessing data.


Both Amazon and Google are expected to ramp up hiring of delivery people to meet demand, partly from new experiments in one-hour delivery. Other opportunities likely will be available for independent delivery services that can help brick-and-mortar stores compete.

Even with all the changes, jobs for store associates are not going away, Challenger said.

"Some people like to do their holiday shopping in person and see displays and have someone sell to them," he said. "But as the next generation of holiday spender moves to the forefront, this is a generation that's more comfortable purchasing online."