Holiday hiring off to strong start despite retail woes

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Retailers are showing early signs that seasonal hiring for the holidays will accelerate this year, even as much of the industry struggles to find sales growth.

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Michaels (MIK) offered a positive outlook for the critical holiday season when it announced plans to hire 15,000 workers for its stores and distribution centers. Williams-Sonoma (WSM), 1-800-Flowers.com (FLWS) and Plow & Hearth were also among the first retailers to disclose hiring plans.

Target (TGT) was the first large-scale retailer to kick off the holiday season, and it didn’t disappoint. The Minneapolis-based company said it expects to hire 100,000 seasonal employees, in addition to 4,500 people who will staff distribution and fulfillment centers. That’s a 35% increase over last year, when Target hired 70,000 store workers and 7,500 warehouse employees.

John Challenger, CEO of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, said the initial hiring plans show that retailers still need workers for customer-facing positions amid continued growth in online shopping. He also noted that while some retailers may need fewer in-store workers, companies need more warehouse and transport workers to handle e-commerce orders.

“The competition among major big-box retailers will incentivize consumers to spend more this holiday season. These stores will need to add staff in order to meet demand,” Challenger said in a report published Thursday.

Seasonal retail employment grew 641,000 during the final three months of 2016, a 9.6% decline year-over-year and the lowest number since 2009, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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Retailers have revealed over 6,000 store closures and 67,000 job cuts through the first eight months of this year, according to Challenger. But the firm said retailers planned to add 248,000 jobs throughout 2017, more than any other industry. Summer hiring by Home Depot (HD) and an announcement by Walmart (WMT) earlier this year lifted expectations heading into the holiday season.

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