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Retailers offering higher pay, more perks to attract holiday workers

“A lot of new jobs are coming from e-commerce, which means retailers are competing for a very similar employee: Someone who works in a warehouse, who can sometimes operate heavy machinery,” said Andy Challenger, a vice president at job placement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “They are competing for a smaller group of people, which drives up wages.”

Even with 7.9 percent unemployment — more than double the U.S. rate last year — retailers are raising wages to attract qualified workers. Walmart, Target and Best Buy have all boosted their hourly minimums to $15. Craft chain Hobby Lobby now starts full-timers at $17 an hour after employee backlash for keeping its stores and distribution center open at the beginning of the pandemic.

Ashley Wilemon, a Hobby Lobby spokeswoman, declined to comment. A statement from chief executive David Green said the company was “very happy” to provide pay increases, noting the “many challenges” employees have faced this year.

Retailers have been slow to announce their holiday hiring plans as they wait to gauge consumer demand amid an uncertain holiday season. But recent announcements by some of the country’s largest chains show just how quickly retail jobs are changing.

Target, which plans to hire 130,000 seasonal workers, says it’s doubling the number of employees dedicated to curbside pickup. It also is expanding staff at distribution centers, and boosting the number of greeters and others who will focus on safety and cleaning. Walmart plans to add 20,000 workers to its fulfillment centers, while Amazon is hiring more than 100,000.

Mathieu Stevenson, chief executive of Snag, which helps companies such as Macy’s and Best Buy find hourly workers, said he has been advising major retailers to raise wages. Postings for warehouse and logistics jobs are up nearly sixfold since the beginning of the pandemic, he said, while retail jobs are down 14 percent.

“There’s been a discernible change in the last few weeks, with many of our largest clients augmenting their starting wages,” he said. “A lot of our clients have been caught off guard by the tightness of the labor market.”

Retailers are also creating new roles to keep up with coronavirus protocols, by hiring employees dedicated to such tasks as managing customer traffic, sanitizing shelves and checking temperatures at the door. Companies typically fill about three-fourths of seasonal openings by October, but hiring this year could continue into the first half of December, he and others said.

“There is so much uncertainty this year — with unemployment high, government stimulus dwindling, the fact that consumers have less money in their pockets — it’s hard to predict what sales will look like,” Challenger said. “Companies are waiting to see what will happen.”

The number of people looking for seasonal work on Indeed is down 38 percent from last year, according to AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist for the jobs site. She attributed the decline to multiple factors, including fears of getting sick and lack of child-care options. Meanwhile, searches for work-from-home jobs and remote positions have grown rapidly during the pandemic.

Retailers are beginning to take note: Gap this month said it plans to hire seasonal workers to handle customer service calls remotely during the holidays. The company also is looking for temporary workers to fill online orders and manage its growing curbside pickup business, though it did not disclose how much it plans to pay for those jobs. Gap, which also owns Old Navy, Banana Republic and Athleta, has moved its application process online and is offering perks such as flexible hours, discounted flu shots and backup child care to stay competitive.

The public health crisis has forced companies of all sizes to make sweeping changes to their workforces. The nation’s largest retailers have been steadily recruiting workers to keep up with online demand. Amazon, for example, has already added than 200,000 temporary workers, many of whom have been hired permanently, during the pandemic.

Matt, who works at an Amazon warehouse in Virginia, was hired as a seasonal employee in July. Three days in, he was brought on full time.

He makes $15 an hour, which he says is more than what he made after 12 years at Walmart. The nature of his job is much different too: Instead of helping shoppers, he drives a forklift around the warehouse for 10 hours a night.

The best part of his new job: “No customers,” said Matt, who lives in Virginia and asked to be identified by just his first name because he signed a nondisclosure agreement at Amazon. “It’s a warehouse so [you] don’t have to sell anything. Just pick and go.”

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