Christmas in September: Holiday Hiring Season Off to a Strong Start in 2019

Key Findings

  • The holiday season is critical for retail, and employers plan to hire hundreds of thousands of workers to meet consumer demand.
  • Retail job openings this year are up 4 percent compared to 2018 as the holiday hiring season kicks off, a positive sign of growing demand against the backdrop of a diminishing retail workforce and an economic expansion being propped up by consumer spending.
  • Job openings data is a powerful early indicator of employer expectations for the holiday season. Conversely, trends in employment are a lagging indicator.
  • Many retail workers transition from holiday work to full-time jobs. We list some of the companies with the highest Glassdoor ratings amongst likely holiday workers and compare their satisfaction against full-time workers.

Introduction

With the onset of fall, businesses are gearing up for the coming holiday season. The holiday season is a critical period for the retail industry, with some companies making a third of their annual revenue in the last two months of the year, according to the Census Bureau

How many workers do retailers need for the holiday season? Predicting consumer spending is an important exercise for businesses in determining how many workers they’ll need to hire to meet the surge in holiday demand. And underestimating the need to hire can lead to costly outages like in 2017, when UPS had to spend $125 million to reduce shipping delays after record-breaking Thanksgiving shopping. Several large companies like Target, Amazon and UPS have already announced their holiday hiring plans in September, opening up hundreds of thousands of job openings for seasonal workers. 

Beyond retail, the holiday season also provides insight into the strength of consumer spending and the economy overall. This holiday season in particular will be watched closely for signs of weakness. Economic growth has slowed in 2019, but consumer spending has stayed strong, propping up the economic expansion. Consumer confidence is high, but consumers’ future expectations have remained stubbornly lower as economic uncertainty increases. Additionally, the trade war between the U.S. and China continues to escalate, and each successive round of tariffs has increasingly focused on consumer goods.

In this research, we analyze what Glassdoor data has to say about the 2019 holiday hiring season so far, and what insights it reveals about the retail industry as we enter its most important time of the year.

Holiday Hiring Out-Performing in 2019

Holiday hiring levels are a signal of the strength of consumer spending—if businesses are feeling more confident about holiday spending, they’ll hire more workers to accommodate the holiday rush. As of September 9th, there are 755,208 retail job openings on Glassdoor, a 4 percent increase compared to the same period last year. A 4 percent increase represents a healthy growth rate for an industry that has seen the number of workers it employs shrink over the last 3 years.

In the chart below, we show that retail job openings on Glassdoor are climbing week-over-week at a similar rate to what we’ve seen in past years. This year’s hiring path is shown in dark blue, while past years are shown in lighter shades. This year’s growth in holiday hiring is an encouraging sign  employers are confident that consumer spending this holiday season will not be unduly affected by the slowing economy and trade war.

The chart above also provides some general insights into holiday hiring. While there is no clearly defined start date to the holiday hiring season, retail job openings generally increase through the summer, begin accelerating in early September and continue climbing until peaking in mid-October. After mid-October, job openings start falling again as employers have a better sense of how consumer spending will play out and many of their jobs are already filled.

Job Openings as an Early Indicator

Job openings can provide an earlier view than employment figures in measuring how holiday hiring is going. In particular, job openings data from Glassdoor’s Job Market Report are released two months ahead of equivalent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and can provide a near-real-time view of hiring trends.

The BLS’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) shows the same seasonal hiring trend—a steady summer increase leading to a peak in October. However, JOLTS data is only available at the monthly level and is released on a two-month lag. As a result, when holiday hiring season kicks off, the most recent JOLTS data available is from July and holiday hiring is already past its October peak by the time JOLTS is giving its first readings of the season.

While the monthly jobs report from the BLS garners the most media attention, growth in job openings offers early insight into holiday hiring that precedes retail employment figures, and avoids the end-of-summer dip that affects the employment numbers. The chart below shows online retail job openings from Glassdoor in the top pane against non-seasonally-adjusted employment from BLS in the bottom pane. While employment peaks in December, job openings peak earlier in October, as it takes time for employers to find and hire workers and employers begin closing job openings as they meet their hiring needs.

In addition to peaking earlier, job openings also avoid the drop in retail employment that occurs at the end of summer. The chart above clearly shows a small trough in employment occurring in September due to a surge in workers quitting as the summer ends. In this time period, employers are shedding more summer workers than they are adding holiday workers and the result is a conspicuous drop in employment. By contrast, job openings are still on the rise in September and can provide early signs of holiday hiring health while workers quitting at the end of summer pull down employment figures.

Glassdoor’s job openings data thus far suggests that we can expect a slightly stronger holiday hiring season this year than last. A 4 percent increase in job openings seems small but is significant when talking about hundreds of thousands of job openings, especially in the context of the last two holiday seasons, which saw shrinking employment.

More Opportunities for Job Seekers

The flood of hundreds of thousands of job openings combined with a tight labor market gives more agency to job seekers to target companies that they want to work for, rather than just picking what’s available. Many workers also use seasonal job openings as a springboard to land full-time positions after the holiday season is over, which makes it even more important that workers find a company that fits them.

Glassdoor’s unique dataset of millions of reviews and salaries can be an aid to candidates hoping to ride the holiday hiring wave. In the table below, we analyze Glassdoor ratings for some of the companies with the most holiday hiring. Ratings are broken down by the job functions that are most likely to have seasonal hiring needs—retail, customer service, sales, labor and transportation. We also split the results by part-time and full-time workers and, to quantify job satisfaction for workers looking to transition into other parts of the companies, show the average Glassdoor rating for full-time workers in other job functions.

Consumer electronics giant Best Buy ranked the highest for all 3 categories of workers, scoring 3.9 (out of 5) for part-time workers and 4.0 for full-time workers in all job functions. FedEx ranked #2 with an average rating of 3.9 for part-time workers. American Eagle Outfitters rounded out the top 3 with a score of 3.8. Notably, no single industry dominates the rankings, as companies ranging from superstore retailers to parcel shippers to beauty goods retailers are featured on this list of highly rated seasonal employers.

Table: How Culture Stacks Up Among Companies Hiring Holiday Workers

Job Function
Retail, Customer Service, Sales, Labor and Transportation Jobs All Other Jobs
Rank Employer Part-Time Full-Time Full-Time
1 Best Buy 3.9 4.0 4.0
2 FedEx 3.9 3.7 3.9
3 American Eagle Outfitters 3.8 3.6 3.6
4 H&M 3.7 3.6 3.6
5 The Home Depot 3.7 3.4 3.7
6 Amazon 3.6 3.5 3.9
7 UPS 3.6 3.5 3.5
8 Lowe’s 3.5 3.4 3.6
9 TJ Maxx 3.5 3.5 3.6
10 Kohl’s 3.5 3.7 3.9
11 DICK’S Sporting Goods 3.5 3.3 3.5
12 Ulta Beauty 3.5 3.5 3.6
13 Target 3.4 3.5 3.6
14 Michaels 3.4 3.1 3.4
15 Walgreens 3.4 2.8 3.1
16 Ross Stores 3.3 3.6 3.7
17 J. C. Penney 3.2 3.6 3.3
18 Macy’s 3.2 3.3 3.4
19 Walmart 3.2 3.2 3.3
20 Staples 3.1 3.2 3.1

Interestingly, the table above shows full-time workers aren’t always more satisfied than part-time workers. For employers like Kohl’s there is an improvement in job satisfaction when transitioning from part-time (3.5) to full-time (3.7), but for others, like Walmart, there is no difference (3.2 for part-time vs 3.2 for full-time).

Research from Glassdoor shows that differences in workplace satisfaction are usually driven more by culture & values, senior leadership and career opportunities than by compensation & benefits. The workplace culture that part-time and full-time workers experience can differ, as full-time employees spend more time in the workplace, interact with different people and departments and are given varying responsibilities. 

While the choice between part-time and full-time work is often a personal one, our data suggests that it is useful to consider whether workplace culture at potential employers is better, worse or the same for full-time and part-time employees.

Conclusion

The holiday season is vital to many businesses, from specialty retailers to parcel shippers, and these companies plan to hire hundreds of thousands of workers this year to meet holiday demand. This holiday season is also taking place against a complicated economic backdrop with many crosscurrents—consumer spending is supporting the economic expansion while the trade war may soften consumer demand; employers are squeezed between high demand for holiday workers and a historically tight labor market; and the tight labor market gives workers more agency and control over their own job choices. Glassdoor data gives us an early glimpse into how the holiday hiring season will go, and it suggests that we should expect strong growth in hiring this holiday season. 

Methodology

Our analysis is based on the Glassdoor Job Market Report dataset, which is aggregated from millions of online job postings on Glassdoor. The methodology for the Job Market Report is described here. This analysis differs from the aforementioned methodology by using a broader definition of “retail” companies to better capture companies that are likely to have a holiday hiring bump. We include traditional retail employers, specialized retailers in industries like consumer electronics, companies like Amazon that are not exclusively retail but have large exposure, and parcel shipping companies like UPS and FedEx.

The list of top companies for holiday workers was generated using the average of the overall rating from Glassdoor reviews collected between Jan 1, 2018 and Sept 23, 2019. Reviews were filtered to U.S. workers employed at the time of the review submission. We include employers in the retail industry as defined above with an additional filter to companies with over 10,000 employees. Only employers with at least 100 part-time reviews and 30 full-time reviews in affected job functions were included. Job function was determined using a proprietary Glassdoor algorithm that classifies job titles into canonical job functions.