Retail Holiday Hiring Muted Amid Pandemic


October 7, 2020

Key Findings

  • Retail employers traditionally hire hundreds of thousands of workers for the holiday shopping season. What will that look like in an ongoing pandemic when many stores are closed or navigating restrictions and millions of Americans are unemployed?
  • Seasonal and retail job openings are each down 8 percent year-over-year, a sign that the pandemic is muting hiring demand as customers and businesses alike adjust holiday plans.
  • E-commerce jobs in demand by job seekers. Applications started on Glassdoor rose 210 percent year-over-year for warehousing and manufacturing jobs in the retail industry while applications for retail and sales roles fell 8 percent. This year is likely to feature a large shift in hiring to e-commerce.
  • Pandemic activities shift demand from clothing to sports, hobbies: Hiring for retail sectors like clothing stores are weaker even as it rises for others like sporting goods and hobby stores, reflecting consumers’ changing spending during the pandemic.

As fall begins, businesses are gearing up for the annual holiday season amid the ongoing pandemic. 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 a normal year, according to the Census Bureau. However, the pandemic complicates things, requiring businesses to plan for a holiday season where in-person shopping may be limited and job and income losses could crimp spending.

How Will the Pandemic Affect Demand for and Supply of Workers?

The ongoing pandemic has had an enormous impact on the retail industry. Some businesses have had to completely shutter while others have benefited from shifts in consumer spending and pandemic activities. The e-commerce industry, in particular, has benefited from the shift in consumer spending online, which will likely increase demand for workers in warehousing and logistics during the holidays. Conversely, brick-and-mortar retailers may have to cut back on in-store staff as they navigate health and safety precautions. Additionally, consumer spending has been supported by government relief, keeping retail spending above pre-crisis levels.

On the other side of the labor market, workers may be in surprisingly short supply for employers despite the near 8 percent unemployment. Many unemployed Americans are temporarily laid off and may be hesitant to look for a new job while they’re waiting to be recalled. Child care or health concerns may also be keeping many Americans out of the labor force. All of this suggests a tighter labor market than the headline unemployment rate implies, which may push employers to raise wages to attract workers.

Muted Job Openings as Seasonal Hiring Ramps Up

Job openings are traditionally a good early predictor of holiday season hiring. Glassdoor research from last year showed that job openings generally start rising in early September and peak in October, while employment itself doesn’t peak until December. 

In 2020, seasonal job openings on Glassdoor have been increasing like in previous years, indicating a holiday season only slightly weaker than previous years. As of September 28, 2020, seasonal job openings are down 8 percent year-over-year, but within the range we’ve seen over the last four holiday seasons. By contrast, national job openings are down 16 percent year-over-year, a sign that seasonal hiring is holding up better than hiring overall.

Another way of looking at this data is to examine retail hiring more broadly. Retail hiring as of September 28 is down 8 percent year-over-year. Some of this reflects the lower level of hiring that was occurring earlier in the year.  But since the end of July retail job openings have increased 18 percent, a healthy lift consistent with previous years.

Job Seekers Flock to E-Commerce

Job applications within the retail industry are up 36 percent year-over-year. However, job seekers are specifically targeting e-commerce roles. The number of applications started on Glassdoor for warehousing and manufacturing jobs in the retail industry rose 210 percent from the same period last year. By contrast, applications for retail and sales jobs in the retail industry dropped by 8 percent.

This reflects the consumer shift towards e-commerce and the subsequent increase in demand for workers by e-commerce employers. Where jobs go, workers will follow. This trend could also be bolstered by workers more hesitant to work in customer-facing retail or sales positions, where exposure to health risks may be higher or at least more tangible.

Change in Job Seeker Interest on Glassdoor for Retail Industry Job Openings

Occupation Group Job Title % Increase (Year-over-Year)1
Manufacturing, Operations, Warehousing & Transportation Subtotal 127%
Manufacturing and Warehousing 210%
Transportation 81%
Operations 37%
Retail, Sales & Customer Service Subtotal -8%
Business Subtotal 53%
Business 108%
Finance & Accounting 50%
Human Resources 10%
Legal 31%
Marketing 82%
Research and Technology Subtotal 7%
Total Total 36%

1Applications started in week of 9/28/2020, compared to week of 9/30/2019
Source: Glassdoor

Winners & Losers within Retail

While holiday hiring is in full swing, there are sectors within retail faring better than others. Retail spending data from the Census Bureau shows a wide divergence over the course of the crisis, with spending from February to August dropping 20 percent at clothing stores but rising 11 percent at sports, hobby and book stores. The same effect can be seen in job openings, with job openings at clothing stores down 39 percent intra-crisis but up 22 percent at sports, hobby and book stores.

Conclusion

As companies move forward with plans to hire hundreds of thousands of workers, the ongoing pandemic is reshaping the annual holiday season. Early data from Glassdoor shows retail job openings are down 8 percent year-over-year, but still rising from previous months as is typical for the holiday season. However, certain retail sectors are faring better than others. For example, a larger share of holiday hiring will likely shift from in-store sales associates to warehouse workers as online consumer spending increases. Glassdoor data gives us an early glimpse into how the holiday hiring season will go and suggests that we should expect a weaker holiday season for retail this year.

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. Data was last updated on October 5, 2020. Year-over-year comparisons use September 28, 2020 as the latest data and September 30, 2019 as the reference point for last year.

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. Additionally, we specifically identify job openings that are explicitly “seasonal” or “holiday” based on whether those terms are included in the posted job title.