Job openings and unemployment numbers edged down across the U.S. during the month of October, according to data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) this week. But retail job listings bucked the trend, jumping from 855,000 to 879,000 between September and October, suggesting that stores have struggled to fill roles to meet the holiday rush.
A search for “retail sales associate” positions on LinkedIn yielded 126,441 results from the past month alone, while Indeed boasted 509,327 total listings for such positions across its platform. In September, companies were seeking more than 227,000 retail sales associates, managers, stockers and warehouse workers, according to data from labor market analytics firm Lightcast. The number is nearly consistent with Sept, 2021, which saw 226,681 retail jobs listed, according to Aaron Sorensen, partner at Lotis Blue Consulting and head of the firm’s Business Transformation Practice.
“The economic outlook was much more optimistic than it is now” with inflation at a high and a downturn on the horizon, but the data shows those conditions haven’t pushed American workers back into retail jobs. “I don’t believe the psychology of the retail labor force is tapped into the fears of the recession just yet,” he said.
Some retailers pulled back on seasonal hiring this fall and winter in light of budget pressures, like Walmart, which signaled in September that it would hire just 40,000 workers for the holidays—73.3 percent fewer than last year. Keeping its numbers on par with the year-ago period, Target said it aimed to recruit 100,000. This week, the company’s career page indicates that many of those roles are yet unfilled. In California, the big-box store is seeking 1,761 store associates and 128 store leadership roles. There are a total of 878 open roles in Target stores in Texas, 795 in Florida, 629 in New York, 578 in Minnesota, 479 in Pennsylvania, and numbers totaling in the low hundreds across many states from East to West.
There’s strong demand for workers across the retail supply chain, but most retailers’ job listings suggest they’re especially short-staffed in stores, Sorensen said. Part of the issue stems from “the ongoing digital transformation that their businesses are still going through,” including the shift to omnichannel that has changed consumer preferences about how, and where, they transact. “This makes getting the staffing equation difficult,” he added.
With the onset of a work-from-home culture, it has become more difficult than ever to incentivize a return to physical work, Deborah Weinswig, CEO and founder at Coresight Research echoed. “Any job that’s consumer-facing” has become tougher to fill, especially when there are so many new opportunities that allow people to work from their couches, she added. Weinswig said she has also spoken to sales associates who are wary of the responsibilities associated with loss prevention, noting that physical safety is on their minds during the holidays when retail crime typically rises.
“There’s a tremendous amount of volatility right now and know one really knows what will happen to retail,” Sorensen said. “The holiday season…will offer important signals in the coming weeks and months about consumer sentiment and demand and how retailers will need to adapt.”
One thing retailers aren’t doing is raising wages to generate interest in jobs, as they did in the spring. “There will likely be some retailers who are outliers during the holiday season as they try to attract talent, but general wage increases will flatten,” Sorensen added. Across the U.S., the advertised wages for jobs increased 6 percent between October 2021 and September 2022.
There is some good news for retailers that are able to attract talent this season: they may not have as much trouble retaining workers as they have in the past. In partnership with the National Retail Federation (NRF), Lotis Blue recently surveyed 1,000 retail employees and found that that intentions to stay at retail jobs increased by 6 percent. And the trade group’s assessment of BLS retail employment data, which factors in not just store roles, but positions at corporate headquarters, distribution centers, call centers and more, suggest that the sector’s overall job growth is actually on an upswing, despite difficulties with holiday store staffing. September saw 15,821,900 employed across the retail industry, jumping to 15,829,100 in October—292,000 more than the year-ago period, according to NRF.