Stores lur­ing hol­i­day work­ers with perks

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Anne D’In­no­cen­zio AP Re­tail Writer

Re­tail­ers are dan­gling perks like higher pay to lure tem­po­rary hol­i­day work­ers in a tighter la­bor mar­ket.

NEW YORK >> Re­tail­ers are dan­gling perks like higher pay, ex­tra dis­counts and more flex­i­ble sched­ules to lure tem­po­rary hol­i­day work­ers in a tighter la­bor mar­ket.

They’re also more de­ter­mined to lock in their work­ers ear­lier. Macy’s and Tar­get are hold­ing their first na­tion­wide re­cruit­ment fairs, and oth­ers like con­sumer elec­tron­ics chain Hh­gregg Inc. are mak­ing it eas­ier to ap­ply for tem­po­rary hol­i­day jobs via mo­bile de­vices.

“It’s a scram­ble for peo­ple, and we have to get cre­ative,” said Hari Pil­lai, CEO of Speed Com­merce, which plans to hire about 450 work­ers at its ware­houses and call cen­ters this sea­son for clients in­clud­ing Yan­kee Can­dle. That’s a 50 per­cent in­crease over last year. Pil­lai noted that he in­creased pay by 20 per­cent to 25 per­cent in tight la­bor ar­eas like Ohio.

Some com­pa­nies are also widen­ing their stan­dards. Sig­nif­i­cantly more com­pa­nies said they would be more will­ing to hire tem­po­rary work­ers with crim­i­nal back­grounds than two years ago, ac­cord­ing to job list­ing site Sna­ga­job.com.

“It’s re­flect­ing that peo­ple have changed their views on what’s good enough,” said CEO Peter Har­ri­son.

Har­ri­son also noted that many of his re­tail clients, which in­clude com­pa­nies like arts and crafts re­tailer The Michaels Cos. and Tar­get Corp., want to have their hol­i­day hir­ing done by the end of Oc­to­ber. In the past, it was com­plete by early Novem­ber.

Gov­ern­ment fig­ures show that 2.5 mil­lion more Amer­i­cans have jobs as of Au­gust com­pared to a year ear­lier. The un­em­ploy­ment rate is 4.9 per­cent, lower than the 5.1 per­cent a year ago.

Hir­ing for the fi­nal three months of the year should be level with last year, when re­tail­ers added about 738,800 seasonal work­ers, said John Chal­lenger, chief ex­ec­u­tive of work­place con­sul­tant Chal­lenger, Gray & Christ­mas. That was down 1.4 per­cent from the year be­fore.

But while the over­all num­ber of jobs for seasonal work­ers looks to be flat, the big­gest growth area in re­cent years has been in trans­porta­tion and ware­house jobs be­cause of the in­crease in on­line shop­ping. Trans­porta­tion and ware­house

em­ploy­ment in­creased by a non-sea­son­ally ad­justed 200,500 work­ers in Novem­ber and De­cem­ber last year. Ten years ago, the seasonal job gains for that sec­tor mea­sured just 42,400, ac­cord­ing to Chal­lenger’s anal­y­sis.

Deloitte ex­pects hol­i­day sales, for the Novem­ber-through-Jan­uary pe­riod, to in­crease 3.6 per­cent to 4 per­cent, ex­ceed­ing a tril­lion dol­lars. That would com­pare to 3.6 per­cent growth

last year. And e-com­merce busi­ness is fore­cast to rise 17 per­cent to 19 per­cent, pos­si­bly reach­ing $98 bil­lion for the hol­i­day sea­son.

But find­ing the right work­ers for the sea­son is crit­i­cal. Hav­ing a bad cus­tomer ser­vice ex­pe­ri­ence dur­ing hol­i­day shop­ping is much worse than hav­ing one the rest of the year, says Kevon Hills, vice pres­i­dent of re­search at Stella-Ser­vice, a cus­tomer ser­vice an­a­lyt­ics com­pany.

“No mat­ter what tech­nol­ogy you use, or tools or prod­uct, at the heart of the cus­tomer ser­vice is the peo­ple — whether it’s on­line or

in the store,” he said.

Hills noted that re­tail­ers have im­proved their re­sponse time in re­cent years. For ex­am­ple, last hol­i­day sea­son, it took 49 sec­onds from the first ring to when a cus­tomer ser­vice rep­re­sen­ta­tive an­swers, com­pared to 71 sec­onds dur­ing the hol­i­day 2013 sea­son, he said.

One of the big­gest in­cen­tives for work­ers, of course, is pay. Toys R Us, which is hir­ing 10,900 seasonal work­ers in five of its big­gest mar­kets, said it’s rais­ing the pay in cer­tain ar­eas. Also new this year: Bet­ter com­pen­sa­tion for those

who work Christ­mas Eve, ac­cord­ing to Alyssa Peera, a spokes­woman at the toy re­tailer. Tra­di­tion­ally, work­ers were given in­creased pay on Thanks­giv­ing. Tem­po­rary work­ers will also get ad­di­tional dis­counts and be treated to spe­cial af­ter hour events.

But flex­i­bil­ity is a big draw, too, as stores aim to be more com­pet­i­tive with com­pa­nies like ride-shar­ing provider Uber. Pil­lai says that a few years ago, peo­ple who wanted to work just 10 hours a week had a hard time get­ting hol­i­day jobs. But now, he said, “We will find a role.”

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Store man­ager Christina Whitt, left, jokes with cus­tomer Kelly Sten­house, at right, on Sept. 30 at a Toys R Us store in San Jose, Calif. Whitt and work­ers Mitzi Solorio, back­ground left, and Crys­tal Gomez, back­ground right, are all for­mer seasonal em­ploy­ees now work­ing full time for the chain.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Mitzi Solorio, a for­mer seasonal em­ployee now work­ing full time, helps out a cus­tomer at a Toys R Us store in San Jose, Calif., on Sept. 30.

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