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Holiday hiring may fall short of 2012

Retailers already are hiring thousands of workers for the holiday season, but seasonal employment levels may fall short of last year’s 12-year high because of shaky consumer confidence and rising efficiency among retailers, a report released Monday showed.

Holiday hiring this year could reach the 700,000 range, but job gains may struggle to match the 751,800 seasonal workers added last year between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, according to the report from consultants Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. The 2012 holiday hiring total was up 11 percent from 679,300 extra workers the previous year and represented the largest seasonal job increase since 2000, the report said.

Holiday sales and store shopper traffic historically account for about 20 percent of annual retail activity, according to research firm ShopperTrak.

“We are actively hiring now for the holidays,” said Robert Klaben, vice president of marketing and advertising for Fairborn-based Morris Furniture Co., Inc. The company has 25 to 30 openings for permanent jobs at its 15 area stores and distribution center.

Klaben said the hiring increase is being driven by rising furniture sales, which in turn is due to the improving home sales market. The company owns and operates Morris Home Furnishings and Ashley Furniture HomeStore locations in Dayton, Springfield, Cincinnati, Columbus and Northern Kentucky.

Other Ohio retailers also expect to see higher holiday sales, but not as much of a jump as that from 2011 to 2012, said Gordon Gough, executive vice president of the Ohio Council of Retail Merchants.

“Our members, as always, are cautiously optimistic in hoping that the holiday season will be well for their sales,” Gough said. The council will release its own state holiday sales projections in November.

Major retailers such as Wal-Mart, Target and Kohl’s have announced their holiday hiring plans in recent days, with each adding thousands of sales associates and distribution center workers in advance of their peak shopping season.

Wal-Mart, the state’s largest employer, is bringing on 55,000 seasonal workers, up from 50,000 last year. Kohl’s plans to hire 53,000 holiday workers, an average of 40 per store, about the same as last year.

However, some retail chains are hiring fewer temporary workers this year. For example, Target’s projected 70,000 holiday workers is down from 88,000 last year.

“Whether it is related to increase online shopping or the shakiness in consumer confidence, the expectation that there will be fewer people in the stores could prompt some retailers to reduce the number of extra people that they will need on the sales floor,” said John A. Challenger, the consulting firm’s chief executive, in a statement.

Retailers using data analytics to better allocate their staffing resources during periods of high and low sales activity also could contribute to flat hiring numbers this year, he said.

U.S. retail sales are expected to climb less this holiday season than in recent years because consumers remain cautious about spending amid the slow economic recovery, according to a ShopperTrak report released last week. Retail sales in November and December are forecast to rise 2.4 percent, compared with increases of 3 percent in 2012, 4 percent in 2011 and 3.8 percent in 2010.

Retail store traffic is expected to drop 1.4 percent in November and December, according to ShopperTrak. Holiday shopping season traffic rose by 2.5 percent in 2012 after falling 3.1 percent in 2011.

Retailers this year have a smaller window of time to capture peak holiday spending, because only 25 days lie between “Black Friday” on Nov. 29 and Christmas, compared to 31 days in 2012. Consumers this year only have four full weekends to shop between Thanksgiving and Christmas, compared to five in 2012.

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