November 9, 2017

Should retailers hire extra holiday help?



For each of the past four years, Target has hired 70,000 temporary workers to handle its increased holiday workload – roughly the population of a mid-sized city. This year, they announced they’re upping that number to 100,000.


That’s 100,000 more people helping customers and facilitating sales, but it’s also 100,000 people to train, name tags to create, red shirts to distribute, and potential balls to be dropped.


If you think Walmart probably has a six-figure holiday worker influx of their own to deal with, think again –  Walmart has announced that for the second year in a row, they aren’t going to hire any temporary workers at all.


Walmart shoppers need not worry – there will still be additional “holiday helpers” in stores, “getting shoppers checked out faster, having more registers available and adding another layer of shopping support for customers in lines that may have forgotten items,” says Reuters.


The difference is the “holiday helpers” work at Walmart already. The corporation is giving current associates extra hours during the holiday season. Walmart said the extra hours will go to cashiers and shelf stockers, personal shoppers, and pickup associates for their online operations.


“This is the same approach we took last year, and we heard great feedback from our customers and associates,” said Walmart U.S. Chief Operating Officer Judith McKenna.


What made the retail giant decide to take the risk and buck tradition last year?Purdue University retail expert and professor of consumer sciences and retailing Richard Feinberg says it’s all about the bottom line, since more hours for existing employees is less costly than interviewing and training new hires. “Walmart increases the probability of greater profits,” he said. “For every dollar of sales Walmart makes, 4 cents are profit. For every dollar saved, Walmart makes a dollar.”


“Even trained seasonal employees are simply not as effective or productive as existing employees,” Feinberg said. “The truth is consumers do not expect high levels of “touch” customer service at Walmart. Walmart is effectively a self-service establishment. Seasonal employees may do more harm when they talk to customers than good.”


It’s true – even if seasonal hires are hard workers with unflappable smiles, seasonal hiring can negatively affect a store’s operations. The minimal training seasonal employees receive means they don’t get as much time to feel comfortable with the register or store procedures before getting thrown into customer interactions. Coupled with hurried shoppers battling larger-than-usual crowds, inefficient employees can mean holiday frustration. Experienced employees might still get overwhelmed by holiday shopping traffic, but they’re likely better equipped to handle the stress and customer requests.


For your back office, an influx of seasonal workers could lead to even bigger headaches. The holidays present more opportunity for potential loss of cash or product through errors or fraud, so your back-office employees will have to be even more careful of procedures and accountability.


Depending on the size of your retail organization, the holiday availability of your current employees and your expected increase in sales, the Walmart model of seasonal non-hiring can be a safer, more efficient way to tackle the holiday rush, especially when it comes to preventing loss.


If you’re planning to follow the traditional route of bringing on seasonal help, check out the six steps to ensuring smooth sailing for seasonal hires we posted last year – they all still apply!




Image: iStock