NEW YORK, NRF ,

A national survey commissioned by Kronos Incorporated finds that 1 in 3 retail stores may have been understaffed for the 2019 holiday season, as only 33% of retail hiring managers claim they had adequate headcount to consistently meet shopper demand.

The “2019 Retail Holiday Hiring Pulse Survey” was conducted online by The Harris Poll on behalf of Kronos from Dec. 19, 2019 to Jan. 6, 2020 among 300 U.S. retail hiring managers* – 94% of whom admitted their company faced hiring challenges around the 2019 holiday season. The study reveals seasonal hiring trends to watch in 2020 and suggests that, faced with fierce competition to attract high-performing talent within a tight job market, recruitment strategies in retail must evolve.

News Facts

  • Despite best efforts to recruit seasonal staff, only around 1 in 3 retail hiring managers deemed their stores fully prepared for the holiday season.
    • Today’s employees often demand flexibility, stability, and independence, and retailers did their best to deliver: 62% of retail hiring managers said their store(s) offered seasonal workers flexible schedules to attract seasonal applicants and 43% enabled staff to easily swap shifts with a co-worker. However, only 39% guaranteed a minimum number of hours per week and 1 in 4 (27%) allowed seasonal staff to set their own availability and/or schedule preferences.
    • Still, 1 in 3 retail hiring managers (32%) had trouble getting in front of qualified applicants and 1 in 4 found it challenging to identify top talent from a large pool of applicants (26%). Half noted that it was difficult to recruit employees capable of performing the many in-store duties that today’s retail associates are accountable for, from things like customer service to in-store fulfilment.
    • Reflecting on the season, less than half of retail hiring managers (45%) felt they fully met their seasonal hiring goals, and 1 in 4 (27%) agreed that meeting their seasonal hiring goals was more difficult this year than last.
  • Seasonal staff performed well, yet absence proved costly and retention was a challenge.
    • Almost 9 out of 10 retail hiring managers (87%) are confident they hired the right people in their stores for the 2019 holiday season. A majority also said seasonal staff were instrumental in helping their organization reach sales goals (88%) and positively impacted the customer experience (87%) – however, nearly half (47%) had difficulty retaining the seasonal staff they hired.
    • A quarter of retail hiring managers (24%) strongly agreed that their seasonal workforce out-performed permanent employees this holiday season – yet, close to 3 in 5 (58%) observed that attendance issues were more prominent with seasonal staff and 1 in 5 (22%) said unplanned employee absence led store(s) to pay more in overtime expenses than expected.
    • Asked which of the following scenarios occurred ‘often’ throughout the 2019 holiday season, twice as many retail hiring managers revealed that shifts were short-staffed (12%) vs. overstaffed (6%); tardiness (13%) was slightly more common than no-shows (11%); and, while 1 in 5 said employees would often request shift changes after schedules were posted (20%), 14% said last-minute call-outs occurred often.
  • Advice for 2020: Streamline talent acquisition, embrace ‘boomerang’ employees, extend employee wellness benefits to seasonal staff, and hire sooner.
    • Although nearly 3 in 10 retail hiring managers began hiring for the 2019 holiday season before Labor Day (29%), just 1 in 5 (20%) completed seasonal hiring by the end of September. More than half of all hiring decisions for the 2019 holiday season were completed in October (26%) and November (28%), and 1 in 4 retail hiring managers (26%) were still looking to fill seasonal openings on Black Friday.
    • Nearly 3 in 4 retail hiring managers said returning seasonal associates – i.e. boomerang employees – were their highest performers during the 2019 holiday season (43% strongly agree; 72% agree). However, nearly half (48%) feel strongly that the process to rehire/extend offers to high-performing seasonal staff should be easier, with 35% of retail hiring managers admitting they had trouble getting former seasonal associates to return for the 2019 holiday season.
    • Only 1 in 5 retail hiring managers said they provided healthcare benefits (23%) or paid-time off (21%) to attract seasonal workers during the 2019 holiday season, and even fewer offered flexibility to work at multiple store locations (18%) or financial wellness benefits (12%) – despite rising interest in on-demand pay options.
    • Around 1 in 5 retail hiring managers admitted they had trouble keeping seasonal candidates engaged during the recruiting process (22%), and similarly had a hard time communicating with prospective talent (22%). At the same time, only 23% said their organization invested in technology ahead of the 2019 holiday season to improve talent acquisition, while fewer invested in technology to automate and modernize their stores’ onboarding experience (21%).

Supporting Quotes

  • Amanda Nichols, senior manager, retail and hospitality practice group, Kronos
    “Ensuring that seasonal workers help to deliver a positive customer experience is one of the biggest challenges facing retailers. To attract and retain the types of employees you want representing your brand during peak seasons – whether the winter holidays, back to school, or summertime – focus on creating an employee experience differentiated by flexible and predictable schedules, the ability to easily swap or pick up extra shifts, opportunities for post-season employment, and, of course, fair treatment and competitive pay. It’s crucial to treat seasonal employees with the same respect as you’d treat part-time or full-time employees: When all workers are engaged, happy, empowered, trained, and have the tools to do their job well, that sense of engagement and positivity will be reflected in the way they interact with customers and the experience they provide. It’s a virtuous cycle.”

Supporting Resources


About Kronos Incorporated

Kronos is a leading provider of workforce management and human capital management cloud solutions. Kronos industry-centric workforce applications are purpose-built for businesses, healthcare providers, educational institutions, and government agencies of all sizes. Tens of thousands of organizations — including half of the Fortune 1000® — and more than 40 million people in over 100 countries use Kronos every day. Visit www.kronos.com. Kronos: Workforce Innovation That Works.

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