Retailers Bullish on Holidays, Will Start Promotions Earlier

Three fourths (75 percent) of retailers forecast an increase in holiday sales this year, according to a survey released today by Hay Group, a global management consultancy. Retailers also report more confidence in holiday hiring plans.

While 57 percent of retailers plan to hire seasonal workers at the same level as 2011, 36 percent say they will be hiring more, a shift from 2011 when just 10 percent planned to hire more seasonal workers than the year prior.

“Retailers are betting that 2012 is going to be a great holiday season,” said Craig Rowley, vice president and global practice leader for Hay Group’s Retail practice. “After four years of economic turbulence, they have figured out how to operate in an uncertain business environment and are calm and cool, knowing that they are ready, as they head into the holidays.”

Following 10 individual days with over $1 billion in online sales during the 2011 holiday season (as reported by comScore), retailers have also adjusted e-commerce strategy this year. After planning throughout the year, fulfillment centers are more prepared and only minor staffing adjustments are needed for the holidays. On average, retailers say that 74 percent of their seasonal hires will be in stores and 12 percent will be in distribution centers.

Hay Group’s survey, in its sixth year, analyzed responses from 14 major U.S. retailers including Ann Inc., Hot Topic, Inc., Chico’s FAS, Inc. and David’s Bridal in order to understand retailers’ plans for the 2012 holiday season.

Among the highlights from the September 2012 Hay Group survey:

Job Applicant Pool Remains Competitive, but Stable. Despite continued challenges in the job market, 75 percent of retailers say the quantity of seasonal applicants is about the same as 2011. When it comes to quality, 62 percent say the average experience level of seasonal workers is between 0-1 years, and 38 percent say it’s between 2-4 years. As stores still have plenty of access to talent, seasonal workers can expect similar pay rates this year. Nearly all retailers (92 percent) say their hire rates are about the same as in 2011.

Retailers Look to Increase Permanent Workers. Retailers are also increasing their focus on permanent employees. Forty-three percent say they will have more permanent workers and fewer seasonal workers this year. With renewed confidence and a bullish outlook for 2013, retailers want to retain more workers beyond the holiday season.

Holiday Promotions are a Well-Oiled Machine. Although slashed prices have been a hallmark of the holidays over the past few years, promotional and inventory strategies are fine-tuned this year. Retailers have successfully spread out promotions to trigger more sales throughout the season, and 31 percent report that they will start promotions even earlier this year. While 58 percent of retailers will wait until November to begin their promotion blitz, 42 percent will start in October – well before Black Friday. Promotional plans indicate retailers have more confidence in the consumer. Few retailers (18 percent) feel pressure to match online-only prices, and 50 percent of retailers say they are looking to cut back on discounting overall this year. Just 8 percent will staff stores to be open 24 hours on select dates throughout the holidays.

“All things considered, retailers are on the ‘nice list’ this year,” said Maryam Morse, National Reward Practice Leader of Hay Group’s Retail practice. “One of the lessons learned during the downturn was that stores need to be able to respond more quickly to shifting market conditions and consumer preferences. Now, inventory is better managed, the supply chain is more effective and retailers have a clear plan for promotions to move the merchandise. With sales improving, retailers are placing more emphasis on retaining and rewarding employees and identifying career paths for top talent.”