Setting a Successful Holiday Shopping Staffing Strategy


Each year, between the back-to-school season and Black Friday, retailers are presented with a staffing conflict. This 10-week gap, historically known for sales and traffic lulls, typically forces retailers to make a choice:

  • Reduce staffing costs by terminating summer and back-to-school hires and restart the hiring process in early November
  • Decrease seasonal or other part-time weekly hours until special events or Thanksgiving

While these are both viable options, neither is ideal. So, how can retailers best maintain top notch customer service and their bottom line?

The answer is simple – keep temporary hires through both seasons. By maintaining seasonal staff, retailers are able to offer exceptional customer service, especially during early November – a critical shopping period – when most are usually distracted with onboarding new associates.

Retail hiring for the 2017 holiday season

Recently, major retailers have been making announcements around their staffing plans for the 2017 holiday season.  A key theme, regardless if they plan to hire more or less staff than they have in previous years, is that seasonal employees will be imperative for brick-and-mortar retailers to have a success holiday.

Staff can make or break a shopper’s in-store experience, especially during the hectic, and sometimes stressful, time that is holiday shopping. Thanks to technology, we know that today’s holiday shopper is researches potential purchases online before coming in-store, making it even more critical to have seasonal staff who are trained on products, systems and promotions in order to convert shoppers into buyers.

Additionally, oftentimes those looking for a seasonal job are more interested in the financial benefits than the brand. As a result, they will be more likely to accept the earliest job offer they receive. If retailers can retain staff from the back-to-school season through the holiday shopping rush, the likelihood of retaining already trained employees is greater, thus placing them in a better customer service position.

And let’s not forget about the important potential financial savings. By maintaining back-to-school staff, retailers do not need to waste permanent staff hours and wages on recruiting, hiring and training. There are, of course, instances where hiring will still need to occur even after retaining back-to-school staff, but the cost in no way compares to a complete seasonal staffing overhaul and in-depth training sessions. Based on our current research we found the spend is approximately one half the amount of money it takes to hire or rehire replacement staff in November.

The key takeaway when considering this strategy is to understand the broader potential gains from keeping back-to-school staff through the holidays. From BOPIS (buy online and pick-up in store) scenarios to more traditional holiday shopping experiences, having educated staff on the floor to direct customers is paramount to capitalizing on the holiday shopping experience. By making holiday shopping as effortless as possible for customers and as profitable as possible for stores, retailers can create a brand building opportunity.

Brian Field is the senior director of advisory services for ShopperTrak, where he oversees the application of ShopperTrak's proprietary solutions to retailer-specific issues across different functional areas in order to drive top and bottom line store performance. Prior to joining ShopperTrak, Brian served in roles of increasing responsibility at Chico’s FAS Inc., including as the director of corporate store operations and finance. Brian has spent nearly four decades in the industry, and his experience includes: store sales and management, training, merchandising, strategic planning and analysis for brands as diverse as David’s Bridal, Circuit City and Macy's.

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