Study finds retailers cautiously optimistic about 2014 holiday sales

Nearly one quarter (24 percent) of retailers expect a significant increase (five percent or more) in year-over-year sales during the 2014 holiday season, while another 70 percent are predicting sales will be on par with the 2013 season. That’s according to the eighth annual retail seasonal hiring survey released by global management consultancy Hay Group, which polled retailers collectively representing more than one million employees and nearly $183 billion in revenues last year.

According to the poll, the cautious optimism around sales is reflected in companies’ seasonal hiring plans. While most retailers (70 percent) plan to hire staff at 2013 levels, the emphasis has shifted from seasonal to permanent workers, with 24 percent of companies planning to hire more permanent staff in 2014, compared to just 13 percent last season.

"Retailers have their fingers crossed for a strong 2014 holiday season," said Craig Rowley, vice president and global practice leader for Hay Group's retail practice. "In the meantime, however, they"re acting prudently. Though we've seen GDP jump by more than four percent in the second quarter, the same economic bump hasn't yet translated to the retail sector. Foot traffic remains slow, and back-to-school shopping had a slow start this year, so retailers are being careful in their holiday season planning."

The most significant shifts for retailers in the 2014 holiday season can be found in omnichannel, which is changing the landscape for companies and impacting their holiday staffing strategies.

Omnichannel strategies are in place and mobile is expected to drive sales:Nearly half (47 percent) of retailers surveyed in 2014 have a clearly articulated omnichannel strategy, compared to only 14 percent in 2013. Furthermore, only six percent of companies say they do not have a strategy, compared to 22 percent last year. The majority of retailers (71 percent) will be relying, at least in part, on their mobile platform to help drive holiday sales.

Staff qualifications and training adjust for omnichannel environment: Retailers are paying more attention this season to hiring seasonal staff who align closely with their brand culture, with 18 percent of respondents indicating they're placing a greater emphasis on brand-culture alignment when evaluating seasonal candidates, compared to only four percent that said the same in 2013. Additionally, 59 percent of retailers said their omnichannel strategy has impacted the training they provide to their sales staff. "Retailers can no longer settle for point-and-sell stockers when it comes to staffing their stores," said Maryam Morse, national practice leader for Hay Group's retail practice. "Consumers now expect a seamless shopping experience across channels. To respond to this demand, retailers must have well-trained and nimble in-store employees who can serve as true brand ambassadors, leading customers to the point of sale, regardless of where the product resides."

Hiring shifts to provide support across multiple channels:Further demonstrating the impact of omnichannel on 2014 holiday staffing decisions, nearly three times as many retailers (24 percent vs. 9 percent in 2013), are focusing on hiring seasonal staff to provide support across multiple channels. To meet needs from increased e-commerce sales, 29 percent will increase seasonal staff levels in distribution centers.

Promotions expected to come early, even before Halloween: Reflecting retailers' prudent attitudes toward inventory, staffing and holiday promotion strategies, many companies are shifting their promotions earlier in the year. Most retailers (53 percent) will begin promotions in either September (18 percent vs. 13 percent in 2013) or October (35 percent vs. 22 percent in 2013) this year. "Shoppers can expect to start seeing holiday sales early this season, as retailers work to get customers in the door sooner, rather than later," Morse said.

Topics: Employee Training, Marketing, Omnichannel / Multichannel

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