Retailers are struggling to attract seasonal workers for what experts anticipate will be a 'tough holiday season'

Retailers are struggling to attract seasonal workers for what experts anticipate will be a 'tough holiday season'
Experts expect Black Friday to look quite different this year.Davide Pischettola/NurPhoto via Getty Images
  • Retailers are already reporting having difficulty in attracting talent to fill holiday and seasonal roles at brick-and-mortar stores, due to fears surrounding the coronavirus.
  • According to a recent survey of 50 major retailers conducted by the global consulting firm Korn Ferry, 47% of companies say they are struggling to recruit workers for the festive period.
  • Experts told Business Insider that retailers need to ensure proper safety protocols are firmly in place. Brands should also look to invest further in e-commerce to meet online demand.

As retailers prepare for what will prove to be a turbulent holiday shopping season, some are finding difficulty recruiting seasonal workers due to fears surrounding the coronavirus.

According to a recent survey of 50 major retailers conducted by the global consulting firm Korn Ferry, 47% say they are struggling to hire for the holiday season, citing pandemic-related safety concerns and a hesitation by Americans to work in brick-and-mortar retail.

"The effects of last spring's shutdown due to the pandemic are still impacting many retailers, as they laid off employees who didn't come back when stores re-opened," Korn Ferry retail expert Craig Rowley said in a statement. "Hiring managers will need to be creative to attract seasonal workers."
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A study by cloud computing company Ultimate Kronos Group additionally found that 72% of retailers anticipate workers this holiday season "will feel anxious or stressed about COVID-19" while 81% said they expect employees to quit mid-season.

2020 will be a 'tough holiday season' for retailers

Alleviating the anxiety of prospective employees will be no easy feat for retailers amid concerns of the impending "second wave" of the coronavirus, according to Raghav Sharma, cofounder of the virtual fitting room service Perfitly.

"Looking at all the trends and indicators, we expect that coronavirus will make this a tough holiday season for retailers' brick-and-mortar channels," Sharma said. "With no immediate remedies in sight and a potential surge in cases, social distancing and other practices that impact operations, like limits on people in stores, is going to continue."
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While policies like COVID-19 pay and enhanced benefits have largely varied across the industry, experts told Business Insider that creating a safe environment for both employees and shoppers will be integral to attracting workers. According to the Korn Ferry survey, 29% of retailers said they are adjusting or adding incentives for new hires, including bonuses, premium pay, and increases in employee discounts.

"Forward-thinking companies will be focusing their efforts on supporting current and potential workers with alleviating the stress and anxiety heading into this season," Durk Stelter, chief revenue officer of the customer experience automation platform Linc Global, told Business Insider. "For retailers, the challenge is anticipating, planning for, and responding to the big shifts in customer behavior that COVID-19 has spawned."
Retailers are struggling to attract seasonal workers for what experts anticipate will be a 'tough holiday season'
An employee helps a shopper on a pre-pandemic Black Friday.AP

Investing in e-commerce over brick-and-mortar

According to Sharma, retailers may ultimately get more bang for their buck by investing resources in e-commerce, which have grown exponentially for many chains like Walmart and Target during the pandemic. Instead of recruiting heavily for physical retail roles, he suggested that retailers invest in optimizing their websites in order to better handle high volumes of web traffic.
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"By necessity, consumers have really flocked to e-commerce sites across industries and geographies," Sharma said. "This behavior and shoppers' resulting expectations aren't going to just roll back because it is the holidays. Instead, companies should be preparing to meet the demands of much higher online sales."

Stelter added that investment in models like curbside pickup may prove fruitful for retailers navigating the holiday shopping season this year, due to "shoppers looking to reduce their exposure to crowded stores while also retaining the flexibility of picking up purchases on their own schedule."

"Smart retailers are embracing and promoting buy-online-pick-up-in-store and buy-online-ship-to-store options for the 2020 holiday season," he said. "Investments in customer experience automation platforms will be a key to streamline and delight customers in what will for sure be a holiday season like no other."
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