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Sears' holiday hiring to be flat from last year

NEW YORK -- Sears Holdings Corp. said that its hiring of seasonal workers for the crucial winter holidays will be unchanged from a year ago.

During a holiday press event Thursday, the company, which operates Kmart and Sears, Roebuck and Co. stores, said that its hiring plans come as it has worked hard to make its associates more productive with strategies like using mobile checkout.

Sears, based in Hoffman Estates, Ill., declined to say how many holiday workers it plans to hire but said that the overall company's workforce is about 260,000. The holiday shopping season is the busiest period of the year for retailers.

"We've done a lot of things to improve our efficiency," said Ron Boire, Sears Holdings' executive vice president, chief merchandising officer and president, Sears and Kmart formats, at Thursday's event.

Sears' strategy comes as other retailers are being cautious about holiday hiring. Macy's Inc. plans to hire about 80,000 seasonal workers, a 2.5 percent increase from last year, while Wal-Mart Stores Inc. expects to hire more than 50,000 people this holiday season, up slightly from last year. And Toys R Us Inc. plans to hire 45,000 seasonal workers to staff its pop up stores and help fulfill its expanded customer service, a nearly 13 percent jump from last year.

Last year, Sears Roebuck and Co. issued tablets to associates at about half of its approximate 800 stores, so they could help shoppers research products and quickly learn whether they are in stock. Starting in May, the associates have had the ability to check out shoppers. Mobile checkout is currently available in departments that sell big-ticket items like furniture, electronics, jewelry and appliances. The goal is to roll it out to the rest of the department store chain.

Tom Aiello, a company spokesman, said that it's looking at offering mobile checkout at Kmart but wanted to "stress test" the technology at Sears, Roebuck stores first.