Holiday Central

Merry Christmas! Hiring may hit dot-com boom level

Retailers are betting it will be a merry Christmas this year, as seasonal hiring is expected to significantly outpace that seen in 2013.

According to a report released by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, retailers could add more than 800,000 seasonal workers in the last three months of the year. The last time that happened was in 1999.

A Now Hiring sign to attract seasonal employees
Ann Hermes | The Christian Science Monitor | Getty Images

"The last two years saw holiday hiring return to prerecession levels," said John A. Challenger, CEO of the outplacement firm. "This year, we could see hiring return to levels not seen since the height of the boom."

He attributed the anticipated boost to the fact that payrolls have increased by an average of 215,000 new workers a month so far this year. That translates into more people having jobs, which means more money to spend over the Christmas period.

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Still, Challenger cautioned that "holiday hiring is by no means guaranteed," especially among brick-and-mortar retailers. He pointed to last year, when Target cut holiday hiring by 20 percent partly because of an uptick in online shopping. Reports indicate the discounter will maintain the same level of holiday hiring, around 70,000, this year, he said. Target later confirmed this number to CNBC in an email.

"As more people do their holiday shopping over the Internet, the need for extra workers on the sales floors at the malls and in department stores may decline," Challenger said.

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Still, that doesn't mean there will be fewer jobs, Challenger said. He pointed to UPS' plans to hire 95,000 seasonal workers—up 40,000 from its original projection in 2013—as a "strong indication of holiday spending projections," particularly as it relates to online shopping.

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In a separate hiring survey by Hay Group, a management consulting firm, 24 percent of retailers said they plan to hire more seasonal staff to provide support across multiple platforms (i.e. in-store and online). Twenty-nine percent plan to increase seasonal staff levels in distribution centers.

Overall, Hay Group found 70 percent of retailers plan to hire at comparable levels as 2013, with 24 percent planning to hire more permanent staff in 2014. The latter compares with 13 percent last season.

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Here is a breakdown of retailers' holiday hiring plans so far:

Amazon: The online retailer will add 80,000 seasonal jobs across its fulfillment and sorting centers, an increase of about 14 percent compared to 2013. So far this year the company has converted more than 10,000 seasonal employees into full-time positions, and it expects to convert thousands of these jobs into full-time roles again this year. Amazon has more than 50 fulfillment centers in the U.S. and will have more than 15 sorting centers by the end of the year.

Macy's: Macy's will hire 86,000 seasonal workers across its Macy's and Bloomingdale's stores, an increase of about 3.6 percent compared to last year. A big part of the boost is tied to the company's direct-to-consumer fulfillment centers, which will add about 10,000 employees—up from 7,000 in 2013.

Toys R Us: The toy store said it will add 45,000 seasonal employees this year, in line with 2013. About 2,000 of these employees will staff its 200 express locations, also in line with last year. The positions also include openings at its distribution centers.

Wal-Mart: Wal-Mart said it will add 60,000 seasonal employees for the holidays, an increase of almost 10 percent compared with 2013. A spokesman told CNBC that "the vast majority" of these jobs will be in-store, and about one-quarter of its seasonal hires will stay with the company in a permanent position after the holidays.

Target: Target confirmed it will hire 70,000 seasonal workers this year, the same figure as in 2013.

J.C. Penney: Penney's said it will hire 35,000 seasonal workers this year, in line with a year ago. A spokeswoman said the retailer will start increasing its staffing in mid- to late-October.

Kohl's: The department store said it will hire more than 67,000 seasonal associates, 17,000 more than last year. It will also add 9,300 seasonal positions at its distribution centers.

Gap: The apparel retailer said it will hire more than 63,000 seasonal employees across its brands. This is the first year the apparel store has released its holiday hiring figures.

GameStop: The video game and consumer electronics retailer said it will add about 25,000 employees this holiday, an increase of almost 47 percent compared to the prior year. The jobs will be spread among its stores, distribution centers and refurbishment operation center.

Jo-Ann Stores: The fabric and crafts retailer will once again add more than 3,000 seasonal workers to staff its stores and distribution centers. The company said it typically extends about 42 percent of these positions past the holidays.

UPS: The shipping company said it plans to add 90,000 to 95,000 seasonal employees "to handle [an] anticipated e-commerce-driven holiday delivery surge." Last October the company said it planned to hire 55,000 seasonal workers, but it ended up tapping more than 85,000 people due to higher-than-expected volume.

FedEx: The second-largest U.S. carrier expects to add more than 50,000 positions for the holidays. These openings will include package handlers, drivers and other support positions. FedEx said the majority of these workers will have the opportunity to continue working with the company after the holidays. Last year, it hired approximately 40,000 seasonal workers, and most of the positions turned into full-time roles, the company said.

—By CNBC's Krystina Gustafson

(UPDATED: This story has been updated to include additional retail hiring information as it becomes available.)