Kohl's won't reveal one number that retailers talk about every holiday season

Key Points
  • For 2017, Kohl's isn't disclosing its number of seasonal hires, bucking a trend followed by many of its retail peers.
  • In 2016, Kohl's announced plans to hire more than 69,000 temporary workers ahead of the holidays.
  • That matched the retailer's seasonal hiring in 2015.
Shoppers at a Kohl's store in Jersey City, NJ.
Nicole O'Hara | CNBC

Kohl's won't reveal how many people it's hiring ahead of the holidays this year because the retailer said it's been staffing up year-round.

The company is taking a similar approach to Wal-Mart, which has promised to rely more on its current employees for the busy shopping season, giving them additional hours.

Kohl's will be hiring some seasonal staff, but for the first time ever it won't talk about that number.

The department store chain is bucking a trend in the retail industry, where companies typically announce throughout the fall months their seasonal hiring plans. Wall Street, in turn, sees these plans as a gauge of anticipated shopper demand ahead of Black Friday, which kicks off the holiday season.

With Kohl's and Wal-Mart both going about holiday hiring differently this year, though, the number of seasonal workers could become a metric less relied upon to forecast consumer demand.

To be sure, some retailers are still touting their plans. Target said it plans to hire 100,000 temporary workers this year, while Macy's has announced plans to take on 80,000 seasonal workers, and J.C. Penney is aiming for 40,000.

In 2016, Kohl's announced plans to hire more than 69,000 temporary workers ahead of the holidays. That matched the retailer's seasonal hiring in 2015.

"We continue to refine our company strategy, our hiring strategy, and the culture we're trying to build," Ryan Festerling, Kohl's executive vice president of Human Resources, told CNBC in an interview. "That's why we're doing what we're doing."

Kohl's said it's been digging into data about its associates throughout the year, determining which workers want more hours ahead of the holidays, and which won't be able to pick up extra shifts.

Holiday hiring has changed overall in recent years, with more shopping shifting online. That means retailers need to consider both the number of employees staffing stores and those needed to fulfill orders made online. Companies often refer to this as "an omnichannel experience," with the goal of servicing shoppers seamlessly, whether they ring up purchases online or offline.

"We clearly want to be the omnichannel retailer of choice, meeting the customer everywhere they want to shop, and that bleeds into our associates," Festerling said. "We're taking a very omnichannel approach to get the best associates."

One way Kohl's plans to do that is by ensuring its existing workers are educated around new initiatives, like a recent and growing partnership with Amazon. Kohl's also is focused on speed, and on fulfilling more online orders out of its stores.

To meet peak demand, Kohl's will still hire some seasonal workers through the winter. But, like Wal-Mart, it will first extend the opportunity to existing associates to work additional shifts.

"There are a lot of people hiring the same kind of talent," Festerling said. "For us the differentiator is we get the people into our doors to meet supervisors."

Kohl's will host a seasonal hiring day on Oct. 7, which will take place at more than 200 of Kohl's more than 1,100 stores. Positions will be available in stores, distribution and e-commerce fulfillment centers.

Kohl's highlights the fact that 14,000 of its seasonal associates in 2016 ended up staying with the company to pursue full-time work. The retailer is betting on a similar scenario this year, implying the 2018 holiday season could see even fewer temporary hires.

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