Hiring kicks off to fill hundreds of thousands of roles for the holiday shopping season

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A handful of retailers, e-commerce sites and delivery giants are announcing their plans to hire hundreds of thousands of workers to prepare for a holiday shopping season unlike any other.

Americans spent more than $730 billion on holiday shopping in 2019, according to the National Retail Federation. Online and other non-store sales, which have steadily increased over the years, made up roughly $167.8 billion of the total spending in 2019.

The share of online purchases for home delivery or store pickup is likely to increase as the health risks of the pandemic continue.

In a reverse of years past, major retailers including Walmart, Target and Best Buy have said they will be closed on Thanksgiving day. To make up for smaller, socially-distanced crowds in store, retailers may spread sales events out over a longer period of time and offer more online sales. That could mean hiring fewer in-store seasonal associates in favor of workers who will fulfill, package and ship orders to online customers.

Retailers staff up for on online shopping

Where the economic fallout of the pandemic has decimated some traditional retailers, those with renewed e-commerce strategies could fare well. L Brands, the parent company to Victoria's Secret and Bath & Body Works, hopes to get a jump on online sales by hiring 4,000 seasonal workers to staff distribution centers ahead of the holidays, for example.

The arts and crafts chain Michaels plans to hire over 16,000 seasonal positions across its U.S. and Canada stores and distribution centers, with a large focus on growing the company's buy-online, pickup in-store (BOPIS) team. According to a company statement, the employer will offer competitive wages, flexible hours and a 30% employee discount.

The retailer faced criticism in March when outgoing CEO Mark Cosby and incoming CEO Ashley Buchanan wrote in a memo that stores would stay open and deemed its employees "essential" during the pandemic, according to Business Insider. Craft stores are not included in a list of critical businesses according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and employees reported not being provided adequate cleaning supplies or personal protective equipment (PPE) while working on location.

Michaels did not respond to CNBC Make It's request for comment.

Michaels will host a seasonal hiring event in stores on Saturday, September 12, from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Last year, the chain hired more than half of its seasonal staff into permanent roles after the holiday rush. Inc., which recently announced record growth in its fiscal 2020 fourth quarter, plans to hire more than 10,000 seasonal associates across its gourmet foods and gift brands for the holiday season. Seasonal headcount is up by about 25% compared to last year, CEO Chris McCann tells CNBC Make It, and this year's class will effectively quadruple the company's year-round workforce.

Part- and full-time positions are available within production, gift assembly, customer service and distribution and fulfillment center operations. Openings are concentrated in worksites throughout Illinois, Ohio and Oregon, though some work-from-home positions, particularly those that handle inbound sales and customer service, are available. On-site workers are required to abide by proper social distancing guidelines, wear employer-provided PPE, and follow health and cleaning procedures intended to minimize the spread of the virus, McCann says.

Pay varies by role and market, and McCann says it's "very important" to him that starting hourly rate is listed in each job description. Seasonal associates are entitled to referral bonuses and employee discounts, and some positions offer additional benefits including 401(k) employer matching.

"As an employer, we must be creative and competitive with our compensation plan," McCann says, adding that hiring competition for fulfillment and distribution center workers is fierce with the rise in e-commerce activity.

Shipping and delivery companies prepare for spikes in pandemic and holiday e-commerce

According to the operations software company ShipMatrix, delivery volume for both FedEx and UPS increased in July compared with activity during the first three months of the pandemic. Both recently announced hiring plans for seasonal workers ahead of the holidays.

FedEx will hire 70,000 seasonal workers, an increase of 27% compared with its 2019 seasonal hiring goal. The company recently announced it will expand delivery coverage to seven days a week, conduct more residential deliveries, and facilitate new pickup and drop-off services with a network of retailers nationwide. Open roles range from package delivery, operations, warehousing and retail.

And UPS said this week it expects to hire over 100,000 seasonal employees to handle the surge in package volume that runs from October through January. The company will ramp up hiring for package handlers, drivers, driver-helpers and personal vehicle drivers for both full- and part-time positions. Last year, pay started at $14 an hour and, for truck drivers, was expected to go up to $30 an hour. Competitive markets may offer higher wages and potential bonuses.

Some seasonal employees are eligible for the company's Earn and Learn program, where students can earn up to $1,300 toward their college expenses, in addition to hourly pay, for three months of continuous employment.

UPS spokesperson Dan McMackin says the company has increased safety protocols for workers during the pandemic, such as by providing employees PPE and sanitation supplies, ensuring social distancing in shared locations, providing 10 days of paid sick leave for those diagnosed with or providing care to someone with the virus, and following government directives that require the use of face masks.

"Seasonal work at UPS can lead to a career," McMackin adds. "I started at UPS seasonally 42 years ago loading trucks when I was in high school. Promotion from within is still in our DNA." The company says roughly 35% of people hired for seasonal work go on to be hired for a permanent position when the holidays are over.

An influx of new job openings is welcome news for many, but these temporary roles account for only a fraction of the 29.6 million Americans collecting jobless benefits at the end of August.

Check out: Americans spend over $5,000 a year on groceries—save hundreds at supermarkets with these cards

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