Holiday forecast is for modest retailer cheer

McClatchy Washington BureauOctober 2, 2013 

— The holiday hiring season has started, and it looks as if it will be a challenge to match or surpass last year’s strong showing. The sluggish economy is growing, but well below its potential, and competition is fierce from online companies, which hire fewer workers.

“Last year was a boom year for hiring. It surprised everybody, the degree to which retailers were hiring,” said John Challenger, the CEO of labor market consultancy Challenger Gray & Christmas Inc. “It seems unlikely that it would repeat.”

The good news, according to Challenger, is that retailers will add more workers, and it will mark the fifth consecutive holiday season with rising retail employment. The bad news: Last year is hard to top.

Holiday hiring in 2012 hit a 12-year high, with retail employment gaining almost 752,000 jobs from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31. That’s more than double the 324,900 workers added in 2008 – the year of the financial crisis – which was the lowest number of new retail jobs in this period since 1982.

Those dark days are in the rearview mirror, but there’s reason to think that the holiday hiring period that began this week will fall short of last year’s, even as sales are projected to increase modestly.

The analytical firm ShopperTrak forecasts a 2.4 percent increase in holiday retail sales in November and December, a slower pace than last year’s 3 percent sales gain. Shopper traffic is projected to fall 1.4 percent this year compared with last year’s 2.5 percent increase, ShopperTrak said.

Consumers can expect earlier-than-usual promotions because this holiday season will have fewer peak shopping days than last year’s.

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