Mom and Pop Shops Ramp-Up Hiring for the Holidays

Labor Day is behind us, the kids are back in class, and the shelves are already stocked with oversized bags of Halloween candy. That means consumers will soon be inundated with advertisements for holiday sales, and retailers are already staffing up to serve the hordes of holiday shoppers.

While shoppers will rack up most of their credit card charges online and at the big box stores this season, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) will still enjoy a major boost to their bottom line. In fact, the National Retail Federation (NRF) estimates 20% to 40% of all SMB retail sales occur in the last two months of the year, and in 2016 Deloitte reported that roughly 40% of consumers planned to do their holiday shopping at local retailers.

It’s still too early for most analysts to gauge how SMBs will fare this holiday season compared to the mass merchants, but since we deal in real-time data at ZipRecruiter, we’ve got the leading indicators that show exactly how SMBs are feeling about the holiday high season. According to the number of job openings posted to our site by SMB retailers in September, they’re feeling pretty bullish this year. A sentiment that is apparently not shared by their gargantuan competitors.

Mom and Pops Out-staff the Mass Merchants

In 2015, two years before The Atlantic famously reported on “the great retail apocalypse of 2017” following a string of major retailers going out of business, job openings at large organizations (500+ employees) posted to outnumbered small retail openings 2-to-1. Today, not only have SMBs closed that gap, they’ve eclipsed the hiring numbers of large organizations, with nearly 30% more job openings posted to ZipRecruiter in September than their big-box counterparts.

Both SMBs and large companies have shown holiday season hiring bumps from August through October going back to 2015. But this year is different. While seasonal retail jobs at SMBs continued their upward trend in August, falling incrementally in September, openings at large companies declined in August and dropped dramatically in September. Local businesses may actually be better insulated against the threat of ecommerce than one might expect.

More SMB Jobs, Fewer Employees

Anticipating strong consumer demand this holiday season makes sense given the historically low unemployment rate. The tight job market is a good reason to expect soaring sales, but it also means employers are fighting over a much smaller pool of applicants than in years past.

According to the ZipRecruiter Opportunity Index, which measures the ratio of job openings to applicants, there was one applicant for every retail job opening this September. In September of 2017, there were three applicants chasing every available retail opening. This year there are not only thousands more available jobs, there are also far fewer applicants.

A few retail giants, such as Kohl’s and J.C. Penny, have already announced plans to offer generous employee discounts, retention bonuses, and additional hours hoping to snag the few remaining available workers looking for a seasonal gig. SMBs have an edge of their own, given our research that shows job seekers generally prefer to work for SMBs. But the motivators that draw job seekers to smaller companies, like being able to see their impact on the company and enjoy a close-knit culture, are likely more pronounced in individuals looking to join an organization for the long term, and might not be as relevant to seasonal job seekers.  

Ultimately, cash is always king, especially when it comes to temporary and seasonal work. If SMBs want to be successful with filling their hiring needs, they are going to have to budget for bonuses and plan to offer more than what they are used to shelling out for seasonal staff.

Methodology: Job openings are based on ZipRecruiter retail job postings through September 30, 2018 and include retail industry jobs that make explicit reference to “seasonal” work in the job title. Job openings were segmented by industry size, with small and medium-sized businesses (SMB) defined as organizations with fewer than 500 employees and large organizations defined as having 500+ employees.

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Jeffery Marino is a Los Angeles-based writer who previously covered emerging job market trends using proprietary ZipRecruiter data.

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