Trends in Retail Summer Staffing

This week, summer officially kicks off. For the retail industry, summer can mean a change in the pace of business, leading to a need for adjusted seasonal staffing. With summer on retailers’ minds, what does the industry have to look forward to in the coming months?

Historically, many teens and college-aged students sought employment from retailers during their summer vacation. But research from the Pew Research Center shows that by mid-July 2015, teens were working less than they had in years past, and of those teens that did hold summer jobs, most worked in restaurants and hotels.

Research from Pew also discovered that in July 2014, nearly one-third of teens (32 percent) worked in the accommodation and food services industry, while only 21.7 percent worked in retail. Considering how this trend has manifested over the long term, the data shows that in the summer of 2000, more than 2 million teens worked in the retail sector but by summer 2014, that number dropped to 1.2 million.

According to MarketWatch, the trend of teens working less during the summer continues into 2016. In May, the number of teens working between the ages of 16 and 19 was down 14 percent from the same time last year. Rather than taking summer jobs, teens are more frequently opting to volunteer, take additional classes, or beef up their resumes with office internships.

Though teens are filling their free time with activities other than working part-time, it seems retailers aren’t hiring for those positions either. Rather, they’re investing more in skilled workers. Walmart recently announced it would be cutting 500 back office jobs in their retail stores to focus on hiring more quality employees who interact with customers daily. This example illustrates how some retailers are bolstering their efforts in-store, focusing on the customer experience. While retailers continue to hone in on customer experience, they may be forced to re-think employee incentives for full-time staff, ensuring that the investments made in staffing stay within the company through higher retainment.

As tepid brick-and mortar store performance continues to dominate the press, the May retail sales report brought welcome news to retailers and employees alike. Despite a low need for seasonal staff during the month of May, sales rose higher than expected by 0.5 percent, marking the second month in a row of gains. And, according to CNBC, the strong May numbers may have economists raising second quarter GDP growth estimates.

As consumer preferences shift from brick and mortar to e-tail, retailers are adapting their overall business strategies and investments, including labor. For example, in late April, Nordstrom announced that it would be cutting up to 400 jobs or around $60 million in annual costs.

In addition, American Apparel also recently announced a plan to tie employee scheduling to performance. The real-time data that is provided with this initiative will allow the retailer to take advantage of “real-time sales” and conversion rates and react to them in mere days, rather than quarterly. The goal is that this will result in appropriate staffing and thus, less money wasted on over-staffing or loss of consumer confidence by under-staffing.

On the other hand, some retailers are bulking up their staff. Office Depot plans to hire as many as 8,000 temporary employees for July through September in preparation for the back-to-school season.
As the seasons change, so will staffing needs, so retailers need to pay close attention to these evolving needs and adjust their planning and staffing investments accordingly.