Retailers shopping for holiday help -- and permanent staff

Joanely Carrero restocks shelves at a Target store, where a week ago she became a full time employee after being hired initially as a seasonal worker in Miami, Florida

Retailers have started ramping up their seasonal hiring. In the last few weeks, Amazon said it would hire 70,000 workers. Wal-Mart, 55,000.

Even as seasonals are hired, permanent staff will log a lot more time on the sales floor. That strategy is playing out at businesses as large as Wal-Mart and as small as Building Blocks Toys, a small shop on Chicago's North Side.

You can see that strategy as you walk in the door, which has a sign taped at eye level (if you're a grown up) that says the place is hiring.

Inside, owner Katherine McHenry says she's looking for permanent staff. She's got seven and would like to go up to ten -- if she can find the right people.

She needs folks who are ready to go when Grandma comes in and describes the kid she's shopping for, which she says is her edge against digital competitors. "You can't go online and say, 'Hi, my grandson is five. He's such a rambunctious and active kid. What can I get him?’”

McHenry's emphasis on dedicated staff puts her in the retailers' sweet spot, says Allison Kenny Paul, who runs the retail practice for consulting giant Deloitte.

"For brick and mortar, having more folks that are well-informed in the store to help the consumer is really where the battle is pitched," says Paul. 

The big guys are looking at the same strategy. Wal-Mart will hire fewer seasonal workers this year than last. Instead, it will move thousands of temps into permanent positions, bumping part-timers to full-time. That means more experienced hands on the sales floor.

Paul says when the big players do make their seasonal hires, they'll load up on back-end staff. At distribution centers, they've got needs that didn't apply in the old days, like coordinating overnight shipping, or shipping a product to a brick and mortar store for pickup. 

"Additionally, you have to hire more folks for call centers to handle questions from consumers," says Paul. "Perhaps they're stuck online and they don't know how to finish the sale."

At Building Block Toys, the merchandise seems to sell itself, by virtue of being carefully curated and artfully packed into the small space. 

"I stopped in here one day, and it's fantastic," says Angeline Giangreco, with her two year-old son Noah in tow. "It's got a really great selection of toys that you really don't find other places."

Not even Amazon.com?  

"In theory, yes, you could find all this on Amazon," she says. "But I wouldn't know where to find them on Amazon, unless I saw them here." 

About the author

Dan is a sustainability reporter for Marketplace.

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