Holiday jobs trend toward delivery, helping customers buy online as COVID-19 joblessness persists

ORLANDO, Fla. — The seasonal job market is expected to look different in this year

ORLANDO, Fla. — The seasonal job market is expected to look different in this year of the coronavirus, as even more holiday shoppers make their purchases online and unemployment remains high.

Companies such as UPS are loading up with package handlers and drivers, and jobs available inside stores are changing as well to serve online customers. Big shopping days like Black Friday could also potentially see smaller crowds as deals start even earlier, meaning retailers might not need to staff up as much as they normally do.

The number of people looking for jobs also is sure to be higher.

In August, the unemployment rate in metro Orlando was 11% compared with 3.1% at the same time last year. In September, Walt Disney Co. notified the state 6,700 Walt Disney World non-union employees were losing their jobs, adding to the tens of thousands of mostly tourism-related jobs lost in the region since the virus took hold.

Last year, workers had the bargaining power as employers offered extra perks to fill jobs, said Hector Sandoval, director of the economic analysis program for the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Florida.

“Now this year I think it’s on the other side,” Sandoval said. “The economic situation is just very, very different.”

Delivery, pickup jobs

UPS plans to hire more than 100,000 seasonal employees for the annual increase in packages from October through January.

“We’re preparing for a record peak holiday season,” chief human resources officer Charlene Thomas said in a news release. “The COVID-19 pandemic has made our services more important than ever.”

The company reports that over the past three years about 35% of seasonal employees were hired for permanent jobs after the holidays.

While not billed as seasonal jobs, Amazon announced in September it was hiring more than 500 full-time employees for its new warehouse in Deltona. Those jobs start at $15 an hour. The online retailer is hiring 100,000 people in the United States and Canada as it expands its footprint.

Walmart said it plans to hire more than 20,000 seasonal workers in its eCommerce fulfillment centers across the country, with starting hourly wages ranging from $15.75 to $23.75. The company has one of those centers in Davenport.

“The holidays are always a special time, and this year, we think the season will mean even more to our customers,” Greg Smith, executive vice president for supply chain for Walmart U.S., said in a news release. “As more of them turn to online shopping, we want to ensure we’re staffed and ready to help deliver that special gift to their loved ones while continuing to fulfill our customer’s everyday needs.”

Jobs created by online shopping aren’t necessarily delivery jobs, said Mara Devitt, senior partner at Chicago-based retail consulting firm McMillanDoolittle. As customers make their purchases online to get at the store, there are new jobs manning curbside pickup and filling orders inside the business.

“Many retailers are using their stores as a distribution point instead of the warehouse,” Devitt said.

Target, which offers a starting wage of $15, anticipates seasonal hiring to be “on-par” with last year as the company plans to double store employees focused on drive-up and order pickup, according to a news release. Last year more than 130,000 employees were expected to be hired nationally by the company for the holiday season.

“During the first half of fiscal 2020, more than 10 million new guests shopped Target.com and demand for same-day fulfillment options quadrupled,” the release said.

‘Uncertainty’

The holiday shopping season is also expected to be spread out, with events like Amazon Prime Day set for Oct. 13-14 changing the shopping pattern, Devitt said.

Target also plans to have digital deals on Oct. 13 and 14 and offer Black Friday specials throughout November.

Walmart also plans to spread its Black Friday savings through the season and have more deals online.

The longer shopping season could mean stores won’t have to staff for a peak demand spike, but the fewer individuals who do work could get more consistent hours, Devitt said.

“There’s so much uncertainty,” she added.

The National Retail Federation, which has launched a campaign pushing people to shop earlier this year to avoid crowding stores, has not released holiday hiring projections yet this year.

Spokesman Danielle Inman said that last year the retail industry employed an estimated 562,000 people filling holiday positions during November and December.

Inman added the organization recently surveyed 54 retailers, finding half planned to hire additional in-store staff and more than three in four planned to hire more workers for their distribution centers.

“We are waiting for new data and are still assembling puzzle pieces for the 2020 holiday season,” National Retail Federation chief economist Jack Kleinhenz said in a monthly economic review. “I am cautiously optimistic about the fourth quarter in terms of the economy and consumer spending, but the outlook is clouded with uncertainty pivoting on COVID-19 infection rates.”

Filling jobs

The Fresh Market, with five grocery stores in the Orlando area, planned to add about 1,500 employees across the company and had a hiring event this past weekend at its 159 locations.

“We are hiring the same amount of seasonal team members as we did last year so we can continue to serve our guests with the level of hospitality and service they expect from us, no matter how busy the store gets,” chief human resources officer Chris Himebauch said in an email last week. “We have already received a lot of interest, so do not anticipate difficulty filling these seasonal roles.”

Even as Florida’s unemployment rate remains higher than last year, Devitt thinks it will still be competitive for employers to staff up. Some unemployed workers also might be uncomfortable moving into jobs dealing with the public during the pandemic, she said.

“They’re still looking for the best people,” Devitt said.

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