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Retailers Adding More Online Shopping Reps as Part of Seasonal Workforce Hiring

Major Retailers Want More Employees Who Process Orders and Handle Customer Service from Call Centers, or Even Homes

When most job seekers consider seasonal retail jobs, they think of crowded stores of holiday shoppers, but more retailers this year are also looking to staff up their online customer service centers, and even home-based workers, to handle the expected surge in online shopping.

JCPenney, Macy’s, The Gap, Toys R Us, Williams-Sonoma — and Amazon of course — have all posted listings for work-from-home seasonal retail jobs this year, and, if it proves to be successful, more retailers could follow suit.

“While there is a lot of worry that the increase in e-commerce is going to hurt the amount of jobs available in the retail space, these selling channels bring new opportunities as the industry pivots,” said Andrew Challenger, vice president of global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. “It’s a positive indicator that retailers are not just cutting in-store workers, but are also adding these remote customer service associates.”

Most of these jobs will be answering customer questions and concerns through phone, email or web-based chat services.

“These types of positions are great for older job seekers or those who may have a difficult time getting to an office or being on their feet,” Challenger added.

Amazon, for example, is hiring for what it refers to as “virtual” (or work-from-home) positions available to qualified individuals who live in some areas not located near a physical Amazon location. The company said it plans to reserve many of those positions for military veterans.

Macy’s is hiring 80,000 seasonal workers for its stores nationwide. Of those, the company expects about 1,000 will be hired to interact with customers via telephone, email and online chat at customer service centers.

Toys R Us is hiring 900 people as virtual call center representatives in 25 states.

The increase in hiring for virtual retail jobs is due in part to reduced in-store sales figures compared to the rise of e-commerce transactions. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, in-store sales fell 7.2% in December 2016, marking 23 consecutive months of declining sales.

Retail sales across all channels are expected to rise between 3.6% and 4% this holiday season, according to the National Retail Federation.

Like last year, much of this growth is expected to be driven by increased internet sales. Marketing and research firm eMarketer predicts e-commerce will account for 11.5% of total retail sales in the November-December period. This share will represent an acceleration in online sales growth, with 2017 e-commerce holiday sales projected to rise by 16.6% against the 2016 season’s 14.3%, according to recent analysis by CBRE.

Jobs in non-store retailers are on the rise as well. Since September 2016, the industry, which includes online shopping, increased employment 3.7%. According to a December report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs in electronic shopping and auctions rose over 400% since October 1990.

Reflecting the change in store sales, the total number of in-store retail jobs has been shrinking, according to Challenger.

Fewer major retailers have announced large-scale hiring announcements so far this year. Overall, seasonal retail hiring has fallen each year since 2013. Last year’s gains of 641,000 fell almost 10% from the previous year, when 708,800 jobs were added in retail.

“The shrinking job gains in retail during the holiday season are indicative of the changing consumer habits and overall transition the industry is experiencing,” said John Challenger, CEO of Challenger Gray.

“New technology in retail also eliminates the need for some back-office operations, which may lead to less hiring. However, this new technology may just change the nature of the work rather than replace workers altogether,” he added.

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