Nearly 9 in 10 retailers are short-staffed this holiday season

Updated December 21, 2021

This fall, the ongoing labor shortage collided with the holiday shopping season, making it difficult for more than three-quarters of U.S. retailers to hire seasonal staff.

That’s according to a new survey by ResumeBuilder.com, which asked 1,250 retail store owners and managers how difficult it was to hire temporary staff amid a tight labor market. We also asked what measures they took to incentivize reluctant workers to join their teams temporarily.

Key Findings

  • 86% of retailers who hire seasonal staff report being short-staffed this holiday shopping season
  • 44% of retailers say a lack of qualified candidates made hiring challenging, while 44% had temporary workers who quit after a few days
  • 6 in 10 retailers blame COVID concerns for their hiring struggles
  • 49% of retailers increased pay for seasonal workers in an effort to attract more applicants

86% of retailers fail to hire enough seasonal staff

After a year of supply chain issues, inflation, and pandemic-related restrictions, the majority of retailers had another woe to add to their list – challenges in hiring seasonal staff to help with the holiday shopping rush.

Only 14% of retailers who hire seasonal workers say they aren’t short-staffed this year. As for the remaining 86%, the number of workers they lack varies. Twenty-four percent are between 1 and 25 seasonal employees. Sixteen percent are short-staffed by 26-50 employees, and 11% have between 51 and 75 unfilled seasonal positions.

For 44% of retailers, a lack of qualified candidates made seasonal hiring difficult

The biggest challenges retailers report facing when hiring seasonal workers in 2021 were finding and retaining employees.

Forty-four percent of retailers struggled to find qualified candidates, while 40% did not get enough applications.

New hires quit after a few days for 4 in 10 employers

Even those retailers that found qualified applicants for temporary retail jobs found that their troubles did not end there.

Forty-one percent of retailers report no-shows for interviews, and 38% hired employees who then did not show up for their shifts. Forty-four percent of retailers had seasonal hires who only stuck around for a few shifts before quitting.

All of this ties back to the upheaval in the labor market, known as “The Great Resignation,” that has swept through the country, according to career counselor and recruiter Stacie Haller.

“There is a pervasive energy out in the workplace that is resonating with all workers, that there is something better out there for them,” Haller says. “With the abundance of job opportunities available, and the messaging from the media that now is the time to get the job you want, job-seekers feel empowered to do as they please during the hiring process. Seasonal employees may continue to look for permanent positions and will leave when they find them, even if it’s only a few days after starting a new position.”

61% of retailers who had seasonal staffing issues blame COVID concerns

Although a newly empowered workforce may have contributed to difficulty hiring seasonal workers, 61% of retailers point to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as a reason why they weren’t able to hire the necessary staff this year.

Forty-seven percent say there are fewer people seeking seasonal work, a new development which Haller says is also likely related to the pandemic and the changes it’s wrought.

“Seasonal work has traditionally been for workers looking to make extra money during the holidays,” she says. “Since remote work has taken hold, many people are exploring other routes for extra income. With the same retail and hospitality skills, workers can find other jobs where they have more flexibility, can earn more money, and don’t have to worry about COVID exposure.”

Some retailers, however, see things differently. Forty-two percent say people are less willing to work during the holidays, while 40% blame laziness for their hiring challenges.

Half of retailers increased pay to attract seasonal workers

To help address these challenges, most businesses tried a variety of incentives to lure seasonal staff members.

The most popular incentive, which was used by 49% of retailers, was increasing pay. Forty-four percent of retailers tried to entice candidates with signing bonuses, while 40% hoped employee discounts would attract temporary staff.

Other popular incentives included health insurance (38%), permanent job offers (36%), and paid time off (34%).

Without enough seasonal workers, half of retailers are making regular employees work overtime

While applicants may not have shown up for seasonal jobs this year, the shoppers are still coming, meaning retailers had to turn to other solutions to handle the holiday rush.

Most are relying on their regular employees more than usual. Fifty-two percent of retailers are asking permanent staff to work overtime, while 41% are giving non-retail employees retail responsibilities to help fill the gaps.

Even with these measures, the lack of seasonal staff may still impact business’ bottom lines. Forty-eight percent of short-staffed retailers are experiencing delays in fulfilling orders, while 47% are unable to offer extended hours during the holiday shopping season.

Customers may also feel the effects of short-staffed businesses, as 39% of retailers say the quality of their customer service has declined.

Methodology

All data found within this report derives from a survey commissioned by ResumeBuilder.com and conducted online by survey platform Pollfish. This survey was completed by 1,250 American retail business owners and managers. To qualify for this survey, respondents had to own or manage a retail business that hires temporary staff for the holiday shopping season. Appropriate respondents were found via a screening question. This survey was conducted over a two-day period, beginning on December 10, 2021, and ending on December 11, 2021. All respondents were asked to answer all questions truthfully and to the best of their abilities. For full survey data, please email Content Marketing Specialist Kristen Scatton at kr[email protected].