'Christmas is not canceled this year, but it’s going to look different' for seasonal workers: Glassdoor economist

Reggie Wade

Typically at this time of year, millions of Americans head to retail outlets in search of seasonal work. Not this year, according to Glassdoor Chief Economist Andrew Chamberlain. He spoke to Yahoo Finance to discuss how the coronavirus is muting retail holiday hiring.

“Christmas is not canceled this year, but it’s going to look different from in most years for seasonal workers. One of the big changes is, you know, you’ve got coronavirus in the driver’s seat.”

According to new Glassdoor research, retail and seasonal job openings are down 8% from last year on the site. However, applications for retail jobs are up 36%. By contrast, data shows that national job openings are down 16% year-over-year, a sign that seasonal hiring is holding up better than hiring overall.

Chamberlain tells Yahoo Finance that spending patterns have shifted due to the pandemic, and the kinds of jobs people want to do have shifted as well. According to Chamberlain, many seasonal workers are unwilling to take in-store retail jobs due to fear of contracting COVID-19.

One sector of the labor market that is seeing an increase in attention from job seekers is eCommerce.

“Spending patterns are shifting away from brick-and-mortar toward e-commerce, no surprise there. ... We’re seeing huge interest in warehouse and e-commerce and delivery driver jobs, partly because people see that’s where the demand is, and that’s where the jobs are going to be.”

Chamberlain tells Yahoo Finance that safety concerns are another reason why job seekers are flocking to e-commerce positions.

“It’s going to be e-commerce also for health reasons. Some people might not want to take a counter job at the local department store this year,” he said.

Chamberlain points out that Census Bureau data shows some winners within retail during the COVID-19 pandemic. For instance, while spending from February to August dropped 20% at clothing stores but rose 11% at sports, hobby, and book stores.

“We’re seeing a big shift away from clothing purchases; people aren’t going to work. ... So big there’s big drops in clothing and apparel ... And there are big increases in sports like camping, hiking ... things that people can do during lockdown in a pandemic, so that’s definitely going to temper where you see the big holiday hiring and spending this year,” he said.

“You’re going to see a lot of demand at REI because people can go do things outdoors, even though they can’t go to Las Vegas or can’t travel to make their normal New York trip. You’re just going to see continued hard times from anybody selling professional clothing suits and business casual.”

Reggie Wade is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @ReggieWade.

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