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Retailers Upbeat Ahead of Christmas Despite COVID-19

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While hiring nationwide is well below normal, Christmas job-filling has exceeded expectations. Meanwhile, after a slow start jobseeker searches have recently picked up strongly.

Key points:

  1. By the end of September, Christmas job postings as a share of total postings were tracking well ahead of last year, partly reflecting subdued overall hiring.  
  2. Hiring in Victoria is tracking lower than the rest of Australia, reflecting ongoing economic restrictions.
  3. Jobseeker searches for Christmas jobs have picked up recently after being depressed during much of the COVID-19 crisis, which may reflect federal government policies such as JobKeeper and JobSeeker.

The holidays are still months away but Australian retailers are already gearing up for Christmas. Hiring for holiday jobs typically begins in August, ramping up throughout September and into October, with businesses finalising recruitment and nailing down schedules well before Christmas arrives. This year appears no exception. 

This Christmas is unusually important for retailers. Disruptions of normal operations, particularly in Victoria, have left retailers vulnerable. Spending patterns have been volatile and uncertain. A strong Christmas would be just the thing to help salvage an otherwise dismal year. 

From a hiring perspective, Christmas jobs are tracking better than might be expected given the overall weakness in job-filling nationwide. That is a rare positive in what has otherwise been a terrible year for jobs.

Workers are also hanging back, with searches for Christmas jobs well down. This may reflect in part federal fiscal support measures, such as JobKeeper and JobSeeker, that have temporarily awarded younger people higher-than-normal wages.

Christmas recruitment starts in August

Australian hiring fell sharply when COVID-19 took hold and has only partly recovered. The crisis appeared to delay Christmas job recruitment by a couple of weeks. In August, the Christmas job posting share was tracking 19% below last year, largely reflecting the delay in recruitment. That quickly reversed in September, with the 2020 share jumping 46% ahead of the 2019 share. 

This reflects two factors. First, there are more Christmas jobs this year than last year. Second, there are fewer overall job postings this year compared with last due to COVID-19. Christmas jobs are effectively a bigger share of a much smaller pie. 

In 2018, Christmas job postings peaked in mid-September, but last year they peaked a few weeks later. The Christmas hiring trend can change rapidly during September and October, depending on when hiring peaks.

The COVID-19 crisis is most glaring in Victoria postings. From 2016 to 2019, the state accounted for around 26% of Christmas jobs postings between August 1 and September 30. This year, Victoria accounted for just 23%.

The explanation appears to be Victoria’s heavy restrictions on retail activity. Christmas opportunities in the state are likely to continue to lag the rest of Australia as long as those limitations are in place. The uncertainty surrounding reopening of the Victorian economy makes it difficult for businesses to plan for the holidays.

Search activity is down

Christmas job searches typically peak a little later than job postings. Searches this year have ramped up even later than normal but have since closed the gap and by the end of September were tracking slightly ahead of 2018 and 2019. 

Search behaviour may have been influenced by changes in federal government policy. The introduction of JobSeeker and JobKeeper payments early in the COVID-19 crisis effectively gave many young workers a pay rise, keeping some Australians from looking for work. 

With JobKeeper and JobSeeker scaling back at the end of September, new jobs should become more attractive. That could create a flood of Christmas job searches beginning in October. 

Who is hiring?

Most Christmas roles are in the retail sector,  as true this year as last. Nevertheless, other areas of the economy benefit from greater retail turnover. For example, a day-long shopping spree isn’t possible without refreshments, which creates food service roles. And all those toys and clothes don’t magically appear on shelves. Instead, they must be transported from warehouses, stimulating opportunities in transport and logistics. 

That said, once again the major Christmas employers are retailers, with clothing, footwear and jewelry ranking highly.  

It’s hard to overstate how difficult this year has been for retailers, but they seem relatively upbeat heading into the Christmas shopping season. Jobseekers are beginning to pay attention, with search volumes surging during September. Search activity may increase further into October and fiscal support measures, such as JobKeeper and JobSeeker, wind down. 

Methodology

We define Christmas job postings as those with one or more holiday-themed terms in the job title, including, but not limited to, ‘Christmas’, ‘Xmas’ and ‘holiday’.