Seasonal Retail: Holiday Job Postings Down This Year as the Hiring Season Starts Late

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Holiday posting share down 16%, but a growing portion is for full-time work.

Whether or not Canadians have started their holiday shopping, employers are getting ready for a surge. Canadian retail sales, excluding motor vehicles and gasoline, peak every December before falling back in January. To match these spending patterns — plus the vacations people often take around the holidays — many retailers and other employers go on a seasonal hiring blitz.

We used Indeed job posting data to identify “holiday jobs”, that is, postings with terms like “Christmas”, “Holiday”, and “Seasonal” in the job title. These data allow us to track how posting activity compares with years past and identify the types of employers doing the most holiday hiring.  

As of mid-November, holiday jobs as a share of total Canadian posting activity during the hiring season are down 16% compared with the same period last year. This decline reflects a delayed start to the hiring season. Holiday posting activity picked up in September, a month later than previous years, and the tardy jump since hasn’t been enough to offset the slow start.

The trend toward online shopping is likely to gradually weigh on seasonal retail hiring. Still, it’s unclear how much ecommerce has influenced year-to-year changes so far. While postings for the season are down, holiday job openings are increasingly looking for full-time workers. As a tightening Canadian labour market makes it harder to fill job openings, some holiday employers could be looking to fill fewer slots and have their new hires work more hours instead.

Holiday job postings ramped up in September rather than in August as in past years

In years past, Canadian holiday job postings on Indeed have followed a familiar pattern: they start rising in early August, accelerate through September, and peak at the start of November — usually four to five times higher as a share of total activity than at the start of July. From there, they gradually decline.

This year, holiday hiring has been more compressed. In 2016 and 2017, the holiday share of total Canadian posting activity nearly doubled over the six weeks leading up to September. This year though, they remained flat until the end of August. This slow start to holiday hiring hasn’t been unique to Canada. Holiday job posting activity in the US also began behind the 2017 pace.   

While holiday job postings lagged initially, the slow start didn’t last. Postings jumped in early September and by the end of the month were running similar to last year’s strong hiring season. The holiday posting share peaked toward the end of October at a level similar to last year’s and has ticked down since.

Despite eventually catching up to the 2017 share of daily activity, the 2018 holiday job posting share of total Canadian postings from August to mid-November is down 16% from last year. Given that holiday postings ramped up a month later than usual, activity would have had to surge well above last year’s October level to match 2017’s hiring season on the whole.    

The tightening Canadian labour market could be driving a shift to full-time holiday work

One factor potentially weighing on the holiday share of Canadian posting activity is that a growing portion of openings are for full-time roles. As a result, the total number of hours employers are looking to fill is probably more similar to last year’s total than the drop in the number of postings would suggest.

In 2016, of holiday job postings from August through mid-November that indicated full or part-time status, just 23% were for full-time work. In 2017, the full-time share jumped to 28% and this hiring season rose to 31%.  

According to StatCan data, full-time workers in sales and service occupations — which most holiday-related roles fall under — typically work more than double the hours of their part-time counterparts. Rather than hire more workers, each working relatively short shifts, some employers appear to be filling fewer roles and having their employees work more hours instead.

A similar trend is evident in the latest StatCan’s Job Vacancy and Wage Survey data. The share of job vacancies for sales and service occupations indicating full-time hours was 55% in the second quarter of 2018, up seven percentage points from two years earlier. With Canadian employers reporting that labour shortages are getting more severe, it’s unsurprising that more of them are looking to maximize the work they can get from new hires.

Large retail companies lead the way in holiday hiring

The majority of Canadian holiday job postings are for retail and related roles, so it’s unsurprising major retailers top the list of companies with the most holiday openings. Moreover, the stores looking to do the most holiday hiring tend to specialize in categories that typically see the largest spikes in spending in December.

Each of the four broad retail categories that StatCan usually finds have the largest October-to-December spending jumps are represented in this year’s list of the top five employers in holiday hiring: Hudson’s Bay Company (general merchandise/clothing and accessories), The Source (electronics), Indigo (books and music), and Old Navy (clothing).

BC Liquor Stores also cracks the top five, consistent with the sales jumps at beer, wine, and liquor stores during the holiday season (the LCBO ranks 17th). Finally, the two nonretail employers making the top ten this hiring season may be looking to fill the most iconic holiday jobs: Cherry Hill Programs is a leading employer of holiday Santas across the country, while Vail Resorts operates Whistler Blackcomb ski resort.

Ecommerce is growing, but so far its drag on holiday hiring is uncertain

Ecommerce is playing an increasingly important role in the retail sector, especially around the holiday season. Over the past two years, Canadian online sales have jumped from October to December even more than activity at brick-and-mortar stores. That said, the impact of this shift online on year-to-year holiday hiring so far appears to be gradual.   

The online share of Canadian November-to-December nonauto and gasoline retail sales rose from 4.7% in 2016 to 5.4% last year — which might be enough to weigh on seasonal retail hiring, but may still be too little to make a dramatic dent. In fact, the 2017 holiday posting share was actually up compared with the previous season. One factor helping maintain holiday retail employment is that many consumers still browse store aisles before pulling the trigger online.       

Holiday job postings as a share of activity on Indeed are down a bit this season. Nonetheless, after a slow start, they eventually tracked earlier years. Moreover, this year’s dip has been partly offset by growth of full-time holiday jobs, which suggests many employers have significant hours to fill. The rise of ecommerce is likely to be a drag on traditional retail employment in the years ahead. But don’t expect short lines to see Santa at the mall just yet.

Methodology

To identify holiday job postings, we tallied postings with job titles containing one of the following terms: Christmas, Xmas, Santa, elf, holiday, seasonal, advent, Noël, Llutin, fêtes, saisonnier, and avent. Excluded from this sum were postings with titles which also included: labourer, educator, wedding, grounds, groundsperson, farm, ouvrier, éducateur, mariage, terrains, personne sur le terrain, ferme.

At the daily frequency, holiday job postings’ share of total Canadian posting activity was taken on a 7-day centered moving average basis. Postings were tallied from August 1 to November 11 when calculating posting activity for the holiday hiring season as a whole. Only postings the specifically indicated looking for either full or part-time employees were included in the full-time posting share calculation.

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