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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

In a tight market, stores lure holiday workers with perks

In the children’s department, J.C. Penney sales associate Mykalah Geer rings up customer Jenny Nguyen’s purchases for her children Aiden, 10, left, and Jayden, 8,  Monday at the  store in the Spokane Valley. Local retail outlets are ramping up hiring for the upcoming holidays. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
From staff and wire reports

Retailers are dangling perks like higher pay, extra discounts and more flexible schedules to lure temporary holiday workers in a tighter labor market.

Stores across Washington are expected to hire 12,700 people for what’s anticipated to be a busy shopping season, according to the state Employment Security Department. The hiring represents a rebound from a two-year decline in holiday hiring, the agency said.

At the J.C. Penney Co. in the Spokane area, for example, managers plan to hire 350 people – mostly for the holidays.

“We’ve had a good year and have added major appliances,” said Brandon Meyer, store manager for J.C. Penney in Spokane Valley.

Across the Spokane area, employers will add about 845 temporary workers. Hiring signs are posted at multiple big stores, such as Fred Meyer.

Big retailers are determined to lock in their workers earlier. Macy’s and Target are holding their first nationwide recruitment fairs, and others like consumer electronics chain Hhgregg Inc. are making it easier to apply for temporary holiday jobs via mobile devices.

“It’s a scramble for people, and we have to get creative,” said Hari Pillai, CEO of Speed Commerce, which plans to hire about 450 workers at its warehouses and call centers this season for clients including Yankee Candle. That’s a 50 percent increase over last year. Pillai noted that he increased pay by 20 percent to 25 percent in tight labor areas like Ohio.

Washington also has a low unemployment rate and rising wages.

The state report said the seasonal retail hiring is expected to include 7,480 jobs in general merchandise stores and another 3,329 jobs in clothing stores.

Some companies are also widening their standards. Significantly more companies said they would be more willing to hire temporary workers with criminal backgrounds than two years ago, according to job listing site

“It’s reflecting that people have changed their views on what’s good enough,” said CEO Peter Harrison.

Harrison also noted that many of his retail clients, which include companies like arts and crafts retailer The Michaels Cos. and Target Corp., want to have their holiday hiring done by the end of October. In the past, it was completed by early November.

Government figures show that 2.5 million more Americans have jobs as of August compared to a year earlier. The unemployment rate is 4.9 percent, down from 5.1 percent a year ago.

Finding the right workers for the season is critical. Having a bad customer service experience during holiday shopping is much worse than having one the rest of the year, said Kevon Hills, vice president of research at StellaService, a customer service analytics company.

“No matter what technology you use, or tools or product, at the heart of the customer service is the people – whether it’s online or in the store,” he said.

Hills noted that retailers have improved their response time in recent years. For example, last holiday season, it took 49 seconds from the first ring to when a customer service representative answers, compared to 71 seconds during the holiday 2013 season, he said.

One of the biggest incentives for workers, of course, is pay. Toys R Us, which is hiring 10,900 seasonal workers in five of its biggest markets, said it’s raising the pay in certain areas. Also new this year: better compensation for those who work Christmas Eve, according to Alyssa Peera, a spokeswoman at the toy retailer. Traditionally, workers were given increased pay on Thanksgiving. Temporary workers will also get additional discounts and be treated to special after-hour events.

But flexibility is a big draw, too, as stores aim to be more competitive. Pillai said that a few years ago, people who wanted to work just 10 hours a week had a hard time getting holiday jobs. But now, he said, “We will find a role.”