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‘Worst Time in History’ for Retail Staffing in Canada Says Expert [Interview]

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The holiday shopping season is a critical one for retailers when it comes to their bottom line.

But one of the key challenges the industry has faced over the years, and particularly this year, is finding enough people to work in their stores to meet the holiday rush.

“It’s going to be the worst in history,” said Suzanne Sears, President, Best Retail Careers International. “It follows the record path of record unemployment. There’s very few people looking for work and even fewer looking for temporary jobs.

“In general, the way stores measure on sales is by sale per square foot. So if you have a 10,000-square-foot store without any sales personnel in it your sales per square foot falls into the garbage. So no sales people means lower sales per square foot. You’re basically asking people to self-serve. 

“And if self-serve’s your model, that’s probably okay. But if self-serve is not your model, that missing person translates into lower or zero sales.”

Sears has three tips for retailers heading into this critical shopping period.

Tip 1: Don’t hire Seasonal

Hiring Signage at Browns at CF Toronto Eaton Centre (Image: Dustin Fuhs

The biggest error employers make is starting from scratch every holiday or extra staffing season, instead of hiring “seasonal”, which by definition means temporary hiring, shoot for Occasional Part Time year-round instead. Or “On Call” staff, explained Sears.

“This way you grow and develop a dedicated and knowledgeable base of persons who enjoy working for your firm in a variety of settings and schedules,” she said. “Calculate an annual budget for Occasional Staff. Then allocate those funds into hours over the course of an entire year. This budget is on top of your regular part time staff. That way when interviewing and hiring you can clearly state: we have “X” hours annually to offer.

Traditionally, Sears said retailers have thrown their nets out and captured a few people who want to make a few dollars for themselves for Christmas shopping.

“That entire concept of seasonal staff is pretty well a dead fish. The concept isn’t viable anymore,” she said. “If you start off feeling that or believing that you have to hire all these temporary people, you’re basically throwing your kite into the air because those types of people no longer exist. 

“What you can hire, should hire, is an entire team of ongoing, on-call, basically gig workers. In fact, it’s probably a good idea to even pay them cash the way you’d pay an Uber driver. Hiring a team of year-round contract people makes sense. You can find good quality people who are only interested in limited hours, limited commitment.”

Tip 2: Pay Better

Hiring Signage at Telus in CF Toronto Eaton Centre (Image: Dustin Fuhs)

Pay better for temporary staff than you do for regular part time, added Sears. Even $1 or $2 an hour is a huge drawing card for folks who like “gig” jobs.

“As people who do pop-up staffing find, the only way you’re going to get short-term, short-hour people is by offering an incentive to do that kind of work,” said Sears. “And they come to expect it because they can get it.”

The premium is to first attract them and second to keep them.

Tip 3: Offer a Bonus

Call it Spring at CF Toronto Eaton Centre (Image: Dustin Fuhs)

Offer a Completion Bonus if staff stay for an exact period of time. Thus the offer is X per hour plus $ for completing the agreed to number of hours.

You are less likely to have drop off if the bonus is significant. It doesn’t have to be cash either. It could be a shopping card, dinners, an adventure. 

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

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