Recruiting & Staffing

Why Retailers Struggle to Hire Workers Ahead of the Holidays

By: Mariah Rogers
Nov 12, 2021 • 2 min read

Retailers will offer anything to hire new employees: signing bonuses, higher wages, and sometimes, even college tuition. Companies will try to entice new employees with perks as the holidays close in on an industry challenged by the pandemic.

For instance, Macy’s offers a referral bonus of up to $500 for every friend or family member their employees recruit to join the company. Walmart pays as much as $17 per hour and offers free college tuition to its workers, while Amazon warehouse jobs now provide a signing bonus of up to $3,000.

Recovering from the Pandemic

Most retailers expect the upcoming holiday season to be as busy as the previous years after being challenged by the COVID-19 in 2020. Now, they are struggling to hire workers to staff their stores and distribution centers amidst a tight labor market. 

The main challenge is that it’s not easy to lure applicants into an industry that’s been heavily impacted by the pandemic’s many challenges, whether fights about mask-wearing or high infection rates. Retail workers willing to take the job will probably earn larger paychecks and work fewer hours, but customers will likely be greeted with less inventory and understaffed stores. 

While some of the generous perks are usually provided to long-term workers, higher pay than usual is also offered to seasonal workers. It’s crucial for retailers to hire temporary help since existing employees are already battered from nearly two years of pandemic conditions.

The Challenge to American Retailers

The race to hire new employees comes as the American economy is recovering from the pandemic, adding about 530,000 jobs in October, showing a sharp improvement from the previous month’s stats. 

Still, despite the drop in unemployment rates, labor participation or the share of the working-age population employed or job hunting stayed flat last month. This signals a pool of available workers that remains tight.

Analysts say that the reason behind this challenge is that the American economy is coming out of a crisis no one had the experience dealing with. Millions were furloughed, laid off, or removed from the workforce, and the expectation of having workers show up on time to a new job is misguided. 

Moreover, the fear of coming back to work in a job that exposes workers to large numbers of the public remains. 

The challenge to retailers and the struggle to find workers highlights the difficulty of many retail jobs and the short working hours offered to store workers during the pandemic’s peak. Moreover, they were regularly exposed to the COVID-19 risk, dealt with customer conflicts about wearing masks, and were given inconsistent hazard pay to compensate for their efforts.


All this struggle leads to workers holding more leverage this upcoming holiday season than the previous years. Analysts advise the retail industry that workers now have more agency than ever before, something they must come to realize. 

Moreover, they also say that if retailers want to attract new workers, paying them more and fundamentally improving working conditions is crucial to finding the solution.

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