Holiday 2012: Part III

My first two posts on the 2012 holiday season can be found here and here.

News out this week suggests things are looking “ok” as we head toward the holiday season.  I recognize the term “ok” is not a highly technical term, but I’ll publish my finalized retail sales forecast shortly and I don’t want to say “great,” because I think there are still many headwinds of which I’ll write more about in a future post. But first, onto some of the recent news that helps paint a picture of how the holiday season is shapping up.

Walmart announced plans to boost season hiring in 2012. Walmart plans to hire more than 50,000 seasonal associates which is up slightly from 2011.Target plans to hire 90,000 seasonal employees which is down just slightly from the 92,000 seasonal staff it hired in 2011. Kohl’s plans to hire 52,000 seasonal workers in 2012.  hhgregg plans to hire 1,000 seasonal employees and complete those seasonal hires by early October.

A recent survey by Snagajob finds more season jobs will be available this holiday season than in any of the previous five years. The survey found  63 percent of hiring managers will make hires this holiday season, the highest percentage in the Snagajob five-year survey and up 12 percentage points from last year (51 percent).  The hiring managers surveyed expect to hire 6.1 seasonal workers on average – a 50 percent increase over 2011 and a nearly 100 percent increase over 2009. According to the study, among the hiring managers who will be hiring, 57 percent expect to complete their hiring by the end of October. The same figure was 46 percent in 2011 which might suggest companies are expecting to satisfy their seasonal hiring earlier this year. The survey found nearly half (49 percent) of the seasonal positioned fulfilled will be for full-time hires.

The push to have seasonal hiring largely complete by October could suggest an early push to holiday promotions as I mentioned in my previous posts.  It could also be designed to get these new hires educated and trained in advance of the real holiday push in November and December.

Expect to see an expansion of retail storefronts this holiday season. This will keep retail continuously in front of consumers and within easy reach which should help contribute to positive retail sales this holiday season.  But it could also mean that retail sales dollars are spread across more retailers putting pressure on metrics like same-stores sales.  Best Buy plans to open 33 additional Mobile Best Buy stores in October and November. Microsoft is planning to open over 30 pop-up stores for the holiday season.

As I wrote about in my first two installments on 2012 holiday predictions, online versus brick-and-mortar is going to be an important battlefield in 2012. For the next three months, multichannel is the operative word.  Walmart announced this week that it would discontinue carrying the (Amazon) Kindle.  Target announced the same policy a few months ago. LG recently announced it would implement a new unilateral pricing policy (UPP) for LG-branded goods sold online.  LG noted that certain high-end products, such as the recently announced 84-inch 4K LCD TV and most-likely the 55-inch OLED TV still slated for introduction later this year, will not be available for online distribution. These moves by Walmart and LG together with moves by other manufacturers and retailers, have different purposes but all come down to the desire of manufacturers and retailers to differentiate the roles of online retail and brick-and-mortar retail – especially this holiday season. Related to all of this, comScore published research last week showing four in five smartphone users accessed retail content on their smartphone devices in July. Topping this list was Amazon with an audience of 49.6 million visitors, followed by eBay (32.6 million visitors) Apple (17.7 million visitors), Wal-Mart (16.3 million visitors), Target (10 million visitors) and Best Buy (7.2 million visitors).

Finally, last week Booz & Co. unveiled holiday-related research and predictions for 2012 holiday season. Related to the battlefield between online and brick-and-mortar, Booz found 40 percent of of surveyed consumers consider browsing in-store before buying online their shopping strategy. Many of their findings are consistent my previously posted predictions:

  1. consumers remain skittish – 52 percent of consumers will closely consider affordability in their shopping decisions
  2. consumer expect deals – 73 percent of consumers expect to find great deals this season, compared with 62 percent last year
  3. gift cards rule – More than 80 million shoppers plan to purchase gift cards this season, about 4 percent more than last year
  4. Consumers will give digital media this year (something CEA captured research on during the 2011 holiday season).  Some 45 percent of consumers expect to give at least one downloadable gift (i.e., an e-book, a music download or a movie)
  5. Fifty-three percent of consumers intend to buy at least one luxury item (up from 41 percent last year)
  6. Consumers are looking forward to the holiday more than last year; 53% expect to host multiple gatherings, compared with 45% last year

Booz & Co. also outlined the important role multichannel retailing is going to have in 2012. The report provided a laundry list of approaches retailers could take.