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Retailers’ top holiday staffing issues are…

holiday retail employee
Retailers face many challenges in staffing stores for the holidays.

A new survey reveals the priorities and challenges retailers face in hiring store employees as the holidays approach. 

According to the fourth annual holiday hiring survey of retail executives and managers from HR, payroll, and workforce management software provider UKG, almost all respondents (96%), up from just 40% in 2022, plan to increase headcount in stores for the 2023 holiday shopping season. 

The survey also finds 87% of respondents are more optimistic this year heading into the holiday shopping season. However, respondents also cited a number of staffing issues, including:

  • More than nine in 10 (93%) say their stores are struggling to meet sales goals, and three in 10  (31%) say staffing shortages are the cause.
  • Eight in 10 (82%) say store employees want more schedule flexibility than they currently provide, and one in three say managers are quitting in order to get it. 
  • U.S. stores are understaffed one third of the time, on average, and seven in 10 (69%) say it’s their number one concern this holiday shopping season. Nearly half (48%) expect stores to be understaffed two to three days per week.
  • One in 3 (32%) say staffing shortages limit their ability to adequately care for customers at least weekly, and 75% say shopper expectations are higher than what their stores can deliver.
  • One in three respondents are dealing with angry or aggressive shoppers in stores at least weekly, and retailers say this and increased exposure to other adverse situations (e.g., increased theft/loss in stores) are dissuading people from working in retail. 
  • Half or more also cited year-over-year increases in voluntary (54%) and involuntary (49%) turnover.

Top store staffing and technology priorities

  • Top store staffing priorities when planning for seasonal spikes include delivering a seamless omnichannel experience (41%), as well as convenience for shoppers (40%). But more than that, closer to half of retailers (46%) say they’re focused on keeping staff engaged, happy, and satisfied.
  • Nearly nine in 10 respondents (87%) also admit they could be doing more to support store employees with mobile technology. Only 45%, on average, have equipped store staff with a mobile solution to complete common work tasks or access work-related information. Close to three in 10 (28%) say inefficient tools and technology for store employees are to blame for sales deficits.
  • Around one in three respondents are leveraging AI to streamline valuable people processes today and, among them, almost all (92%) believe AI improves efficiencies in the flow of work for store managers and employees.

“Understaffing in retail has been a problem for years,” said Rob Klitsch, industry principal, retail and hospitality, at UKG. “Hiring people is an uphill battle because of increased competition in and outside of retail, and retaining staff is challenging. More leaders need to understand that their most critical success factor is their people. Investing in the employee is always good for business.”

[Read more: Seasonal hiring update finds retailers optimistic but cautious]

Research findings are based on a survey conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of UKG, Sep. 8-20, 2023, among a pool of 500 retail executives and managers representing both the frontline and corporate perspective at small/medium and large U.S. retailers.

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