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Survey: Despite staffing problems, most stores had successful holiday

Issues such as COVID-19 impacted store operations during the 2020 holiday shopping season, but most retail stores avoided a sales decline.  

Despite dire predictions, three in five retailers either reported an increase in year-over-year holiday sales in stores (37%) or no significant change (22%) from 2019, according to the second annual “Retail 2020 Post-holiday Season Review” from UKG (Ultimate Kronos Group), The survey of 300 U.S. retailers responsible for hiring and/or staffing decisions in stores also revealed only 43% of respondents said they fully met their hiring goals, while about one-third (35%) deemed stores fully prepared or felt they had adequate headcount to consistently meet shopper demand (33%) throughout the holiday season.

Over the duration of the holiday shopping season, almost all retail managers (92%) observed COVID-related anxiety among store staff, including 81% who said employees felt stressed or anxious at least once a month. Only one in four (27%) respondents got through the 2020 holiday shopping season without seeing a member of their store staff test positive for COVID-19. 

Correspondingly, employee turnover attributed specifically to personal concerns about COVID-19 was high: Nearly half of respondents (48%) said store employees quit at least once a month, and 14% said they lost employees on a weekly basis (two to three times a week). 

Seasonal recruitment strategies differed between large and small-and-medium-sized retailers. Large retailer respondents were more likely to offer employees flexible schedules (67% vs. 60%), enable shift swaps (49% vs. 40%), and allow associates to set their own schedule preferences (30% vs. 27%). 

Fewer large retailer respondents (21%)—said meeting candidates’ expectations around workplace technology posed a barrier during recruitment than small/medium retailer respondents (27%). Overall, more than twice as many respondents invested in talent acquisition (52%) and onboarding technology (50%) in stores ahead of the 2020 holiday shopping season compared to 23% and 21% of retailers, respectively, in 2019. 

The survey also revealed a number of statistics specifically related to holiday staffing issues:
•    In a typical week, stores were understaffed 30% of the time, and 29% of respondents (up from 22% in 2019) said unplanned absence meant stores paid out more overtime than expected.

•    One-third of respondents (32%) said employees would call out of shifts with less than 24-hour’s notice at least two to three times a week, while one-quarter (24%) said employees “ghosted shifts” —i.e. did not show up for a shift and did not notify their manager—at the same frequency.

•    35% of respondents said employees did not show up on time for scheduled shifts at least 2-3 times a week.

•    More than half of respondents (55%) noted that attendance issues were more prominent among seasonal workers than permanent employees, while 43% said it was difficult to retain the seasonal staff they hired.

•    Around one-quarter of respondents (27%) experienced higher mid-season turnover this year than last.

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