Amazon announced its plan to hire 100,000 seasonal workers for its U.S. fulfillment centers this holiday season–up from 80,000 hires in 2014, and double the hires it made in 2012. With this announcement, Amazon becomes the largest employer of seasonal hires in 2015.
Amazon has been growing strong. The e-commerce giant added 39,300 employees this last quarter, marking a record quarterly growth for the company. Amazon also broke 200,000 headcount for the first time, now at 222,400 — that’s a 49% percent increase from the same time last year.
This is positive news for a company which just this year came under fire for its alleged “bruising” employment practices of its white-collar employees, as detailed in a New York Times expose. And this wasn’t the company’s first encounter with bad press threatening its employer brand: A few years back another widely circulated piece revealed the harsh working conditions of its blue-collar, order fulfillment workers.
Amazon’s brand resilience is evident, and to drive more fulfillment center recruits Amazon is sweetening the deal this year with a 23% increase in hourly wages, shuttle services, and sign-on bonuses. These employee incentives were not offered to workers last holiday season, and only time will tell if they are enough for Amazon to reach it 100k-recruit target.
Shifts Toward Online Retail & Robot-Assisted Labor
Although seasonal hiring overall is projected to remain flat at the 775,000 mark it reached last year, several big retailers are looking to increase their e-commerce staff for the season. Nordstrom reportedly earned 19% of its sales online and plans to invest and expand its e-commerce operations.
Online sales appear to be growing at a faster rate than in-store sales: U.S. retailers grew online sales by 16% in 2014, while total domestic store sales only grew by 2.4 percent. With online sales outpacing overall store sales by six-to-one last year, it’s a safe bet to assume retailers will continue to expand their online sales and fulfillment staff to compete a the ever-stiffening price and pace of e-commerce. But how might this shift change retail labor?
Amazon may be increasing its seasonal hires by 25% this year, but Internet Retailer reports that Amazon has doubled the amount of robots since the last holiday season. This investment in robotic logistics has allowed Amazon’s fulfillment staff to fill orders 2 to 3 times faster than if they were to do so manually. As the company leads the pack in online retail, does Amazon’s robot-assisted fulfillment workforce serve as the future face of US retail labor?
A Silver Lining & the Future of Retail Work
Now before we fear dystopic sci-fi plot on the sudden rise of the robot army taking away retail jobs, don’t worry – online purchases account for only 8% of all retail sales. However these shifts towards an e-commerce model are important to note, especially when considering its impact on labor. A possible silver lining is that warehouse working conditions could improve across the board as retailers vying for order fulfillment labor may enhance their employment conditions to attract more recruits.
Running parallel to this rise in demand for warehouse labor, however, are the inevitable advances in tech and robotics which have enabled retailers to increase margins on each online sale. The efficiencies afforded by new tech may either improve or add increased pressure on worker wages.
How will the shift towards e-commerce affect retail labor? Tweet us @CareerArc and share your views on holiday hiring trends.
By Tallulah David