Merchants group outlines holiday expectations

The NC Retail Merchants Association has information about seasonal hiring, retail sales and the new credit cards with embedded chips.

The good news is retail outlets are hiring for the holidays. The bad news for North Carolina is that the state will continue to lose tax revenue to increasing online sales, according to the association.

Here is the Merchants Association’s holiday report:

 “NCRMA members report that some of their best hires come from the seasonal hiring process,” said Andy Ellen, president and general counsel.

“It’s a great way for someone to experience what it’s like to work in retail. If they like it, it can be a great foot in the door for full-time employment. The demand for seasonal workers is higher this year due to positive employment numbers and consumer spending.

“Retailers must be prepared to exceed expectations on in-store customer service. Part of the focus in recent years during the holiday season has been adding sales force to manage traditional holiday lines and crowds with mobile check-out options.”

Many NCRMA member companies will offer part-time employees full-time employment and give current employees the option of working more hours, reducing the amount of training necessary and keeping knowledgeable staff in front of customers.

NCRMA member companies have announced holiday hiring plans. Overall, the retail industry nationwide is expected to hire 755,000 temporary staff this year, which is consistent with last year’s numbers.

Open positions include sales associates, mobile/social media marketers, customer service representatives in store and in call centers, as well as distribution center workers. North Carolina hourly rates for these positions range from $10 to $22 per hour, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Belk expects to hire 900 seasonal employees this year in North Carolina where the company has 67 stores. Belk operates 297 stores in 16 Southern states.

Best Buy plans to hire 550 seasonal employees at its stores in North Carolina. Nationwide, Best Buy has more than 1,400 stores and locations, including large-format and Best Buy Mobile stores, and employs more than 125,000 people nationwide.

Kohl’s plans to hire 69,000 holiday workers, up from 67,000 last year, at stores, distribution centers and credit facilities nationwide. The company expects to hire an average of 50 temporary employees for each of its 1,100 stores around the nation. Kohl’s has 28 stores in North Carolina.

Macy’s expects to hire 85,000 nationally. Approximately, 12,000 of these positions are for fulfillment centers. There are 12 department stores in North Carolina.

Target expects to hire 70,000 seasonal employees nationally. The company has 48 stores in North Carolina.

Walmart will hire approximately 60,000 seasonal associates nationwide. The company has 222 stores in the state that include its super centers, discount stores, neighborhood markets and Sam’s Clubs.

Hiring is not only taking place at major chains, North Carolina’s independent retailers plan to hire, on average, two to three part-time sales associates for the three months leading up to Christmas.

Small businesses work to control the costs of sourcing and hiring seasonal staff by recruiting via social media, relying on word of mouth or sometimes hiring family and friends.

Retail sales

“With the explosion of mobile commerce and the move to omni-channel, customers no longer think of digital versus physical retail,” said Ellen.

“Yet money earned in North Carolina slips out of the state when residents shop online with online-only retailers. No matter where a customer chooses to shop, one thing is crystal clear: when payment takes place in exchange for goods, a sale has occurred. When online-only retailers do not collect the sales tax, local retailers that are legally required to collect the sales tax are placed at a significant price disadvantage to their online counterparts.”

Online retail sales are expected to grow 13.9 percent to more than $79 billion or about 9 percent of all holiday retail sales.

North Carolina is estimated to lose approximately $430 million to online sales each year. While it is owed on all online purchases, consumers often forget to remit the use tax due on their tax returns.

Mobile device influence on in-store holiday sales is likely to be even greater this year than last. Overall, Deloitte estimates that smartphones and tablets used before or during a shopping trip to a store collectively influenced $970 billion (28 percent) of total in-store sales in the U.S. in 2014 – six times the amount of two years earlier.

In the 2014 holiday season overall, almost one-in-four e-commerce transactions took place on a mobile device.

Research firm eMarketer suggested that overall U.S. retail sales in November and December could grow 5.7 percent compared to last year, reaching, perhaps, $885 billion. The National Retail Federation projects a more conservative 3.7 percent to $630.5 billion.

Retailers anticipate that product categories such as apparel (specifically active wear), electronics, gift cards, luxury items and robotic toys will be their best sellers this year.

Thanksgiving vs. Black Friday vs. Cyber Monday

“Until everyone closes their doors on Thanksgiving — Amazon, eBay, movie theaters, restaurants, golf courses, and others — you will see retailers make the decision to be open as well,” said Ellen.

“I encourage everyone to support business in the state and recognize why stores need to be open. And then, let’s all go a step further by shopping in our community to support the economy in North Carolina.”

Nearly one-fifth of the retail industry’s annual sales in 2014 came directly from November and December.

For every sale that is lost to an online-only retailer, it becomes much more difficult for a retailer to stay in business, serve the community and employ people year round.

EMV chip-enabled credit cards

“For retailers who have upgraded their payment technology to the EMV standard, it is imperative that every cashier understand the payment system to avoid confusion at checkout,” said Ellen.

“Conversely, consumers need educating on the added security as well as added time at checkout.”

EMV – Europay, MasterCard, Visa cards (also called chip-and-PIN) are more secure than magnetic stripe/swipe cards due to the dynamic cryptogram attached to each authorization.

Chip-and-PIN (personal identification number) cards will work with either a traditional swipe or a card slot, and new readers contain both technologies.

If consumers use the chip-enabled card in the traditional magnetic stripe reader, the process is no more secure than it was before. It must be inserted to use the safer chip-embedded technology.

Unless there is a PIN attached to the card, there is no added security for lost or stolen cards. Many banks are issuing chip-and-sign cards rather than the more secure chip-and-PIN.

• According to the National Retail Federation, 76 percent of consumers said credit and debit cards were their primary form of payment in 2014.

Forty-four percent of merchants expected to be ready to accept chip-enabled cards by the end of the year.

 More than 53 percent of U.S. consumers think it’s important for retailers to enable smartphone payments in addition to chip-enabled payment technology.

The North Carolina Retail Merchants Association is a nonprofit trade association organized in 1902 to improve the business climate for retailers in North Carolina.

The association represents the interests of individual merchants before the General Assembly. The association’s membership includes more than 25,000 stores from across the state whose business represents 75 percent of North Carolina’s retail sales volume. For more information, visit http://www.ncrma.org and www.thisisretailnc.org .

Salisbury Post | November 19, 2015
By: Deirdre Smith