December 17, 2018

Amid a Talent Crunch, Retail Recruiters Compete on Speed


Every year, there’s some shift in the competition among retailers for workers, just as in retailers’ competition for shoppers. iCIMS recently looked through its own data and uncovered three significant developments for this industry that employs 1 in 10 Americans.

In 2018, there were more jobs and less competition among candidates for them, yet retailers were quicker to fill their open roles. As holiday hiring also started earlier than in years past, it looks like there is an increased emphasis on timing and speed in retail hiring.

Retail Hiring Faces Challenges Both Cyclical and Structural

iCIMS data indicates there are more job opportunities for workers in retail this year and substantially more challenging hiring conditions for employers than either of the last two years. Despite an earlier start to the holiday hiring cycle, there have been fewer applicants per position; thus, the increase in job openings outstripped interest from workers. Over the January to September period, applications per hire were down 31 percent compared to two years earlier, from 19 individuals to 13. Clearly, low unemployment and the overall tightness of the labor market are limiting the pool of applicants for seasonal retail jobs.

The hot labor market isn’t the only challenge. As has been widely reported, the retail industry continues to shift in the direction of eCommerce, and that is changing the nature of the jobs on offer. Sales and front-line supervisors continue to be among the positions most in demand, but the growing influence of eCommerce is clear from how merchandise-moving and warehouse-related positions (drivers, conveyor operators, etc.) have also risen to the top.

So Many Early Birds, So Few Worms

The strain on retail employers seems to be pushing them to front-run one another. iCIMS data shows there was a big spike in retail job openings in June 2018, whereas the two years prior saw retail hiring spike in July. Furthermore, the number of new job openings in August and September 2018 was lower than last year, apparently because retailers had already posted their job openings earlier in the summer.

To Hire Faster, Embrace Automation

If speed is the name of the game, retail recruiters need to play it with more than just their calendars. Fortunately, a variety of new technologies are available to help, so there’s much employers can do to reduce time to fill and cost to fill.

Core recruitment software systems compete on which can best streamline hiring processes and centralize hiring data in a single interface. Then there are the point solutions: text messaging and chatbots for candidate communication, plus background screenings and a wide array of assessments, many of which can be integrated with a core platform. The more manual and the more frequent a task, the bigger a difference automation can make.

There is evidence to suggest that new technologies are making that difference. In recent months, retailers have filled roles quicker than they did last year. According to iCIMS data, the average time it took to fill retail jobs in September 2018 was 34 days, which is a 19 percent decrease from the time it took to fill retail jobs in September 2017.

How to reconcile a shorter time to fill with reports that the labor market is tight and good candidates are scarce on the ground? One way is to note the parallel emphasis on speed that we see elsewhere in iCIMS data. Rather than being picky, employers may be extending offers more quickly, as well as streamlining and automating their hiring processes. News reports of even very traditional employers hiring without in-person interviews are increasing.

Invest in the Future by Building Talent Pipelines

Of course, plenty of technologies are available to help recruiters push up their timelines even further. As is well known, recruiters can launch their recruiting efforts before they are even hiring. To dig the well before they’re thirsty, so to speak, recruiters can build talent pipelines and connect with potential applicants through candidate relationship management tools. If recruiters stay in touch with candidates throughout the year, they will have a pool of qualified and interested talent to contact ahead of the next holiday season.

If the trends in retail tell recruiters anything, it’s that they need to be ahead of the game the next holiday hiring cycle. Only so much is humanly possible, though. Eventually, recruiters will need to join the arms race and focus on their technology. Judging from the data, that movement is already well underway. Are you up to speed?

Josh Wright is chief economist for iCIMS, Inc.

Read more in Hiring Process

As chief economist at iCIMS, Josh is responsible for analyzing proprietary data in order to produce fresh insights on emerging trends in the U.S. labor market. He contributes to the publishing of quarterly trends reports, as well as semi-annual reports and blog posts on ad hoc labor topics. In addition, Josh supports in the development of software that allows customers to analyze their own performance relative to industry benchmarks by collaborating with data scientists, software developers, and marketing executives.

A former Federal Reserve staffer, Josh helped build the Fed’s mortgage-backed securities (MBS) portfolio of more than $1 trillion, among other responses to the global financial crisis.

As a researcher, he has published on labor and housing markets, as well as U.S. monetary policy, and has advised policymakers across the legislative and executive branches of government.