A Walmart worker organizes products for Christmas season at a Walmart store in Teterboro, New Jersey.
Eduardo Munoz | Reuters
Walmart said it will hire 20,000 seasonal employees who will help pack and ship online purchases at its fulfillment centers as it anticipates more holiday shopping to shift online during the coronavirus pandemic.
It marks the first time in five years that the big-box retailer has announced significant holiday hiring. The company is adding the seasonal workers, even after its pandemic-fueled spree. Since March, it has hired more than 500,000 employees across its U.S. stores and supply chain to keep up with demand for a wide range of items, from groceries to hair color and bicycles.
Over the past few years, Walmart has largely given extra hours to its existing employees to keep up with the pace of holiday shopping.
However, this year the coronavirus pandemic could complicate how the season unfolds. New Covid-19 cases are rising by a weekly average of 5% or more in 29 states and Washington, D.C., according to a CNBC analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. And public health officials are concerned those numbers could grow as colder temperatures force people inside.
In a news release Wednesday, Walmart said it will stretch Black Friday sales throughout the holiday season and have more deals online, rather than squeezing them into a single day that jams up stores — though it shared few details about specific offers.
Holiday sales could rise between 1% and 1.5% this year, according to an estimate from consulting firm Deloitte. However, it said actual spending will hinge on how much high-income consumers spend on lavish gifts and how much lower-income families pull back because of unemployment or uncertainty.
Another consulting firm, AlixPartners, said many Americans will begin buying holiday gifts before Halloween as traditions like “doorbuster” sales and one-day Black Friday deals fade away. Several retailers including Walmart, Target and J.C. Penney have already said they will remain shut on Thanksgiving Day. For this reason, AlixPartners is including October in its holiday sales forecast, and estimates an increase of 1% to 2.6% in sales over the same three-month period last year.
Walmart said it anticipates that many trends that began during the pandemic may continue or intensify over the typically busy shopping season. For example, it said, people’s holiday wish lists may reflect their new and simpler routines. They may ask for items like exercise equipment, since they aren’t going to the gym. Customers may buy their family and friends athleisure or sleepwear for lounging around at home. And people may treat their new work-from-home buddy to a cozy new dog bed or squeaky toy.
“Over the past six months, our customers have been shopping differently, and we expect that will continue into the most important shopping season of the year – the holidays,” said Scott McCall, chief merchandising officer of Walmart U.S. in a news release. “We’ve heard from our customers that many plan on starting their holiday shopping well before Black Friday, and that they’re looking for gifts that fit their current lifestyle.”
Other retailers have begun offering glimpses of what they see ahead as well. Macy’s CEO Jeff Gennette predicted consumers will buy beauty and home items, as people exchange fewer experiential gifts like a spa gift card or movie tickets. Lowe’s sped up the installation of store lockers in major metro markets, anticipating people may prefer to retrieve their own online purchases of Christmas decor or a power tool gift without interacting with employees or other customers. Home Depot said it’s teamed up with Pinterest to inspire homemade gift ideas, an option that may appeal to the growing number of Americans tackling DIY projects or tightening their belt because of the recession.
And numerous companies are trying to reduce crowds and encourage shopping by extending promotions over a number of months. Home Depot, for example, said its Black Friday specials will last nearly two months. Target said holiday deals will start in October. And media reports have suggested that Amazon will hold its delayed sales event, Prime Day, on Oct. 13.
Some aspects of the Walmart shopping experience will remain the same, however: The retailer said it will keep up safety procedures, such as a requiring masks. It will also continue shortened store hours, something that will keep stores clean and stocked — but also could cut into parents’ late-night shopping trips.