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Christmas Recruitment: How to stop seasonal hiring from crippling your retail business

DID YOU KNOW - "Staff turnover costs UK businesses around £42 billion a year"

Those operating in the retail sector will have experienced a number of key issues that are particularly hard-hitting during periods of recruitment. The underpinning reason for this is that the volume of applicants is much higher than any other sector. Retail currently employs more than any other private sector employer and employs 10% of the UK population (Labour Market Review).

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These hiring challenges can be categorised as:

  • Managing high volumes of applicants
  • Attracting suitable candidates
  • Retaining quality staff

Managing high volumes of applicants

A third of all employers in the retail sector say that recruiting talented workers is one of the biggest challenges in regards to staffing; but then per role, the retail sector on average attracts twice the number of applicants than any other sector in the UK. So if there are so many people applying for these roles, why is it an issue? Surely having queues for your vacancies can be almost as beneficial as having queues at your tills?

Having such a high volume of candidates presents two issues, firstly the cost associated with managing the applications and secondly the effect that it can have on the quality of candidates. Companies in the UK that volume recruit spend just short of £3 million on their staff procurement every year (Overcoming Retail Volume Recruitment Challenges). On average, half of all shops in the UK receive between 51-100 applications for each vacancy they post, which means it is likely that a large percentage of great candidates are falling under the radar. These could be your future managers!

It is normal for those in the retail sector to find that the number of applications received in an average month is much higher than that of the norm for other sectors, but seasonal hiring requirements, such as during  the Christmas period, can send this figure way north of the average, even for the retail sector. The number of staff working in shops over the festive period can nearly double when compared to average staffing numbers. Furthermore, and slightly more surprisingly, summer roles are on the increase, with around 50,000 summer jobs opening the three months before September (Managing Seasonal Retail Recruitment Spikes).


Attracting suitable candidates

The benefits of a career in retail can often be overlooked, with some having outdated views on what it has to offer to them in terms of career opportunities. There are still misconceptions, particularly in younger generations, about retail being low paid work that serves a temporary purpose. Careers in retail are however becoming much more tempting as these views are beginning to be side-lined. With more clarity in what candidates expect from employers, employers must be clearer with what they expect from candidates.

Having the right calibre of staff requires clarity from both the employer and the employee. The retail sector is currently at the point where over 60% of employers have reported that applicants lack customer handling skills and only 11% of employers say that employees have all the necessary skills to work in their store (Labour Market Review).

When acquiring quality staff, the retail industry struggles foremost in capturing the attention of candidates. The hiring process is often left to individual store managers whose budget can sometimes be seen to stretch as far as a notice in their shop window or a placement in the local job centre. There will be few who will know what is better for the store than the shop managers, but it’s important to introduce the manager at the right time. A manager will be able to add more value to the business during the interview stages where his experience and knowledge as to what the store needs can be utilised. Introducing the manager during the shortlisting stage where he will have to sift through potentially hundreds of applications is a less productive use of time, and regardless of managerial involvement at this stage, it is impossible to guarantee that you choose the best fitting candidates if you recruit via a manual, paper or email inbox method of recruitment.

Retaining quality staff

A third of retail employers say that staff turnover is one the biggest issues with recruiting in the retail sector, which is not surprising considering staff turnover costs UK businesses around £42 billion a year (Telegraph News). To put it into perspective, a Study by Oxford Economics found that it costs businesses £30,000 to replace each member of staff. However, financial costs are not the only problem with high staff turnover, for example; replacing staff requires time to be spent on training new members of staff and this massively disrupts and slows down productivity.

In business, a common phrase used to explain how sales and company-customer relationships work is, “people like to buy from people”. In essence, this means that a customer is more likely to develop brand loyalty if they can put a face to, and relate to, the company they are buying from. A lot can be said for retaining a body of staff that is recognisable and familiar; with each employee that is lost, a complete package of your invested training, nurturing, time and effort walks out the door.

In Summary

Retail has a specific set of issues when it comes to recruitment. No doubt there are thousands of store managers across Britain currently experiencing these shortcomings and rather rapidly turning a very festive shade of white, but the way that many companies are currently dealing with recruitment in retail is nothing short of outdated. Not only does it cost the business time and money in the short term to manage a manual process, but it will have a knock on effect that will be felt after every Christmas or seasonal period. The beginning of the year can be slow for shops, but for those that performed badly over November and December it can be crippling.

Whilst the Christmas rush to recruit part-time staff has peaked, it is still important that a recruitment strategy is maintained. The early months of the New Year are a great opportunity to review how successful, or unsuccessful, recruitment has been, whilst a high standard of staff must be ensured for the quiet period. What’s more, with the summer months being an up and coming candidate market, and a peak in itself, this is a great reason to start ‘talent pooling’ quality candidates that didn’t quite make the Christmas cut.

A key area that many people fail to take into consideration is around the candidates that didn’t get the job. This pool of talent is potentially huge for a retail business. For the candidates who just fell short of the marker, whether in terms of ability or when compared against those that landed the job, this ‘pool’ of potentially hundreds of candidates is the perfect solution to future short-term or quick turnaround hires. These candidates can be kept in contact with your business and when an opportunity arises, contact can be made and they can directly be invited for an interview; this can massively reduce the time and costs associated with hiring. What is essential to remember is that these applicants aren’t alienated by the process, with the candidate journey becoming ever more prominent, these candidates should be treated like customers; the fact is, many of them probably are customers.

The shortcomings that retail are faced with when recruiting are fixable problems and there is a solution to make the whole process easier and more manageable. Without a candidate tracking system, it is difficult to deal with the spike in applicants during periods of seasonal hiring and incredibly difficult and time consuming to find the best candidates.  Not only could real talent be missed, but the cost attached to an outdated recruitment strategy can be felt for much longer than the initial hiring stages.


If you would like to find out more about improving your recruitment process, or would like a case study to look over, call 01509 236 434 and ask for Jason Staniforth or email 

Ed Hull

Ed Hull is the Marketing Assistant at Vacancy Filler Recruitment Software. As a keen writer with a degree in History, Ed contributes regularly to the Vacancy Filler blog.

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