By Jessica Wohl
(Reuters) - Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT) said on Monday it plans to hire 55,000 temporary workers at its Walmart U.S. stores during the holiday season, up roughly 10 percent from 2012, as the world's largest retailer seeks to maintain its edge during a sluggish economic recovery.
However, overall U.S. retail holiday hiring is expected to be flat at best, outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc said.
Stores are bracing for what is expected to be a slightly weaker season than last year, as consumers remain cautious amid a slow economic recovery and the continued rise of shopping online has been drawing sales from traditional stores.
U.S. retail holiday hiring overall, at best, is likely to match last year's levels, outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc said. Retail seasonal hiring hit a 12-year high in 2012 with 751,800 jobs added from October 1 through December 31, the firm said. This year's holiday hiring could still be in the 700,000 range, even if it does not reach last year's level, Challenger said.
Along with the rise of online shopping, retailers are getting smarter about using data to predict more accurately when they need to change staffing levels in their stores, Chief Executive Officer John Challenger said in a statement.
While sales during the busiest time of year are still expected to rise, the gains may not be as strong as in 2012.
On Monday, consulting firm Deloitte said it expected sales to rise 4 to 4.5 percent for the November-to-January period, versus 4.5 percent growth a year earlier. It expects a 12.5 to 13 percent increase in nonstore sales, the bulk of which are done online.
Last week, research firm ShopperTrak said it saw U.S. holiday sales growing at a slower pace than in recent years and that shoppers would likely go to stores less often.
70,000 SHIFTING ROLES AT WALMART
Last week, Target Corp (TGT) said it planned to hire about 70,000 seasonal workers, down from the year before, while offering its year-round staff the chance to work more hours. Kohl's Corp (KSS) said it planned to hire more than 50,000 workers, up slightly from a year earlier, but the overall number of hours worked is expected to be the same as 2012.
Bentonville, Arkansas-based Walmart is the largest U.S. private employer, with more than 1 million workers.
In addition to the 55,000 seasonal workers, Walmart U.S. also said it would move more than 35,000 employees from temporary to part-time status, and another 35,000 from part-time to full-time by the end of the year.
Walmart could not say whether seasonal staff would work more or fewer hours than last year. Temporary roles at Walmart stores include a variety of jobs with various wages, such as cart pushers, stockers and cashiers.
Walmart has been pushing to give its existing staff, including part-time workers, the chance to sign up for extra shifts. Part-time and full-time workers are averaging about three more hours per week than they were a year ago, the company said. Part-time workers now work an average of 27 hours per week and full-time workers now work an average of 37 hours per week.
Walmart typically hires temporary workers for 90- or 180-day assignments to fill the shifts that part-time and full-time workers do not take. The bulk of its temporary hiring occurs for the holiday season.
Wal-Mart shares were up 0.7 percent at $76.33 on Monday afternoon on the New York Stock Exchange. Its shares have risen about 12 percent so far this year.
(Reporting by Jessica Wohl in Chicago, additional reporting by Siddharth Cavale in Bangalore and Phil Wahba in New York; editing by Kirti Pandey, Jeffrey Benkoe and Matthew Lewis)