It may be the first week of fall, but retailers already are focused on late December, and early indications suggest optimism is high.
Toys R Us Inc. said Tuesday it will add 45,000 seasonal workers this year, up from 40,000 last year. The Wayne-based toy-store giant joins other retailers, including Walmart and Kohls, in boosting its hiring plans for 2012 compared to 2011.
John Holub, president of the New Jersey Retail Merchants Association, said that's a good sign, because increases in staffing are generally an indication that a retailer expects an increase in sales.
"Obviously the holiday season is the most important time of the year for retailers," he said. "Considering how important retail sales are to the overall economy, it's encouraging."
But as retailers adjust to the changing economy, they're also adapting to an evolving technological landscape. Online retailers have increased market share in recent years, and the industry's behemoth, Amazon.com, is poised to build two large distribution centers in New Jersey next year, potentially cutting shipping times for Garden State residents.
Asked if that might curb seasonal hiring next holiday season, Holub countered that Amazon's presence here might actually prove an advantage. That's because Amazon's move into New Jersey came along with an agreement to begin collecting sales tax on orders by New Jersey residents, something the e-tailer has avoided until now.
"For Main Street retailers, this is the last holiday season in New Jersey that Amazon is able to exploit this unfair advantage in the loophole that exists," he said. "This time next year, they'll be collecting sales tax, so they'll lose that competitive advantage that they have."
Holub said brick-and-mortar stores still account for the majority of holiday purchases, as they offer advantages online stores don't, such as the ability to touch, feel or try on a product before purchasing it.
Brick-and-mortar stores also are leveraging the Internet. In fact, Toys R Us said many of the new hires this season will be tasked with staffing its "site-to-store" operations, where customers can order a product online and pick it up at the store.
Holub said such arrangements have become popular in recent years. He said many site-to-store programs allow same-day pick-up, something Amazon can't yet offer, "so you don't need to wait for the UPS or FedEx truck to arrive in a day or two."
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