Charlotte-area seasonal hiring reflects online shopping boom

Amazon employees load boxes with orders at the company’s fulfillment center ahead of Cyber Monday in Tracy, Calif., on Nov. 30, 2014.
Amazon employees load boxes with orders at the company’s fulfillment center ahead of Cyber Monday in Tracy, Calif., on Nov. 30, 2014. Bloomberg

How shoppers buy holiday presents is shaping what kind of jobs companies are hiring for this season.

In the Charlotte region and beyond, that means firms are placing seasonal workers in distribution centers and warehouses, as well as in functions that support cybersecurity, shipment and delivery.

“It used to be that the bulk of holiday hires would be in customer-facing positions on the sales floor and behind the cash register,” John Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, said in a recent report about the hiring trends. “Now ... the holiday hiring is shifting away from stores and into the warehouses.”

Brick-and-mortar stores like Belk and Kohl’s are taking on more e-commerce support positions, like in distribution centers, as competition grows from rivals like Amazon. Courier companies like UPS are adding capacity to avoid the kind of fiasco they faced in 2013, when millions of shipments arrived late because of high demand and bad weather. And logistics firms like Total Quality Logistics are steadily staffing up to make sure shipments are handled efficiently.

Locally, the U.S. Postal Service said it is hiring 390 seasonal workers in the mid-Carolinas district, which includes the southern part of North Carolina and the northern part of South Carolina. That number is up from just 160 last year, said spokesman Tom Ouellette.

“That’s in part because we’re expecting a record-setting holiday season this year,” Ouellette said.

Similarly, the United Parcel Service has 334 total openings for seasonal Charlotte jobs, including drivers, driver helpers and part-time package handlers. Last year the courier needed 331 workers, said spokesman Dan McMackin.

For the period this year that runs roughly between Thanksgiving and New Years, UPS predicts a 10 percent rise in holiday shipments, and FedEx expects about a 12 percent rise.

FedEx couldn’t provide hiring numbers for Charlotte specifically but said it will hire 55,000 seasonal positions this year nationwide, 5,000 more than last year. Positions include package handlers, drivers, couriers and other support positions, spokeswoman Davina Cole said.

For the major brick-and-mortar retailers, in-store positions still comprise the bulk of seasonal hiring. At Charlotte-based Belk, for example, store associate jobs will make up nearly 70 percent of the chain’s 5,800 total seasonal hires this year.

Still, Belk is taking on 1,800 seasonal workers for store operations and e-commerce support, including 350 at its fulfillment center in Jonesville, S.C., about 72 miles southwest of Charlotte. Similarly, Kohl’s is hiring 9,500 seasonal workers nationwide at its distribution and e-commerce fulfillment centers, up from 9,300 last year.

Traditional retailers are upping their e-commerce support amid the growth of the giant Amazon, which said last month it will hire 100,000 seasonal workers in its fulfillment and sorting facilities, a 25 percent rise over last year. Spokesman Aaron Toso said that includes “hundreds of jobs in North Carolina and thousands of jobs in South Carolina.”

According to its website, Amazon is hiring for seasonal associate jobs at its fulfillment centers in Concord, West Columbia, Spartanburg and Charleston. The retailer employs more than 360 people at its Concord distribution center.

Thanksgiving weekend is one of the biggest of the year for brick-and-mortar retailers, though its significance has waned in recent years as online shopping has gotten more popular. In a bid to keep pace with the likes of Amazon, retailers like Walmart this year will offer deals online before they’re available in stores, presumably further boosting demand for e-commerce support jobs.

The season is a particularly busy one as well for shipping and logistics companies, who are responsible for making sure shipments arrive where they’re supposed to go safely and on time.

Total Quality Logistics, for example, has been upping its presence in Charlotte as e-commerce demand grows, though not just during the holidays. The firm employed 87 in Charlotte last month and expects headcount to reach 108 by February and 113 by April, spokesman Mark Motz said.

“We certainly see spikes in that segment of our business around the holidays,” Motz added.

The National Retail Federation says online spending this holiday season will increase 6 percent to 8 percent to $105 billion, up from an increase of 5.8 percent last year. The Washington-based firm expects total retail spending, including online sales, will rise 3.7 percent to $630.5 billion, a bit slower than the 4.1 percent last year.

Katherine Peralta: 704-358-5079, @katieperalta