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Holiday retail sales and hiring up significantly from 2009 season

January 10, 2011 |  2:18 pm

ShopperTrak, the latest retail group to release holiday figures, said Monday that U.S. retail sales rose a solid 4% for the crucial November-December period. Foot traffic increased 1.8%.

Poor weather hurt shopping trends in December, but better-than-expected sales in November helped boost the season, ShopperTrak said. 

“In December, retailers felt the wrath of Mother Nature as the crippling blizzard along the Eastern seaboard essentially wiped out shopping and delayed nearly $1 billion in sales on Dec. 26 and 27,” the group said.

Still, industry watchers are calling it the best holiday season since 2006.

Many retailers anticipated better Christmas sales and aggressively hired temporary workers to help out during the busiest time of the year.

Retail employment showed a net gain of 646,300 jobs in October, November and December, according to an analysis of employment data released Monday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

That was a 28.9% improvement over the same period a year earlier, when seasonal hiring led to 501,400 new jobs.

The analysis -- conducted by global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. based on non-seasonally adjusted data -- found that although November hiring was about the same as a year earlier, October and December hiring was the heaviest it had been in several years. 

Last month, retail employment grew by 181,900 positions, which was the largest December gain since 2005. October’s increase of 146,800 retail jobs was the largest for that month since 2006.

“It turns out the additional hiring was warranted, as retailers experienced their best holiday sales season in several years,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “Now, the question is whether the consumer will go into post-holiday hibernation.”

Challenger said if it appears that strong spending will continue through the first few months of the year, retailers may keep some temporary seasonal workers on their payrolls as permanent employees.

Over the last several years, retailers have cut more workers in January and February than they hired in the preceding three months. Last year, after adding 501,400 seasonal workers, retail employment fell by 737,500 in January and February.

-- Andrea Chang

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