U.S. retailers are taking a cautious view of the holiday selling season this year - if their temporary hiring plans are anything to go by.
Macy's, which operates the namesake Macy's and Bloomingdale's department store chains, said on Tuesday it would hire 83,000 temporary workers for the holiday quarter, a 2% decline from last year.
Retailers are keeping sales expectations and inventories low - and hiring light - ahead of the holiday season, to avoid a repeat of the last holiday quarter, when unusually warm weather led to weak sales and a lot of unsold goods.
Target said last week it would hire 70,000 in-store workers for the holiday period, unchanged for the fourth straight year. Kohl's said on Monday it would hire more than 69,000 extra workers for the period, same as last year.
U.S. brick-and-mortar retailers' biggest challenge in recent years has been tackling the growth of online retailers, specially Amazon.com Inc, which offer the same products at lower prices and have made shopping more convenient.
Large store chains have invested in growing their online business, but that has hurt margins.
Online sales are expected to take a bigger slice of holiday shopping this year, putting more pressure on big-box and department stores, said Neil Saunders, chief executive officer of research firm Conlumino.
"Against this backdrop of subdued growth and potentially lower margins it is not surprising that the big retailers are being cautious. They do not want to over commit on the cost front and that means keeping tight control of inventory and of staffing," he said.
Macy's, whose sales have declined for six straight quarters, is the worst hit among the big retailers and has been shutting stores to cut costs.
Last month, the company announced plans to close 100 stores by early 2017. It said in September last year it would shut 35-40 stores in early 2016. Macy's said on Tuesday it operates about 880 stores.
Macy's has forecast full-year comparable sales to fall 3-4 percent, while Kohl's expects full-year sales to be flat or rise only 1 percent. Target said in August it is "planning for a challenging environment in back half of year."