PhotoIt looked good at the start, but then it fizzled.

According to an analysis of non-seasonally adjusted government employment data by outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, holiday hiring by retailers fell short in November and December after getting off to a strong start in October.

The final tally shows seasonal employment gains last year were down 1.2% from 2014, making it the second consecutive year in which holiday hires declined.

Retail employment grew by 745,800 workers in the final three months of 2015, compared with the 755,000 workers added in 2014. That was down 4.0% from 2013, when nearly 787,000 seasonal workers were hired.

“Several factors may be contributing to slower holiday hiring.” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “Just as in many other industries, technology is making it possible for retailers to meet higher demand with fewer workers.”

Another factor may be the shift in Christmas shopping from brick-and-mortar to click-and-order. “The continued growth in online purchases means that retailers need fewer bodies on the sales floor while more workers are needed by warehouses, fulfillment centers and shipping companies, such as FedEx and UPS,” he added.

A changing timetable

Retailers also appear to moving their hiring timetable up a bit. While the bulk of the employment increase is still recorded in November, job gains in October are definitely on the rise. Over the last two holiday seasons, retail employment increased by an average of 190,400 in October. From 2010 through 2013, retailers added an average of 145,600 in October.

Even with downward adjustments in hiring figures by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment gains recorded among retailers in October were still the highest on record for that month, in data going back to 1939.

“The earlier hiring gains, coupled with the fact that Black Friday has lost some of its punch in recent years, means that retailers simply do not have to add as many workers in November and December as they used to,” said Challenger.

In addition, he said, “retailers are offering more deals online and at different times throughout the holiday season. As a result, more and more shoppers are learning that they no longer have to endure the crowds and mayhem at 5am on the Friday after Thanksgiving to get a good deal.”

January and February are likely to see a significant decline in retail employment. Since 2010, non-seasonally-adjusted employment in the sector has fallen by an average of 787,000 jobs in the opening two months of the year. That surpasses the number of seasonal jobs added during that period, which averaged 715,000.

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