By Siddharth Cavale
NEW YORK (Reuters) -Walmart Inc sounded a cautious note about holiday retail sales on Wednesday, planning to hire fewer workers than last year as it prepares for the critical season in the middle of a slowing economy.
The largest U.S. retailer announced plans to add 40,000 workers in seasonal and full-time roles in a blog post by Maren Waggoner, senior vice president of field people for Walmart U.S.
Walmart in September 2021 said it would hire 150,000 workers. While this included some seasonal staff, those hires were mostly in full-time, year-round positions to cover COVID-19 absences. That led to overstaffing that dented Walmart's profits in the first quarter of 2022.
This year's hiring is expected to bolster the company's online business and its in-store, delivery and pickup operations ahead of what is expected to be a subdued holiday shopping season. U.S. retailers face inflation, higher interest rates, a tight job market and supply chain snarls.
Walmart's new workers this year will include seasonal U.S. store associates, truck drivers in full-time positions and service staff at call centers, Waggoner said.
Amazon.com, Target, Macy's and Kohl's have not yet announced their holiday hiring plans.
Holiday retail sales are expected to rise between 4% and 6% year over year from November to January for total sales of about $1.45 trillion to $1.47 trillion, according to Deloitte's annual holiday retail forecast released on Sept. 13.
This compares with the 15.1% sales growth in the same period last year, when shoppers were flush with cash and eager to spend after months under lockdown.
Declining demand for durable consumer goods, which had been the centerpiece of pandemic spending, will be a factor this year. Deloitte said inflation may boost total dollar sales but volumes will not rise commensurately.
For example, 5% fewer online orders are expected this year compared with last year, as prices are expected to jump 15%, data from Salesforce's Consumer Sentiment Index in August showed.
Holiday shopping is also expected to start earlier than ever this year as "stretched wallets create urgency," Salesforce said in its report.
Macy's Chief Executive Jeff Gennette echoed those comments, saying he expects holiday shopping to start in October.
For example, Melanie Edwards of Detroit is planning to shop for her family this month, two months earlier than when she started last year.
"With inflation not seeming to decline, I’m planning on shopping extra early this year. If I spot a deal before November, I'm going to jump on it," said Edwards, who works as a product manager at a soda company.
Target, for example, is already advertising Christmas as a featured shopping category on its home page, where shoppers can find a small amount of holiday deals, deals tracking website Blackfriday.com said.
At least three analysts told Reuters that Amazon's rumored second Prime Day of 2022, likely to be held in mid-October, will unofficially kick off this year's holiday season. The first was held in July.
Prime Days usually prompt rivals to offer their own deals and achieve a doubling in their online sales on that day, which is similar to what they achieve on Cyber Monday, a key day in the beginning of the traditional holiday shopping season, they said.
(Reporting by Siddharth Cavale in New York; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Jonathan Oatis)