Practical Ecommerce

How to Hire Holiday Ecommerce Help

Booming holiday sales require online retailers to pack and ship more orders, respond to more chat sessions, emails and calls, and closely manage marketing campaigns like pay-per-click advertising or promotional email offers. To deal with all of the extra activity, some Internet retailers will need to hire holiday help.

This year Christmas ecommerce sales are expected to top $61.8 billion in the U.S., up about 15 percent from last year, according to revised eMarketer estimates. Cyber Monday sales alone may reach $2.2 billion, according to a recently released report from Adobe. These estimates predict significant growth for the online retail industry, especially relative to brick-and-mortar retail sales.

Many online merchants, however, are not staffed to handle all of the holiday business. This may be especially true for small ecommerce retailers that only have a handful of employees.

One possible — even likely — strategy for handling the additional operations, customer service, and marketing tasks end-of-year sales represent is to simply work overtime. Everyone in the company puts in additional hours to get the job done and take care of the customers. But this approach has its limitations, and at some point, it may make sense to hire seasonal workers.

When hiring seasonal holiday workers, here are some tips to help you make good choices.

Hire for Attitude Too

Frequently when managers read resumes or employment applications, they are looking for aptitude — the natural ability to complete some task or job competently — and experience.

The most apt and experienced candidates should garner an interview, wherein the hiring manager will also want to consider the candidate’s attitude.

In small and mid-sized online retail businesse,s everyone, including seasonal workers, will need to work side-by-side in a busy, potentially stressful, environment. A worker with positive attitude makes a big difference in the daily work experience for everyone. Bottom line, hire happy elves and not Ebenezer Scrooges.

Hire for Your Brand, Culture

Even small retail businesses can have a unique brand and culture. Long-term employees may grow with the brand and culture over time, but temporary workers don’t have that luxury. They need to start out as a good brand fit.

Imagine, as an example, hiring a temporary customer service representative to chat with shoppers live or respond to customer calls and emails. If that seasonal employee represents ideas, habits, or attitudes that are significantly different from the merchant’s brand image, the disconnect may be something that shoppers will recognize, and it may be something that could ultimately hurt a business’s reputation.

“Good hiring managers search for candidates who will match their brand image and tone especially in the holiday season,” job site CareerBuilder says, “Temporary workers should not only look and feel like they belong working at your company but also they should act like they belong.”

Hire from Many Sources

There are many ways to find good seasonal employees, including placing ads on job sites, listing the position on Craigslist, or even using services like Pandora to target likely candidates in the local area.

Beyond these, retailers can also tap local colleges and universities, retirees, and even church groups or high school sports boosters.

These last two groups, churches and boosters, will often provide groups of people who will do simple tasks in exchange for donations to their organizations. As an example, a small retailer might pay a high school booster club 50-cents per package for processing Cyber Monday orders under relatively close supervision. The boosters may not individually be fast or even efficient, but often the organization can provide enough workers to make the job go quickly. Some brick-and-mortar retailers use this approach when they allow booster clubs or church groups to set up gift-wrapping tables.

Hire People You Can Fire

Some online merchants may be tempted to hire family friends or relatives during the holiday season. While these relationships can certainly work, for many businesses it is best to hire a seasonal worker that you can fire if need be.

If the owner of a retail business hired the son or daughter of a close family friend, and that new employee decided to steal something from the warehouse, how would the resulting employment action impact the family’s friendship? Or, what if a relative was hired expecting to get some extra holiday cash without having to work too hard?

While the goal of hiring is to find employees who are a good fit and will do a good job, there are going to be times when you need to get a seasonal worker out of your company. This is easier if there are no outside relationships.

Hire Folks You Can Re-hire

For holiday workers it can also be a good idea to look for temporary employees that you can hire year after year. These might be retirees or folks with professions that are generally not working when retailers are busy.

As an example, online retailers in the Pacific Northwest can often hire wildland firefighters. These hard working individuals are typically laid off or employed by retailers only part time in November and December. Hire such a person this year, train that person, and you might be able to hire him or her seasonally for years to come.

Armando Roggio

Armando Roggio

Bio   •   RSS Feed


Sign up for our email newsletter

  1. Elizabeth Ball November 15, 2013 Reply

    Great call re hiring people you can fire, and re-hire, Armando.

    Online retailers might like to know there is a new job board on Practical eCommerce where in addition to full-timers, they can place ads for part-time help which could help them in time for the holidays with gift orders.

  2. Katie Guyer November 18, 2013 Reply

    One of the things our clients at Fifth Gear love about outsourcing their fulfillment is that they don’t have to worry about this anymore! We do, of course.. and we do a lot of the same tactics you describe here. Great post!

    It’s a lot of work to do it in-house and manage all the other day-to-day tasks an online business requires, especially during your peak times. Pure craziness!

  3. Maggie November 18, 2013 Reply

    Even though the intention is to just hire for the holidays, it’s important to invest time in writing the job description. It’s like a sales pitch – the job description is what is going to get people to apply for your company, not just the title of the position.

    Keep in mind they don’t want to feel like they’re reading a novel when looking at your job description. Keep it clear and concise. I put together a short guide to the key aspects of all good job descriptions. You can read it here: