It looks like Christmas may come early this year for the Australian retail sector. While retailers have struggled recently, new data reveals festive season hiring is tracking ahead of last year, coupled with sky-high jobseeker interest in Christmas casual roles.

In Australia, hiring for Christmas and the summer holidays typically begins in August, ramping up throughout September and peaking in October, with businesses finalising recruitment and staffing schedules well before the Christmas holidays.

Despite a more challenging economic environment this year, data from Indeed shows Christmas job postings are pacing ahead of last year, suggesting retailers remain optimistic about their prospects leading into their busiest time of year. This is coupled with higher-than-normal interest from jobseekers.

The optimism from retailers is surprising, given it’s been a rather tough year for the industry. Retail volumes have fallen for the past three quarters, down 1.7% from its peak in the September quarter last year. In all likelihood, this isn’t going to be a bumper Christmas season.

However, it’s worth noting that retailers continue to operate with fewer staff than they’d like. The job vacancy rate across the industry is still 70% above its average in the decade before the pandemic. Even with reduced sales, the industry needs more workers – which is prompting widespread hiring in the lead up to Christmas.

At the end of September, job postings featuring keywords such as “Christmas” in their title accounted for 2.8% of all job postings on Indeed, compared to 2.6%at the same time last year. In the past two years, Australian employers have started advertising earlier than usual, with Christmas postings ramping up faster throughout August than in previous years. This may reflect a more competitive talent market with the unemployment rate still very low at just 3.7%, but it may also be a response to the emergence of American-style ‘Black Friday’ sales in November which has resulted in earlier Christmas spending.

In the past three years, Christmas recruitment peaked in the first half of October before gradually declining in the lead up to Christmas. This means a well-organised jobseeker can potentially lock in a Christmas gig months before the holidays begin.

Searches for Christmas work typically peak a little later than job postings, in early November last year and late November in 2021. So far, Christmas searches by jobseekers are tracking well above the past few years. At the end of September, 1.5% of searches on Indeed were for Christmas jobs, up from 1.0% and 1.3% at the same point in 2022 and 2021, respectively. Interestingly, search volumes this year have already peaked higher than at any point in 2021 and 2022.  

While Christmas job opportunities are heavily concentrated in the retail sector, a spending frenzy can spillover to other parts of the economy. A day-long shopping spree isn’t possible without meals, snacks and refreshments, creating food service roles. Likewise, holiday travel creates additional job opportunities in the hospitality sector. And all those toys, clothes and other gifts don’t magically appear on shelves, they must be first delivered to stores from warehouses, creating jobs in transport and logistics.

The biggest Christmas employers tend to be similar from year-to-year. In 2023, the top Christmas employers included major clothing brands and jewelers. On Indeed, retailers with the largest volume of Christmas job postings include Retail Apparel Group, Hanes Brands, The Reject Shop, Prouds, Bed Bath N’ Table, Sunglass Hut, Lovisa, The Just Group, Platypus and Angus & Coote.  

Similar to 2022, the demand for Christmas workers remains elevated this year. A crucial difference this year, however, is jobseeker interest in these roles is sky-high, pacing well ahead of trends in recent years. Retailers will be hoping this interest alleviates some of the talent shortages that have left them understaffed in recent years, ahead of what’s hopefully a very merry festive season. 

Callam Pickering is senior APAC economist at Indeed.