'We are confident': Despite labor shortages, suburban retailers say they're ready for Black Friday
In light of the current labor shortage, shoppers may wonder what the situation will be like in stores on Black Friday.
Retail businesses across the suburbs, both part of national chains and independently owned, say they have been working hard to attract new employees and are confident they'll have the staffing they need for one of the busiest shopping days of the year.
"With the (COVID-19) pandemic, hiring has changed in nature and was at times difficult, but lately, we've been able to get more candidates and applications," said Jon Abt, co-president of Abt Electronics in Glenview.
The electronics store will not be short-staffed this holiday season, after doing things like upping its pay to $18 an hour and diversifying its advertisement via billboards, website and email, he said.
Sheri McGown, owner of Cocoon gift shop in Geneva, said she's had no trouble keeping the store staffed with her customary 10 employees, none of whom were let go during the pandemic.
"We're fine," she said. "They like to work here. It's a combination of pay and the environment, I'd say."
A total of 4.4 million people nationwide, or about 3% of the workforce, quit their jobs in September, a record for the second straight month. Most left for new jobs, and competition for workers was particularly intense in the retail and delivery industries.
However, Illinois is among eight states with more unemployed workers than job openings, Stateline reported. The others are Hawaii, California, Connecticut, New York, New Mexico, New Jersey and Nevada.
The labor shortage is worst in sectors with relatively low pay and high contact with the public, such as transportation, food service and hospitality. There is also disparity among who's unemployed: while the national unemployment rate was down to 4.6% in October, Black workers still faced 10.8% unemployment in Illinois, Stateline reported.
Businesses facing worker shortages have tried different methods, said Rob Carr, president and CEO of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association.
"They have significantly raised pay, they tried bonuses, they've added benefits ... there's been a variety of approaches they've taken," he said. "Nothing has appeared to work so far."
Still, Carr believes that Black Friday staffing will hold up fine for retailers. "I don't think it's going to be particularly bad," he said.
That's because more people have been shopping online, especially since the pandemic, and many stores started their sales early in November, he said.
This year, Macy's planned to hire approximately 1,500 workers in Illinois -- nearly 1,300 in the Chicago area -- for the holiday season and beyond, compared to 1,000 last year, Macy's spokeswoman Julianne Olivo said. Perks include a referral bonus of $500 for friends and family members hired by the company and an additional $2 per hour on weekends, she said.
"We are confident that our store teams will deliver exceptional service to our customers during this busy season," Olivo said.
Ulta Beauty worked "earlier than ever before" to prepare for the holiday season, said Kelly Gallagher, manager of public relations for the company headquartered in Bolingbrook. That included additional training hours for new employees and an additional $2 per hour on Black Friday, Christmas Eve, and weekends through Jan. 8, she said. Stylists are eligible for a new-hire bonus of up to $5,000 based on productivity.
"We feel prepared for the season and, as always, are keeping health and safety as our highest priorities," she said.
Staffing problems for the most part haven't affected small, locally owned retailers, said Teresa Habczyk, who owns Le Obsession Boutique in Arlington Heights. She has one part-time employee who's been there about two years.
"For now we are OK," she said. "I don't think it's a problem for small businesses. I'd say more for department stores and restaurants."
Some local businesses stay out of the Black Friday fray altogether.
"Black Friday has not been a big day for me," said Tim Monson, owner of Monson Jewelers in Palatine. "I have specials all year long and my customers are not rushing out on Black Friday. I am definitely different than most."
As for staffing, Monson says he employs three people, two of whom have been there for about 20 years, so it has not been an issue.
Nationally, there have been many reports of angry customers, particularly during air travel. Carr said that locally, he hasn't heard about that kind of problem "other than attempts to enforce the mask mandate."
One issue that might trigger customers this holiday season is the lower availability of products in stores due to pandemic-related supply chain delays, Abt said.
"We do expect that some people will be impatient or potentially irate, particularly when they don't fully understand the situation," he said. "In these cases, our staff employs the ever-famous technique of 'kill them with kindness.' We make sure that we're respectful and informative, so they can begin to understand the larger-scale issues at play."