The National Retail Federation last week that they expect holiday retail sales this year to be up 5.7% to $217.4 billion, but this doesn’t seem to be seeping down into the hiring in the retail/wholesale sector.

Both the NRF and Manpower Inc, released their quarterly report on employment in the U.S. Manpower reported that while hiring across the board was up for the year with 22% of all employers increasing their available jobs, the retail/wholesale sectors are down a bit compared to last year. NRF’s Chief Economist, Rosalind Wells, said, “We're still shedding jobs; we had a 93,000-job loss in August, and we've lost 437,000 jobs since the beginning of the year.”

According to the Manpower data, the wholesale/retail trade employers expected “their usual spike in hiring plans for the fourth quarter,” but compared to the hiring patterns from last year there would be fewer jobs available. Hiring trends in this sector showed the most improvement in the south, followed in order by the West, the Midwest, and the Northeast.

Retail jobs seem to be at odds with the rest of the economy. Concerning the entire U.S. market, Jeffrey A. Joerres, Chairman & CEO of Manpower said, “The fourth quarter (2003) marks a reversal of the downward trend we have seen… Although the survey results are somewhat weaker than the fourth quarter of 2002, employers report a consistent level of job growth.” The report relies on information gathered from 16,000 U.S. employers, with seven of the ten industry sectors surveyed expect more job offerings this quarter.

Sales data collected by the NRF was of a decidedly different flavor than the employment data, with predictions of higher sales numbers and a turnaround in the overall economic conditions. Wells said, “It seems clear that the economy is picking up momentum just in time for the holidays.”

The factors contributing to this improved outlook, according to the NRF, were lower interest rates, low inflation, rising equity markets, mounting consumer confidence, and consumers with more disposable income due to the withholding tax cut and child tax credit. Business spending in the retail market helped the numbers as well, with an 8% increase over last year.

“Consumers have spent the last several years on an emotional and economic roller-coaster,” said NRF President and CEO Tracy Mullin. “Now, Americans appear to be ready to shop and ready to spend, just in time for the biggest shopping season of the year.”

It is looking like the retail and wholesale markets are gearing up to do more business with less staff – improving margins and operating income. The real question is, where will the consumer draw the line? Eventually service will be compromised to the point where the customer will feel ignored, and will retaliate by ignoring retailers.