Have you been in a department store lately?

Fake Christmas trees and holiday decorations are already starting to appear at some department stores — we spotted a few on Route 1 in Lawrence Township, but they're also popping up in other stores around the state. And it’s not even the middle of October yet!

Not surprisingly, many retail stores have also started hiring more workers, in anticipation of what’s to come.

According to John Holub, the president of the New Jersey Retail Merchants Association, any type of retail store that anticipates an uptick in sales during the holiday season may be looking to hire additional part-timers.

He said thousands of part-time workers will be hired for the holiday season, but “the initial reports that we’re seeing is it’s going to be slightly lower than in previous years.”

Among the large businesses we've seen hiring:

• Applebee's restaurants were looking to hire 100-plus people this week
• FedEx is hiring thousands of seasonal workers.
• Target is hiring 100,000 people nationwide — and has raised its minimum hourly wage to $11.

“I think a lot of folks just do this annually. This is the time of year when they’d like to get a few extra dollars in their pocket, but some people are looking for full-time employment," Holub said.

He said if you’re looking for a full time job “this is a great way to get your foot in the door with a retailer.”

He said many businesses rely on the end of the year to make their entire year profitable. And he said stores are already hiring more workers “so if anybody is interested in working for the holiday season, if they haven’t already reached out to retailers, they need to do it now.”

Carl Van Horn, a professor of public policy and director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University, said while purchasing will be up this holiday season, a lot of that growth will be in online sales, not in retail outlets.

“So what that means is that there may be less people working in those stores, dealing with customers directly," Van Horn said.

He also pointed out retail stores are increasingly using electronic scanners, so that may decrease the number of part-time workers for the holiday season.

“I think there will be a bump up. I just don’t think it will be as large an increase as we may have experienced previously," Van Horn said.

While Black Friday is still considered the unofficial kickoff to the holiday season and big sales, many retailers are getting ahead of the game.

“The promotions are starting earlier and earlier. I think you will start to see an uptick in sales in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving and Black Friday,” he said. “Customers are less likely to wait for that post-Thanksgiving sale, the Black Friday or Cyber Monday sales."

Holub said for this upcoming holiday season, analysts are predicting a 3.6 to 4 percent increase in sales, year to year, "so that’s a really healthy and robust increase.”

He noted we’ve only had 2 to 3 percent increases over the past couple of years.

He also pointed out this year Christmas falls on a Monday, so “that weekend leading up to Christmas is going to be jam packed. Hopefully the stores will be jam packed.”

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

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