October 1, 2013, 9:55 AM

Amazon wants lots of help for the holidays

The online retailer plans to hire 70,000 workers for its U.S. warehouses.

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Amazon.com Inc. announced today it will hire 70,000 seasonal workers to staff its U.S. distribution centers this holiday season, 40% more than last year. It will also hire 15,000 holiday workers in the United Kingdom, 50% more than the 10,000 the e-retailer hired there for the 2012 holiday season.

The hiring reflects the growth in the company’s business—its second quarter global sales increased 22% to $15.7 billion—and the company’s aggressive program of building new distribution centers so that it can deliver goods quickly to shoppers at low cost. “We’re hiring to meet customer demand,” an Amazon spokeswoman says. She adds that Amazon, No. 1 in the 2013 Top 500, had 89 distribution centers worldwide as of the end of its second quarter. It does not break out the number of U.S. warehouses.

Amazon has 105 distribution centers operational or planned, according to ChannelAdvisor Corp., an online marketing firm that helps retailers sell on web marketplaces like Amazon.com and eBay.com. That’s about a 10% increase from a year ago, says ChannelAdvisor CEO Scot Wingo. “The company is growing at more than 25%, so I think you add those up and get to this hiring level,” he says.

Big competitors are seeking to match Amazon’s ability to deliver online orders quickly. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., No. 4 in the Top 500, announced today that it is building two new distribution centers for fulfilling online orders, one in Texas and another in Pennsylvania that the retail chain says will be its biggest ever. Wal-Mart says it can also ship web orders from many of its 130 distribution centers and retail stores.

“With our dedicated online facilities and 4,100 stores within five miles of two-thirds of the U.S. population, we gain a significant advantage by being positioned in the most important location—close to our customers,” says Joel Anderson, president and CEO of Walmart.com. “This unique combination allows us to get more products to our customers faster and at a lower cost.”

Wal-Mart began shipping items last week from one of the new distribution centers, located in Fort Worth, TX. It covers 800,000 square feet and employs 275 full-time workers. The second new facility of more than 1 million square feet will be located in Bethlehem, PA, and employ 350 full-time workers when it opens in the first quarter of 2014.

Reflecting the shift to online from physical store sales, Amazon—which operates no retail stores—plans to hire a comparable number of holiday employees as major retail chain competitors that operate hundreds or thousands of bricks-and-mortar stores. While Amazon will hire 70,000 holiday workers, Wal-Mart has announced plans to hire 55,000, Target Corp. 70,000, and Macy’s Inc. 83,000. Macy’s is No. 12 is in the Top 500 and Target is No. 18.

Amazon, which doesn't break out its U.S. headcount, has 97,000 employees worldwide. The e-retailer says it has created 40,000 jobs in the U.S. since September 2008.

Seasonal employees at Amazon make 94% of the starting wages of full-time employees and are eligible for health benefits, Amazon says. “So far this year, we have converted more than 7,000 temporary employees in the U.S. into full-time, regular roles and we’re looking forward to converting thousands more after this holiday season,” says Dave Clark, Amazon’s vice president of worldwide operations and customer service. “Each year, seasonal jobs lead to thousands of long-term, full-time roles in our sites—jobs that offer great pay, benefits starting on day one and the chance for employees to further their education through our Career Choice program.”

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