Retailers taking on an army of seasonal workers in December helped push overall holiday hiring levels to a 14-year peak this year, according to a new report.
But the better-than-expected increase of 801,100 jobs over the final three months of the year is now raising concerns about layoffs, according to consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
The boost in hiring was the largest since 1999 and showed a 6.6% increase from the same period in 2012, according to government data analyzed by Challenger.
In December alone retailers added 176,500 workers to payrolls, a 63% surge from the same month a year ago and the largest December gain since 2005.
The number of workers brought on board in November, by comparison, was 6% less than the year-earlier period.
Amid news of meager sales gains and declining foot traffic into stores during the Christmas season, Challenger said retailers may now try to shed excess weight by trimming headcount
And it won't just be temporary workers hired for the holiday rush who could get the axe. Challenger said that permanent, full-time employees might also be at risk.
Earlier this month, after hiring 83,000 employees for the holidays, Macy's said it would lay off some 2,500 workers while leaving some open positions vacant and closing several stores.
Solid job growth in late 2013 helped improve consumer confidence and boost many retailers' holiday performance, according to Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist of the National Retail Federation, in a statement Tuesday.
Still, "retail sales have been volatile all year and the holiday shopping season was no exception," he said.
Sales in November and December came in a hair under the trade group's expectations, rising 3.8% from a year earlier to $601.8 billion, the association said Tuesday.
Earlier, the group had predicted a 3.9% increase to $602 billion in sales.
Heavy snow storms prevented many shoppers from reaching the mall, though deep discounts and eleventh-hour bargains proved too irresistible for some.
Others stayed home and shopped the Internet, according to the NRF. Online sales and other e-commerce revenue rose 9.3% over the holiday to $95.7 billion, far outpacing brick-and-mortar growth rates.
Stripping out the effects of auto sales and purchases at gas stations and restaurants, retail sales inched up 0.4% in December from a month earlier. Compared with the same month in 2012 sales were up 4.6%, according to the NRF.