SALES from festive shoppers this year may have slowed for many retailers, but that is not the only problem plaguing them.
Despite offering higher wages to lure Singaporeans to work as sales staff, the industry is still facing a manpower squeeze that has been especially painful over the festive shopping period.
Retailers The Straits Times spoke to said they have implemented wage increases of between 5 per cent and 10 per cent compared with last year, yet continue to be beleaguered by staff shortages.
Fewer people are applying to work at retailers such as Wing Tai Retail, which operates 160 fashion outlets including Karen Millen and Topshop.
Its spokesman said that between June and September, the number of applicants for its retail jobs fell by 52 per cent, compared with the same period last year.
This decline was in spite of higher salaries for its front-line retail employees. Part-time staff now earn $10 an hour on weekdays and $11 an hour on weekends. Previously, the respective rates were $6 on weekdays and $7 on weekends.
Increasingly stringent regulations on the hiring of foreign labour are also a key factor in the manpower crunch, retailers said.
The industry is highly dependent on foreigners. About half of all front-line retail employees here are foreigners, said Mr Josh Goh, assistant director of corporate services at human resources consultancy The GMP Group.
In July this year, the Government tightened foreign labour quotas in several industries, including the service sector. Firms are now allowed to have foreign workers fill up only 45 per cent of positions, down from 50 per cent previously.
Wing Tai also attributes the staff shortage to greater competition in the market, and the acceleration of expansion plans by existing brands.
Mr David Tang, chief executive of department store Metro, echoed this, saying more foreign retailers entering the local market meant higher industry demand for manpower.
But retailers said their hands are tied. The Wing Tai spokesman said the company has "limited affordability to 'hire at all cost' even in this tight labour market", as operating costs, including rent, have also been on the rise.