New Delhi: Organized retailers led by Pantaloon Retail (India) Ltd and Shoppers Stop Ltd plan to step up hiring in the coming months as they open more stores to take advantage of a rebounding economy after weathering a downturn that cost thousands of jobs.

As shoppers return on the back of increasing consumer confidence, branded stores will likely see a net addition of 200,000 people to their headcount in the next one year, according to the industry body Retailers Association of India (RAI).

Momentum back: A Shoppers’ Stop outlet. Soumitra Ghosh / Hindustan Times

Kishore Biyani’s Pantaloon Retail (India) Ltd, with chain stores such as Big Bazaar, Food Bazaar and KB’s Fair Price, plans to hire around 4,000 employees, said Sanjay Jog, head of human resources. The country’s largest listed retailer plans to open 150 new stores under various brands in the next one year, adding to the around 1,000 outlets it operates nationwide.

Shoppers Stop, the second largest listed retailer, will hire around 2,000 people in the next two years as it plans to add 18 department stores to its tally of 29, according to chief executive Govind Shrikhande.

The hiring spree is being planned as accelerating economic growth—forecast by the government to touch 7.2% in the year ending March from 6.7% the previous fiscal—and rising consumer confidence bring shoppers back.

“Our outlook is that hiring in India is increasing and the surge is seen in retail too," said Namr Kishore, head of marketing at human resources firm Manpower Inc. “The jump is significant compared to last year."

India topped a Manpower survey of 35 countries with an adjusted net employment outlook of 39% for the April-June quarter. The outlook is the difference between the proportion of employers who say their headcount will increase and those who say it will decrease, adjusted for seasonal variations. The number is the highest in five quarters.

The retail industry was hit hard by last year’s slowdown. A Mint survey showed that a clutch of modern retailers closed around 3,000 stores nationwide in the last 18 months, resulting in thousands of employees being laid off. Around 15,000 people lost their jobs when the country’s largest supermarket operator, Subhiksha Trading Services Ltd, went bust early last year.

A precise number of people who lost their jobs industry-wide isn’t available.

Rajagopalan of RAI said many retail employees had been “redeployed" in other firms or within the same companies at different locations. “Even if people closed stores, the total number of stores has not come down as they opened elsewhere," he said.

To be sure, the worst isn’t over for all retailers. For instance, Vishal Retail Ltd is in a corporate debt restructuring programme and Home Stores (India) Ltd, which owns the Sabka Bazaar grocery outlets in New Delhi and its suburbs, has had little or no merchandize to offer for months now.

Nonetheless, the coming year is expected to offer solace to retailers as consumer spending increases.

“Of course shoppers are coming back, that’s why we are opening more stores," said Thomas Varghese, chief executive of Aditya Birla Retail. The retailer, which operates at least 600 supermarkets and hypermarkets under the More brand, plans to hire at least 2,000 sales staff as it opens a dozen hypermarkets with area sizes ranging from 50,000 to 70,000 sq. ft in the next one year.

The retail industry is also back to complaining about the lack of skilled staff. “The number of people with retail skills is lesser than the number of people available," Rajagopalan said.

RAI is doing its bit by offering entry-level training for retail workers. The group has tied up with risk management firm CRP Technologies for background screening of potential employees and engaged international accounting firm Deloitte Llp to produce a document on best practices for Indian retailers to benchmark against.