5 Reads for Retail Aficionados
Here are five books that I have read and would recommend to anyone looking to strengthen his/her understanding in retail and the science behind it.
Retailing Management by Michael Levy and Barton A. Weitz
This remains the bestseller in the market and the book I personally referred to when preparing for the interview of my first retail job.
What works for this book is its easy conversational style, studded with case studies and examples from real-life retail challenges, and the chapter-wise organization which takes the reader through all the strategic aspects of retailing. Also, the supplementary topics covered at the end of each chapter are very informative. My only issue was that its scope is too broad – covering all sizes and types of retail formats, and hence the real-life examples in a single chapter become a hodge-podge of fashion retailers and grocery retailers, single-store boutiques and globe-spanning chains.
Hence, if you’re looking for a deep-dive into a topic like CPFR, as I was, this book might serve at best as an introduction. But the credit to the book is that it does more or less cover the breadth of retail and the many threads linked to it and is the best bet to get you started in retail, or refresh your fundamentals every few years hence.
Currently in its eight edition, it makes sense to buy the latest edition of this book to keep abreast on the latest examples from the fast-changing retail landscape.
Made in America by Sam Walton
Here it from the man who more than any other ten men put together shaped retail in the 20th century and made a behemoth to developed-countries in rival in its spread, influence and power: Sam Walton “who parlayed a single dime store in a hardscrabble cotton town into Wal-Mart, the largest retailer in the world.”
Made in America is a fantastic story, written in the clear, concise, straight-from-the-heart rural-American manner that defined Sam’s philosophy in shaping the business. The offers a priceless insight into the history and causes of many of the retail practices we, as customers and retailers, accept as industry standards now. Sam underlines, mistakes by mistakes, milestones by milestones, his journey in search for a proposition that offers the lowest price to his customers and having the most state-of-the-art distribution and delivery system to make this proposition ever sustainable.
Made in America ranks among the must-read business books and while one might still now safely defer the other great business books of that era as the stories they narrate remain less relevant – Iacocca (Chrysler), Made in Japan (Sony), From Pepsi to Apple – the story of Walmart still remains the most relevant story in retail and can only be ignored at one’s own peril.
Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill
Paco Underhill, and environmental psychologist, moves beyond the traditional economical demand-supply to explain what sells and what does not, and instead delved into the deep sub-conscious needs that motivate our buying behavior. Colloquially written, with many anecdotes, and a quaint wit, this book is as enjoyable as revelatory.
A must have for retailers and marketers.
This book could however do with a little overhaul as far as new digital and mobile channels of retail are concerned.
It happened in India by Kishore Biyani
India’s Made in America (Biyani has always acknowledged Sam and his bestseller as an inspiration) came out in 2007 when modern retail in India was still in pre-infancy, mid-wiving stage rather. The timing of the book, Reliance’s grand announcement ofa $25 bn. Investment and Walmarts of the world scouting on Indian soil, perhaps suggests the book to be a massive branding and PR exercise but honestly – which corporate book isn’t?
Still, if one can overlook the rather early self-congratulatory tome of the book, this book is a must-have to anyone interested in understanding the always under-reported stories of how the concept of modern retail in India stumbled and slowly evolved. Biyani’s Big Bazaar, along with the Foodworld and Shopper’s Stop, deserves to be called its architect and his personal journey is a fascinating account of one man’s conviction and will against giant odds.
The New Science of Retailing: How Analytics are Transforming the Supply Chain and Improving Performance by Marshall Fisher, Ananth Raman
Despite the tremendous opportunity and a whole array of sophisticated techniques already in place, not many books have been written about retail analytics. New Science of Retailing, written by two University of Pennsylvania professors, while not exactly about applied analytics in retail, does lay a foundation of the science behind retail which eventually builds into the analytics.
The authors focus on improving profitability by holding the right stock whether it be by better assortment planning or better forecasting along the product life cycle. Embedded with case studies, this is a must have for anyone interested in the science of retailing beyond the intuitive art – I would especially recommend it for anyone whose work touches upon buying and supply chain (replenishment, forecasting). A word of caution: this is not exactly a Retail for Dummies and does assume the reader’s familiarity with both the challenges of retail business and applied analytics.
The books above are a mix of theory and practice, drawing from traditional retail theory, consumer behavioral psychology, anecdotes and science. One lacuna is a book that touches on retail analytics. I have not mentioned here another book that actually does simply because it was not good enough. Retail Analytics, in my opinion, is still waiting for a definitive book.
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