Learn about the basics of retail management, responsibilities and skills of retail managers, and how retailers can optimize operations with best practices.
Published 17 Aug 2021
Retail management is the process of running and managing retail outlets’ day-to-day activities surrounding the selling of goods and services to customers. It is the process that aims to make sure that customers are happy with the goods and services they purchase and that retail outlets run smoothly and remain profitable.
Retail management is crucial to the success of any retail store. Key to any effective retail management strategy are the individual store managers. They take care of store employees, help achieve sales goals, assist with maintaining customer satisfaction, oversee the daily activities of the retail outlet, and empower colleagues who may be potential retail store managers in the future.
The word ”retail” comes from the Old French word “retaillier” which literally means “to cut back, cut off, reduce”. Since the early 15th century, the term has been used to describe the “sale of commodities in small quantities or parcels”.
However, the history of retail goes beyond the Middle Ages (5th-15th century) because its birth can be traced back to the Age of Antiquity (3200 BC-476 AD).
From the barter system, or the old method of directly exchanging goods or services before money existed, to primitive shops, trade centers, and open-air, public markets in ancient Persia, Assyria, and Babylonia, retail has been a practice since the beginning of recorded human history.
From standardized coinage as a mode of payment (around 600-500BC) to the development of banknotes or paper money during the Song Dynasty (12th century), the lucrative business of retailing contributes much not only to a nation’s economy, but to the global market as well.
Merging into the Renaissance (12th-15th century) and the Age of Discovery (15th-17th century), retail flourished in Medieval Europe, where traders set up permanent shops in major cities and periodically sold goods in countryside fairs or market towns. Trademarks, or any visible sign used to identify a merchant’s goods and distinguish them from others, began to take on a greater importance during this period.
Transitioning from booth-like shops with dark interiors to general merchandising stores with glazed windows, display cases, and service counters, significant retail innovations, including the invention of price tags, occurred during the Industrial Revolution (18th-19th century).
Emerging multi-vendor spaces operating under covered roofs called “shopping arcades” paved the way for retailing in the modern era—department stores, warehouse shops, and retail outlets.
At the dawn of the contemporary age (1945-present), shopping malls shaped the retail experience to be easily accessible and comfortable for people to spend more time in the facility and increase their likelihood of making purchases.
However, the continuous rise of technological advancement established e-commerce, or buying and selling products through online services or over the internet, as a necessary platform of doing business in today’s retail industry.
The process of retail management has evolved from managing a physical store in one location to handling retail outlets around the world, concentrating efforts on virtual shops or online shopping. The retail management process, as we know it today, entails several key concepts in the fields of business administration, finance, and marketing. Here is the end-to-end retail management process to help you get started in the world of retail:
Every thriving retail business usually came into existence by solving a real world problem. Success in retail starts by focusing on the problem you want to solve, not on the solution you want to offer. Through intentional problem-solving with the help of root-cause analysis techniques such as the 5 Whys method, retail management wannabes can dive deep into the problem, so they can offer better solutions to solve them.
Another step in this part of the retail management process is competitive analysis or competitive research. Strategically collecting and reviewing information about the retail business’ competitors can help retail managers determine what about the problem they aim to solve has yet to be fully or easily solved. Finding out what your competitors do can provide a different perspective on solving the problem, giving you an advantage to do what they cannot do or have not yet done.
Once the problem to be solved has been clearly identified, the next step in the retail management process is market research, or gathering information about the consumers’ needs and preferences. At this point in the retail management process, the goal is to validate the reality, impact, and value of the problem you want to solve to the people you want to help.
To aid retail managers in understanding their customers deeper, practice empathy mapping, or the collaborative visualization used to articulate what you know about a particular type of customer, and create a customer journey map, or the complete sum of experiences that your targeted customers go through when interacting with your retail company or brand.
Having a deep understanding of the people you want to help enables you to know them better than they know themselves; ergo, you can be best positioned to reach them out, promising and delivering on the solution that can best solve their problem or fulfill their desire.
After knowing exactly what problem you want to solve and who you want to do it for, data-driven and well-informed product development can take place. In developing your product or service, supply chain management (e.g. sourcing and procurement) becomes crucial.
You want to make sure that in this part of the retail management process, you have the high-quality materials for the most reasonable price, so you can make your product or deliver your service in the most cost-effective way.
Anything new has to be tested in order to measure its effectiveness, and your product or service is no exemption. Test results can help you discern the strengths and weaknesses of your products or service, leveraging on what you can do best to solve the problem of the consumers. Getting feedback through customer satisfaction surveys can help the retail management improve the product or service by aligning with their customers’ wants and needs better.
The moment you believe your product or service is ready to go out into the world and be used by the ones you created it for, regulatory compliance comes into play. Before going to market, the retail management needs to deal with all the necessary compliance audits, safety inspections, and quality certifications, especially when it comes to product labeling for international retailers.
In today’s retail industry, cyber security and consumer privacy becomes a compliance risk which the retail management should address. Financial concerns such as adhering to the suggested retail price, paying sales tax on products and services sold in certain states, and more should also be addressed by retail managers, especially when the retail business has physical store locations, back office systems, and in-store staffing.
Even upon settling the legal and financial areas of the retail business, the retail management still has to consider and manage the manpower needed (e.g. sales representatives, customer support, training and development) and the communication channels established, or the media touch points you will have with your customer based on their journey.
Inventory management, or the supervision of the flow of goods from the manufacturers to the point of sale, should also be taken care of-from overseeing restock levels to preventing under-stocking and overstocking.
At this point in the retail management process, set up your retail brand for success by organizing retail logistics, or product movement and demand management, visual merchandising, or the practice of displaying products in a way that makes them visually appealing to maximize sales, and reporting metrics (e.g. units per transaction, average transaction value, sales per category or sales per employee, gross profit versus net profit).
With all of the planning and preparations, it is only at this point in the retail management process that the company or brand can launch, offering its real world problem-solving solution. Marketing, or the strategies for presenting offerings that have value for customers, including advertising, the activity of placing online and offline store advertisements, should be employed to drive awareness toward your products and services, generating sales from your target audience.
Pop-up shops, retail collaboration, and special in-store events can also help attract customers and drive sales. Other retail sales strategies include effective communication training for your store employees, curating your best stocks to provide consumers with the best transnational purchases they can make, and cross-selling or up-selling for improving customer retention or encouraging return customers.
If retail managers really think about it, there is actually no end to the retail management process as they should continuously improve how they do business in order to thrive in the market. The retail management can know what to enhance about their operations when they simply adopt an agile approach to retail, taking an informed risk of how to boost retail sales, doing more of what works, and learning from what doesn’t work.
Without continuous improvement, any retail company or brand will not survive. Retail managers can try expanding their product or service offers, re-targeting their audience, and more, depending on the size of the company, the stage of growth they’re in, the customers they’re helping, the problem they’re solving, and the product or service they’re offering.
Store managers are key to maintaining the profitability of the retail stores and their colleagues can turn to them for help with the following:
According to the UK National Careers Service, here are some of the skills retail store managers should possess:
If you search “why is retail so” on the internet, then you will find that one of the retail world’s most dying questions to be answered is: “What’s so bad about working in retail?” Listed below are our answers to the top 3 most frequently asked questions about working in retail:
Working in retail can be so horrible for people who find it difficult to accept that the customer always comes first. Retail personnel can often feel deprived of their rights to defend themselves when consumers approach them with their concerns, especially with petty ones. Working in retail can be good for people to develop active listening, effective communication, and conflict resolution.
Being in the world of retail can be so stressful because of its fast-paced and ever-changing nature. Work-life balance can be challenging for retail workers as work schedules can adjust unpredictably and work hours can extend instantly. For those whose strength is embracing change, working in retail can be a joy for them, as the pacing energizes them to do more and be productive.
Thriving in the retail industry can be so hard as the competition is tough, the market is vast, and if you don’t innovate fast enough, then your retail company will soon die. It can all the more be difficult when unexpected business disruptions such as the COVID-19 pandemic limit or completely put your entire retail operations to a halt without any assurance of when you can reopen in full capacity. For those who like to do hard things, you can flourish in retail.
While working in the retail industry can be stressful and difficult at times, retail managers can do more than just keep up—they can be excellent and stay on top. Here are some best practices for retail managers to optimize their store operations:
To keep retail stocks fresh, store managers need to create an environment where goods can be easily seen and accessible, ideally within their reach or a few movements away. 5S Lean is a set of organization principles that retail managers can apply to the store’s design and layout. Implementing the 5S (Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain) in retail stores can help focus inventory and shelf space on what can turn quickly, both for online and offline sales.
To help retail managers get started on a 5S lean store design and layout, download and use the following 5S audit checklists for free. From decluttering the service counter to displaying only what’s necessary, a 5S lean retail store can keep stocks moving. They can also try a free 5S audit app to save time drafting and filing reports, visualize data, and boost efficiency in your store operations.
Retail managers often worry about product inventory—from ordering merchandise and receiving stocks to pricing and handling goods—so they usually remain behind closed doors and only come out when things start turning sideways. While a part of their responsibilities, retail managers can also practice the back-front approach of store operations every day to take a proactive approach toward retail management.
By doing a daily walkthrough from the backroom, checking cleanliness and orderliness, to the sales floor and the storefront, looking out for restock levels and customer engagements, retail managers can make their presence felt, boosting employee morale and get a more accurate picture of in-store proceedings, catching improvement opportunities.
The customer isn’t always right, but they should come first. If your retail operations aren’t centered on providing the best shopping experience for your customers, then you can expect to close up shop sooner than later.
It can all start with a general retail audit, where you evaluate the store, employees, and processes and check if brand merchandising is up to standard. When retail managers get the baseline right, they can get the intricate aspects right more easily. Building the discipline of consistent store opening and closing inspections help make sure that the customer can have everything they need before they enter and leave the store.
One of the best ways to offer a great customer experience is through personalization. Greet them by their name, ask them about their family, and open up to them, especially for your return customers as studies have shown that they buy more than new customers and overall keep your retail business afloat.
Many retail professionals think that retail management will soon entail virtual reality shopping, where the customer can visit their favorite store, view their products, interact with the staff, and make a purchase, but never leave the house. Others say that there will be less waste and that everything about retail will be simplified—from the displays to packaging to inventory.
Whatever the case though, the world of retail will continue to evolve and the premise remains true as it always has been—the problem you’re trying to solve for the people you want to help. We don’t know exactly what the future of retail management would look like, but when we hold on to this truth no matter how much the times have changed, it will compel us to keep on improving to give the best for our customers.
Today’s retail training can be proactive to prepare for what’s ahead better. As long as retail management keeps their customers at the heart of everything they do, together with their properly trained staff using the right tools, the retail company or brand will be optimally positioned for innovation.
With multiple concurrent responsibilities in retail operations that store managers help look after, iAuditor is here to assist in fulfilling the job—like how this Australian supermarket giant empowers their employees to deliver high-quality products and ensure a top-notch shopping experience.
Retail managers can use all the help they can get to be empowered with assisting their staff and run the retail outlet smoothly. Retail store audit checklists are tools that can be used to effectively control and monitor the status, branding, processes, and standardization of retail outlets.
Shine Colcol is a content writer and researcher for SafetyCulture since 2019, mostly covering topics about health and safety, environmental, and operations management. She is passionate in empowering teams to build a culture of continuous improvement through well-researched and engaging content. Her experience in cross-industry digital publishing helps enrich the quality of information in her articles.
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