By T. Leigh Buehler


study retail management


The retail industry plays a fundamental role in today’s global economy. From your local grocery store to e-commerce storefronts, retail businesses touch nearly every part of our lives. If you’re interested in this dynamic and ever-evolving field, a degree in retail management might be the way to go.

My journey started by working in retail simply as a part-time job. That job quickly grew into a managerial position while I worked my way through college. From there, I found myself employed in inventory and logistics of some major retailers.

Eventually, I completed my MBA and decided I wanted to help others learn about retail management. I went into higher education, became a retail management faculty member, and helped create a new retail management program with American Public University.


Why Study Retail Management?

Retail management degrees represent some of the most vast and versatile business degrees. The retail industry is constantly growing and shifting, and your studies will help you better understand those changes. If desired, you could even pursue your own entrepreneurial endeavors with the knowledge you’ll gain about how big and small retail businesses operate, from major retail businesses to mom-and-pop stores.

There are multiple reasons to study retail management. They include:

  • The growth and diversity of the retail sector
  • Multi-dimensional learning
  • Personal connections with customers
  • Effective store management
  • Ever-evolving technology
  • Transferable skills
  • Global travel opportunities
  • Professional growth and development


The Growth and Diversity of the Retail Industry

The global retail industry is vast and is continuing to grow. According to Statista, worldwide retail sales are expected to pass $30 trillion by the end of 2023. Whether you’re interested in fashion, grocery, e-commerce, electronics, or inventory management, this industry shows no signs of slowing down.


A Multi-Dimensional Learning Experience

Retail management is more than understanding operations management. Your studies will cover topics such as marketing strategies, supply chain management, financial management, and consumer behavior.

This variety of courses allows retail management majors to have a more holistic, 360-degree view of the business world. They are designed to help students be more versatile and adaptable.


Personal Connections with Customers

One of the best aspects of studying retail is learning how to connect with customers and ensure customer satisfaction. Interacting with people is a big part of store management. If you’re the type of person who enjoys being busy and talking with different people in retail stores, then retail management could be the major for you.

In retail, you’re not just dealing with products and numbers, but actual people. Retail managers need to be customer-oriented and understand consumer needs, their behaviors, and even their preferences. These insights are invaluable and can even apply to other disciplines, like brand management and market research.

Many of the best retail managers started on the sales floors of businesses such as department stores, helping customers easily locate what they wanted to buy. In such stores, they learned what customers wanted and looked for, and they understood how to maintain a brand’s image and avoid poor management problems.


Effective Store Management

Starting on the sales floor of a retail business is a great way to move into other segments of retail. Most retail companies like to promote their employees internally, but the right mix of education, experience, and initiative are needed.

I once spent four weeks as a sales associate before being promoted to an assistant manager with one of the largest body care companies in the United States. I had five years of retail experience at the time, customer service training, and a bachelor’s degree.

This knowledge and education, plus my desire to work hard and learn more about the company, really impressed my area manager. From there, I moved into one of my favorite areas of retail – inventory management.


Ever-Evolving Technology

Everywhere you look, most retail companies offer some sort of online shopping option for customers. The push for more digital shopping isn’t letting up any time soon. Well-designed e-commerce websites help consumers to easily find items in a particular category, avoid unnecessary searching, and stay aware of current trends.

A degree in retail management will equip you with the knowledge to help you in the digital evolution of retail. Plus, as a retail management major, you’ll be able to pursue a concentration in digital retailing.


Transferable Skills

The skills you learn while studying retail management can transfer to other fields. Problem-solving, communication, team leadership, business administration, and data analysis are just a few skills that apply to multiple sectors of real-world business. A knowledge of retail technology, retail operations, and organizational behavior can also transfer into other sectors.


Global Travel Opportunities

Do you like to travel? Have you ever thought about living in another country? Many retail organizations operate on the global level. Professionals who understand diverse markets and consumer behaviors have the potential for job opportunities abroad.

For example, I once worked with a woman who started her career in Romania, working for L’Oréal. She spoke four languages and would travel for the company, helping to launch products in various countries.


Professional Growth and Development

Studying retail, you can hone some exceptional professional skills such as time management and organization. The retail environment is fast-paced and requires you to be decisive, proactive, and resilient. These traits can all apply to future challenges, especially customer service management, unsold merchandise, and merchandise acquisition.


What You Can Do with a Retail Management Degree

Many students wonder what they can do with a retail management degree. Many management-level positions require a bachelor’s degree with some work experience according to U.S. News and World Report, so starting with a bachelor's degree in retail management is a great step.

A retail management degree equips you with a variety of skills. When you study retail management, you will learn about leadership, data analysis, marketing, and sales forecasting.

With such a degree, you might choose to pursue a career as a sales manager, purchasing manager, and marketing manager. If you’re like me, you might even become a professor of retail management.

Retail is a vast and dynamic sector. This industry is currently in a transformative phase with the evolution of technology and a better understanding of consumer behaviors.


Potential Career Paths in Retail Management

Retail management offers a variety of career paths and can involve different business sectors such as operations management and business administration. However, the path you take will depending upon your personal inclination and professional goals.

Store Manager

Store managers are responsible for overseeing the daily operations of a retail store; they carry out marketing strategies and run targeted strategic retail promotions. Store managers manage employees, ensure customer satisfaction is being met, and oversee the inventory and sales. Store managers also need to have excellent people skills, organization, and a passion for retail experience.

Retail Buyer

If you’re the type of person who has a knack for spotting the next big trend and a familiarity with customers' buying needs, then being a retail buyer may be an option for you. Retail buyers select products to be sold in their stores; they negotiate with suppliers, attend retail and fashion trade shows, and make decisions that directly impacts a store’s inventory levels and sales strategy. This role often involves a lot of travel.

Visual Merchandiser

You know those amazing window displays you see while walking through the mall or walking into your favorite retailer? That type of attractive display is typically created by visual merchandisers and are often designed by a team out of an organization’s headquarters. Some of these displays might even contain moving parts to entertain customers and entice them to buy desired merchandise.

People skilled in visual merchandising are responsible for creating engaging in-store and window displays as a part of a store layout. The designs are based on customer behavior, branding, and creativity; many stores call these “floor sets.”

Visual merchandisers are responsible for enticing shoppers to enter a store and make purchases. They create layouts to be sent to all stores throughout a region, and individual stores are responsible for creating the set displays and putting items on their assigned shelves.

Retail Marketing Specialist

A retail marketing specialist is responsible for creating and executing advertising and marketing campaigns designed to drive customer engagement and sales. Other responsibilities include working on pricing strategies and targeting audience demographics as a part of a strategic retail promotion.

E-Commerce Manager

E-commerce managers oversee online sales strategies, website management, customer service, and online marketing. They manage online marketing channels and promotional campaigns. Also, an e-commerce manager may also oversee customer order fulfillment and work alongside other digital marketing specialists.

Supply Chain Coordinator

A supply chain coordinator works with a network of suppliers, logistics, and distribution channels to make sure products move through the supplier chain to the stores. In addition, a supply chain coordinator manages relationships and solves logistical challenges; he or she needs to have a good understanding of supply chain management as well.

I once worked as a backroom manager, accepting shipments and ensuring stocking accuracy. After proposing a more efficient manner for organizing the retailer’s backrooms to my district manager, I moved into a role where I trained other store managers on stocking efficiency.

Training and Development Manager

With quality experience and education, training and development managers can pass on the knowledge of effective management to others using their real-world experience. In this position, a training manager creates training manuals, organizes employee workshops, and even measures the effectiveness of training initiatives. This type of management position is suited to people who enjoy training others.

Retail Analyst

The world of retail runs on data these days, and retail analysis plays an important role in extracting meaningful insights from collected data. Retail analysts analyze sales data, customer feedback, and market trends to shape the strategic direction of a retail company.


Retail Management Is an Ever-Evolving Field and Requires Continuous Learning

A retail management program involves more than just understanding how to provide quality customer service or manage inventory levels. It provides you with the necessary human connectivity skills that fuel a global industry. As the retail world continues to evolve, so do the knowledge and skills it demands.

When you earn a retail management degree, you’ll walk away with a strong foundation in both general business principles and retail-specific knowledge.


About the Author
T. Leigh Buehler
T. Leigh Buehler is an assistant professor who teaches retail management courses at the University. She is also a course consultant, social media specialist, and curriculum design team leader. Her academic credentials include a B.A. in history and sociology from Texas A&M University, an MBA in business administration from the University of Phoenix, and a master’s degree in American history, along with numerous certifications in digital marketing.

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