The retail industry has been experiencing immense change, which has created a greater demand for business talent across corporate functions. New technology such as e-commerce, social media, mobile devices, apps, and in-store interactive displays has driven much of the change. It has enabled retailers to communicate, promote, and sell through multiple channels, increasing the complexity of retailing while generating a mass of digital data that retailers can leverage through analytical insight.
Technology has also facilitated the emergence of a number of online retail start-ups, which offer unique products and services, convenient shopping, sometimes at lower prices than traditional retailers and with a social and experiential component. Joining online retail pioneers like Amazon and eBay, some of the new online retailers are prescription eyeglass retailer Warby Parker, offline-online boutique Kembrel (both founded by Wharton MBAs), design item retailer Fab.com (whose COO is a Wharton alumna), dress rental company Rent the Runway, beauty sample subscription service Birchbox, and grocery retailer Relay Foods. At the same time, retailers with a significant offline presence such as Apple, Sephora, Lululemon, Macy’s, and Burberry’s have innovated on customer experience, customer service, community building, localization, and entertainment to engage customers and give them reasons to visit their stores.
Other notable retail developments have been increasing globalization, online sales taxes in more U.S. states, rising wages in China, a new appreciation of Made in the USA by some market segments, smaller physical stores, shorter online delivery times, and mobile payments.
This changed retail environment offers career opportunities for business graduates in a range of corporate functions. They include strategy (e.g., growth, innovation, partnerships), marketing (e.g., cross-channel strategies, including pricing, social media), supply chain and operations (e.g., domestic sourcing, making offline and online inventory systems compatible, fulfilling online orders from any inventory, including stores), global management, finance, real estate (e.g., smaller store formats, more flexible leases), licensing and copyright/IP issues, and management and incentive systems to optimize multi-channel businesses.
To help students prepare and advance their business careers in retail, Wharton’s MBA program features a number of retail-focused and -related courses by distinguished faculty in a range of disciplines, as well as unique resources such as the Baker Retailing Center, the Wharton Graduate Retail Club, retail career planning, Penn Fashion Week, and the Wharton entrepreneurship program. The Baker Retailing Center serves as a hub for retail on Penn’s campus. Our mission is to produce cutting-edge academic research, support student-focused activities such as international trips to retail companies, curriculum development, and career management, and sponsor global industry outreach initiatives. We also invite senior retail executives, including members of our C-level advisory board, to give talks on campus and guest lectures in classes.
Erin Armendinger, managing director of the Baker Retailing Center, and Denise Incandela, WG’92, president of Saks Direct, chief marketing officer of Saks Fifth Avenue, and one of the industry-leading Wharton/Penn alumni, will be among the panelists at the Wharton admissions event on October 9 in New York City. Along with other panelists, including Wharton staff, alumni, and students, they will share their insight about studying retail at Wharton and the value of an MBA for retail careers. We invite you to register for the event here.