Umbrex has developed this list of the best books on the retail industry based on input from the management consultants in our community, our clients, and other professionals.
This list of books is a work in progress, not a final answer, and we invite you to submit your recommendations on our Contact page.
We also invite you to check out our list of the best podcasts on the retail industry.
The Wall Street Journal technology columnist reveals the fascinating story behind the misleadingly simple phrase shoppers take for granted – Arriving Today – in this eye-opening investigation into the new rules of online commerce, transportation, and supply chain management.
We are at a tipping point in retail history. While consumers are profiting from the convenience of instant gratification, rapidly advancing technologies are transforming the way goods are transported and displacing workers in ways never before seen.
In Arriving Today, Christopher Mims goes deep, far, and wide to uncover how a single product, from creation to delivery, weaves its way from a factory on the other side of the world to our doorstep. He analyzes the evolving technologies and management strategies necessary to keep the product moving to fulfill consumers’ demand for “arriving today” gratification. Mims reveals a world where the only thing moving faster than goods in an Amazon warehouse is the rate at which an entire industry is being gutted and rebuilt by innovation and mass shifts in human labor practices. He goes behind the scenes to uncover the paradoxes in this shift – into the world’s busiest port, the cabin of an 18-wheeler, and Amazon’s automated warehouses – to explore how the promise of “arriving today” is fulfilled through a balletic dance between humans and machines.
The scope of such large-scale innovation and expended energy is equal-parts inspiring, enlightening, and horrifying. As he offers a glimpse of our future, Mims asks us to consider the system’s vulnerability and its resilience, and who shoulders the burden, as we hurtle toward a fully automated system – and what it will mean when we are there.Read moreRead less
Sound crazy? It’s all standard operating procedure at Zappos, the online retailer that’s doing over $1 billion in gross merchandise sales annually. After debuting as the highest-ranking newcomer in Fortune magazine’s annual “Best Companies to Work For” list in 2009, Zappos was acquired by Amazon in a deal valued at over $1.2 billion on the day of closing.
In DELIVERING HAPPINESS, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh shares the different lessons he has learned in business and life, from starting a worm farm to running a pizza business, through LinkExchange, Zappos, and more. Fast-paced and down-to-earth, DELIVERING HAPPINESS shows how a very different kind of corporate culture is a powerful model for achieving success-and how by concentrating on the happiness of those around you, you can dramatically increase your own.
William R. Leach
Traces the rise of America’s mass-market culture, from its beginnings in the 1890s to its present-day domination of American life. This monumental work of cultural history was nominated for a National Book Award. It chronicles America’s transformation, beginning in 1880, into a nation of consumers, devoted to a cult of comfort, bodily well-being, and endless acquisition.Read moreRead less
Robert M. Grippo
Macy’s The Store. The Star. The Story traces a hundred and fifty years of one of the country’s premier retailers. More than just the account of a successful business, it is the story of how one man’s dream found a home in the heart of Manhattan. Lively text, rare photographs, and colorful illustrations highlight the people and events―the trends, tragedies, and traditions―that transformed Macy’s from a modest storefront into the World’s Largest Store.Read moreRead less
Few places have been as nostalgized, or as maligned, as malls. Since their birth in the 1950s, they have loomed large as temples of commerce, the agora of the suburbs. In their prime, they proved a powerful draw for creative thinkers such as Joan Didion, Ray Bradbury, and George Romero, who understood the mall’s appeal as both critics and consumers. Yet today, amid the aftershocks of financial crises and a global pandemic, as well as the rise of online retail, the dystopian husk of an abandoned shopping center has become one of our era’s defining images. Conventional wisdom holds that the mall is dead. But what was the mall, really? And have rumors of its demise been greatly exaggerated?
In her acclaimed The Design of Childhood, Alexandra Lange uncovered the histories of toys, classrooms, and playgrounds. She now turns her sharp eye to another subject we only think we know. She chronicles postwar architects’ and merchants’ invention of the mall, revealing how the design of these marketplaces played an integral role in their cultural ascent. In Lange’s perceptive account, the mall becomes newly strange and rich with contradiction: Malls are environments of both freedom and exclusion–of consumerism, but also of community. Meet Me by the Fountain is a highly entertaining and evocative promenade through the mall’s story of rise, fall, and ongoing reinvention, for readers of any generation.Read moreRead less
John Huey and Sam Walton
Meet a genuine American folk hero cut from the homespun cloth of America’s heartland: Sam Walton, who parlayed a single dime store in a hardscrabble cotton town into Wal-Mart, the largest retailer in the world. The undisputed merchant king of the late twentieth century, Sam never lost the common touch. Here, finally, inimitable words. Genuinely modest, but always sure if his ambitions and achievements. Sam shares his thinking in a candid, straight-from-the-shoulder style.
In a story rich with anecdotes and the “rules of the road” of both Main Street and Wall Street, Sam Walton chronicles the inspiration, heart, and optimism that propelled him to lasso the American Dream.Read moreRead less
Gordon L. Weil
A history of the nation’s largest and richest retail business profiles its founders and builders and recounts its innovative, profit-making marketing and financial techniques.Read moreRead less
Though Amazon.com started off delivering books through the mail, its visionary founder, Jeff Bezos, was never content with being just a bookseller. He wanted Amazon to become ‘the everything store’, offering limitless selection and seductive convenience at disruptively low prices. To achieve that end, he developed a corporate culture of relentless ambition and secrecy that’s never been cracked. Until now…
Jeff Bezos stands out for his relentless pursuit of new markets, leading Amazon into risky new ventures like the Kindle and cloud computing, and transforming retail in the same way that Henry Ford revolutionized manufacturing. Amazon placed one of the first and largest bets on the Internet. Nothing would ever be the same again.Read moreRead less
From modest beginnings as a tea shop, the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company became the largest retailer in the world. It was a juggernaut, with nearly sixteen thousand stores. But its explosive growth made it a mortal threat to mom-and-pop grocery stores across the nation. Main Street fought back tooth and nail, leading the Hoover, Roosevelt, and Truman administrations to investigate the Great A&P. In a remarkable court case, the government pressed criminal charges against the company for selling food too cheaply-and won.
In The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America, the acclaimed historian Marc Levinson tells the story of a struggle between small business and big business that tore America apart. George and John Hartford took over their father’s business and reshaped it again and again, turning it into a vertically integrated behemoth that paved the way for every big-box retailer to come. George demanded a rock-solid balance sheet; John was the marketer-entrepreneur who led A&P through seven decades of rapid changes. Together, they set the stage for the modern consumer economy by turning an archaic retail industry into a highly efficient system for distributing food at low cost.
Stephen H. Provost
The wealthy and leisured lady of the 1920s shopped in a palatial downtown department store with a restaurant, beauty parlor, movie theater, and live orchestra―the harried suburban mom of today rushes her purchases through the self-checkout at the big box store. The Great American Shopping Experience explains how this transformation happened in a fascinating and entertaining history of the growth and decline of America’s massive retail empires.
From the humble 19th century dry goods store to the majestic department stores of the early 20th century to the shopping malls and outlet stores of today, The Great American Shopping Experience tells the romantic story of Americans’ relentless pursuit of the better bargain, surveying the changing fashions, social ideals, and marketing innovations that created shopping as we know it.
The Great American Shopping Experience also takes a nostalgic look back at the stores we loved, from the small regional stores that were gobbled up to the big chains that still survive today. If you’ve ever wondered what happened to your favorite store, The Great American Shopping Experience has the answers.
A popular history that is both fun and compelling, The Great American Shopping Experience tells an epic story of capitalism’s powers of creative destruction, the repeated transformation of American society, fortunes made and unmade―and takes a fond look back at the great times and amazing deals we had along the way.Read moreRead less
Robin Lewis and Michael Dart
In The New Rules of Retail , industry gurus Robin Lewis and Michael Dart explained how unprecedented consumer power, enabled by technology and globalization, is revolutionizing retail. They warned that survival in these dynamic times called for a business model based on three distinct competencies: preemptive, perpetual distribution; a neurological customer connection; and total control of the value chain. In the years since that book published, many of their predictions have come true. Now, they revisit timeless case studies like Ralph Lauren and Sears, as well as new additions like Trader Joe’s, Lululemon, and Warby Parker, to assess how retailers must continue to evolve in the era of e-commerce, data mining, and tiered distribution. They also identify the five current trends that are currently driving consumer demand, including technology integration and channel consolidation, as exemplified by Jeff Bezos at Amazon. This is a fully revised and updated guide from two proven retail prognosticators.Read moreRead less
Robert Spector & Breanne O. Reeves
In this new edition of the management classic, the authors explore in-depth the core values of the culture that have made Nordstrom synonymous with legendary customer service. These essential values have enabled Nordstrom to survive and adapt to dramatic market shifts regularly since 1901, and the new edition explains how the Nordstrom approach can be emulated by any organization―in any industry―in every corner of the world. This is not a book about selling shoes or clothes or cosmetics or jewelry. It is a book about how underlying values such as respect, trust, compensation and, even fun, are the building blocks of a culture where employees are empowered to consistently deliver a world-class experience to customers.
Nordstrom believes that the employee experience determines the customer experience, and that when you attract and reward people who are comfortable in a service-oriented culture, then everyone succeeds―both individually and collectively. No wonder Nordstrom is one of only five companies to make Fortune‘s “Best Companies to Work For” and “Most Admired” lists every year since those surveys have been taken.
With new interviews from senior Nordstrom executives and family members, the book explains how to successfully respond to today’s tech-savvy, time-crunched customers who demand a convenient, seamless, painless, personal experience across all channels. Nordstrom gives its frontline people all the digital tools necessary to satisfy the customer―and your organization must do the same, if it wants to adapt.
The authors show what it takes to earn brand loyalty, lead through change and uncertainty, and combine extraordinary brick-and-mortar with online experiences.
‘The single most important reason we try to provide great service is this: It enables us to sell more,’ says co-president Blake Nordstrom, great-grandson of the founder. ‘The best way for our company to achieve results is to do what’s best for the customer.’
In this book, readers will find:
In the tradition of Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, an extraordinary investigation into the human lives at the heart of the American grocery store
What does it take to run the American supermarket? How do products get to shelves? Who sets the price? And who suffers the consequences of increased convenience end efficiency? In this alarming exposé, author Benjamin Lorr pulls back the curtain on this highly secretive industry. Combining deep sourcing, immersive reporting, and compulsively readable prose, Lorr leads a wild investigation in which we learn:
• The secrets of Trader Joe’s success from Trader Joe himself
• Why truckers call their job “sharecropping on wheels”
• What it takes for a product to earn certification labels like “organic” and “fair trade”
• The struggles entrepreneurs face as they fight for shelf space, including essential tips, tricks, and traps for any new food business
• The truth behind the alarming slave trade in the shrimp industry
The result is a page-turning portrait of an industry in flux, filled with the passion, ingenuity, and exploitation required to make this everyday miracle continue to function. The product of five years of research and hundreds of interviews across every level of the industry, The Secret Life of Groceries delivers powerful social commentary on the inherently American quest for more and the social costs therein.Read moreRead less
This enlightening edition includes new information on:
-The latest trends in online retail—what retailers are doing right and what they’re doing wrong—and how nearly every Internet retailer from iTunes to Amazon can drastically improve how it serves its customers.
-A guided tour of the most innovative stores, malls and retail environments around the world—almost all of which are springing up in countries where prosperity is new. An enormous indoor ski slope attracts shoppers to a mall in Dubai; an uber-luxurious Sao Paolo department store provides its customers with personal shoppers; a mall in South Africa has a wave pool for surfing.
The new Why We Buy is an essential guide that offers advice on how to keep your changing customers and entice new and eager ones.Read moreRead less