University Programs Teach the “Retailing of Tomorrow”

As the retail industry continues to experience rapid change, driven by new technology, business models and consumer expectations, educators are also evolving curriculum for students pursuing a career in retail.

“I think we’re going through a Cambrian explosion in retail innovation,” said Dr. Kirthi Kalyanam, director of Santa Clara University’s Retail Management Institute. “There are so many new, different retail business models, and at the heart of this is technology and how consumers use it. What we’ve done in our curriculum is really keep up our knowledge and treatment of technology-enabled retail.”

Kalyanam’s advice for prospective students: “Look for a program that’s teaching innovation. Don’t go to a program that’s teaching yesterday’s retail; look for a program that’s teaching the retailing of tomorrow.”

And, according to Nancy Wong, retailing professor and faculty director at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Kohl’s Center for Retailing Excellence, customer service is getting more attention in the classroom.

Wong said the curriculum has traditionally treated a lot of courses as specific subjects, but there’s a movement towards a greater integration of all of these subjects – similar to the way retailers are trying to fix some of the fragmentation that has occurred within their own organizations.

“Increasingly, service isn’t separate,” Wong said. “It has to be integrated…We don’t want to see it as just a module. These are the building blocks of being a successful player. This is what our customers expect of us and these are the steps to take on the delivery of that promise.”

Kalyanam said his institute keeps an open dialogue with the industry, including merchants, venture capitalists and executives from the retail industry. The hope is to arm students with information that is actionable as soon as they start work with a retailer.

“What we teach is not only how customers view service, but how you use technology to service efficiently,” Kalyanam said.

Wong also said there’s a greater emphasis on leveraging technology for efficiency.

“Our projects are much more analytics and consumer research driven,” Wong said. “Our role is to provide students with the layers of skill they need. I think the Retail Service Center serves as a valuable bridge – connecting what students are learning in the classroom to the marketplace.”

To be the employee that the retailing industry is looking for, it is necessary to have foundational business knowledge, an awareness and understanding of technology, and the ability to integrate these spheres of knowledge in the field.

“We tend to see our projects as increasingly field-based and have seen that many of them are related to customer service,” Wong said. “In the past, that curriculum treated a lot of courses like specific subject areas, like market research or service or marketing, but what we’re now seeing is a greater integration of all these different modules.”

Reporting by Jessica Pennington.

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