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A retail business model articulates how a retailer creates value for its customers and appropriates value from the markets. Innovations in business models are increasingly critical for building sustainable advantage in a marketplace defined by unrelenting change, escalating customer expectations, and intense competition. Drawing from extant strategy and retailing research, we propose that innovations in retail business models are best viewed as changes in three design components: (1) the way in which the activities are organized, (2) the type of activities that are executed, and (3) the level of participation of the actors engaged in performing those activities. We propose six major ways in which retailers could innovate their business models to enhance value creation and appropriation beyond the levels afforded by traditional approaches to retailing. We also describe the drivers of business model innovations, the potential consequences of such innovations, and numerous examples from retail practice that highlight our concepts and arguments. In doing so, we provide a starting point for academic research in a domain that is deficient in theoretical and empirical research, and offer retailing managers a framework to guide retail business model innovations for sustainable competitive advantage.
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Journal of Retailing 87S (1, 2011) S3–S16
Innovations in Retail Business Models
Alina Sorescu a,, Ruud T. Frambach b, Jagdip Singh c, Arvind Rangaswamyd, Cheryl Bridgesa
aTexas A&M University, TX, USA
bVU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands
cCase Western Reserve University, USA
dThe Smeal College of Business at Penn State University, PA, USA
Aretail business model articulates how a retailer creates value for its customers and appropriates value from the markets. Innovations in business
models are increasingly critical for building sustainable advantage in a marketplace defined by unrelenting change, escalating customer expectations,
and intense competition. Drawing from extant strategy and retailing research, we propose that innovations in retail business models are best viewed
as changes in three design components: (1) the way in which the activities are organized, (2) the type of activities that are executed, and (3) the level
of participation of the actors engaged in performing those activities. We propose six major ways in which retailers could innovate their business
models to enhance value creation and appropriation beyond the levels afforded by traditional approaches to retailing. We also describe the drivers
of business model innovations, the potential consequences of such innovations, and numerous examples from retail practice that highlight our
concepts and arguments. In doing so, we provide a starting point for academic research in a domain that is deficient in theoretical and empirical
research, and offer retailing managers a framework to guide retail business model innovations for sustainable competitive advantage.
© 2011 New York University. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Business model; Retailing; Innovation; Value creation; Value appropriation
Globally, retailing is witnessing seismic shifts. The growth
of the Internet has powered upheavals in the retail landscape that
are revolutionary in scope, and unprecedented in nature. Some
firms have created new markets, such as Apple with iTunes, and
some have changed existing markets, such as
Today, most large retailers have morphed into multichannel
firms, where the same customer visits the retailer via differ-
ent channels for different purposes (e.g., obtains information
online, makes purchases offline, and contacts customer support
via telephone). Most have also expanded their focus from sell-
ing products to engaging and empowering customers, with the
ultimate goal of creating a rewarding customer experience.
As a result, retailing practice is increasingly encompassing
a broader range of activities as retailers expand the boundaries
of their target markets and develop new ways for interacting
with customers and channel partners. For instance, some retail-
ers now use mass customization technologies to provide their
Corresponding author.
E-mail addresses: (A. Sorescu), (R.T. Frambach), (J. Singh), (A. Rangaswamy), (C. Bridges).
customers with “made to order” products instantly (e.g., Build-
a-Bear). Others effectively use technology to streamline the
supply chain to rapidly align their product assortment with sea-
sonal trends (e.g., Zara’s “fast fashion” approach of releasing
five times as many collections per year as the industry average).
Some have devised innovative customer interfaces (e.g., Shop24
dispenses over 200 grocery items 24/7 using automated kiosks).
Yet another category of retailers simultaneously cater to multiple
niche segments and as a result effectively exploit the “long-tail”
(e.g., Finally, in countries like India and China,
the opportunity to satisfy the needs and wants of the popula-
tions at the “bottom of the pyramid” has spawned numerous
retail innovations, such as Project Shakti implemented by Hin-
dustan Lever, which has enabled poor rural women to become
distributors of branded products in villages.
This paper focuses on retail business model (RBM) inno-
vations. While many retailers continue to adhere to the adage
“retail is detail” (a quote attributed to James Gulliver), retail-
ers at the forefront of innovative practices recognize that paying
attention to details is not enough because many specialized firms
can execute specific retail activities to near perfection on behalf
of retailers (e.g., order fulfillment via UPS or FedEx). A new
critical capability involves configuring, and when needed recon-
0022-4359/$ – see front matter © 2011 New York University. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
S4 A. Sorescu et al. / Journal of Retailing 87S (1, 2011) S3–S16
figuring individual retail activities and processes into a coherent
blueprint, their business model, which outlines the innovative
logic for competing effectively in their markets.
How should we think systematically about retail business
model innovations? Is there a conceptual framework that pro-
vides theoretical insights as well as practically useful guidelines?
We address these questions in this paper. Specifically, we first
discuss the concept of business model in general and highlight its
differences from the related concept of business strategy. Next,
we conceptualize retailing business model (RBM) in terms of
its three core components, namely, retailing format, activities,
and governance, with a particular emphasis on interdependen-
cies among these components that define the retailer’s coherent
theme. We assert that the purpose of RBM is to create and deliver
value to customers, and at the same time, appropriate value from
the markets for the retailer and its partners. We then propose
that a business model innovation is a change beyond current
practice with respect to its three core components and their
interdependencies. We also propose a classification of RBM
innovations along a set of six design themes, each providing
a distinct approach to enhancing value creation or appropria-
tion. We then describe the drivers of business model innovations,
the potential consequences of such innovations, and highlight
our ideas and arguments with numerous examples from retail
practice. We conclude with research opportunities and practice
Business model: definition and usefulness
There is no commonly accepted definition of business model
in the literature. Instead, the literature reveals a wide range of
definitions that vary in their emphases and scope (e.g., see the
2010 Long Range Planning special issue dedicated to business
models). Nevertheless, most authors agree that a business model
articulates a firm’s value proposition, its sources of revenue, the
resources used to extract rents, and the governance mechanism
that links firm’s stakeholders (Zott and Amit 2010). Drawing
from this core idea, we propose a working definition of business
models: A business model is a well-specified system of inter-
dependent structures, activities, and processes1that serves as
a firm’s organizing logic for value creation (for its customers)
and value appropriation (for itself and its partners).
The business model represents the firm’s distinctive logic for
value creation and appropriation (Chesbrough and Rosenbloom
2002; Gambardella and McGahan 2010; Osterwalder and
Pigneur 2009; Teece 2010; Zott and Amit 2010).2For instance,
a business model may outline how the firm creates value for cus-
tomers via activities related to product development and flexible
pricing. A business model may also outline how value is appro-
priated through, for instance, improved inventory management
1A process can be defined as “a structured and measured set of activities
designed to produce a specific output for a particular customer or market”
(Davenport 1993).
2Value creation implicitly incorporates a firm’s ability to deliver this value to
and changes to governance structures that reduce opportunity
costs, increase customers’ switching costs, or lower the lever-
age that various stakeholders exercise on the firm. Articulating
the means by which a firm creates and appropriates value allows
for a clearer delineation of the sources of its competitive advan-
tage, which, in turn, facilitates updating and strengthening the
business model.
A central aspect of our definition of a business model is that it
incorporates interdependencies that transform a set of structures,
activities, and processes into an integrated system. A business
model is not only specified by a revenue model, a cost structure,
a set of resources, or a value proposition; it is fundamentally
about how these pieces of the business “fit together” to cre-
ate and appropriate value (Magretta 2002). In this context, “fit”
refers to multi-layered interdependencies among the elements of
a business model such that the “whole” (business model) is not
simply the sum of its “parts” (elements). If these interdependen-
cies reflect a high level of complementarity or synergy among
the elements of a business model, then the business model is
likely to be more cohesive and effective in achieving its pur-
pose (e.g., Porter 1996). Indeed, complementarities have been
highlighted in numerous papers as a source of economic rents
and competitive advantage (see Ennen and Richter 2010 for a
review). For instance, Milgrom and Roberts (1994) found that
the total economic value added by combining two or more com-
plementary factors in a production system exceeds the value
that would be generated by applying these production factors
in isolation. Conversely, if the elements of a business model,
however well designed, do not reinforce each other, synergies
are less likely to emerge and the risk of failure will increase. In
sum, the beneficial interplay of the elements of a business model
is pivotal to its successful implementation. Conceptualizing the
business model as an interdependent system thus encourages
“systemic and holistic thinking” instead of local optimizations
or piecemeal decisions (Zott and Amit 2010).
Business model and strategy: similarities and differences
Hambrick and Fredrickson (2005, p. 49) define strategy as “a
central, integrated, externally oriented concept of how the busi-
ness will achieve its objectives”. At the same time, business
model has been described as the “essence of a firm’s strat-
egy” (Gambardella and McGahan 2010) and “a reflection of
the firm’s realized strategy” (Casadesus-Masanell and Ricart
2010). Although business model and strategy share some com-
mon roots, they are different in important ways.3
First, strategy articulates a certain goal, whereas the busi-
ness model details the mechanisms that moves the organization
towards that goal. In other words, strategy specifies how the
firm aims to differentiate from, or compete with, its rivals to
achieve competitive advantage (Magretta 2002). It is focused on
the firm’s (unique) position in the marketplace (Porter 1996).
The business model focuses on the organizing logic of how
3For a more extensive discussion of the differences between business model
and strategy, we direct the reader to Teece (2010).
A. Sorescu et al. / Journal of Retailing 87S (1, 2011) S3–S16 S5
to create and appropriate value in a way that achieves distinc-
tive competitive advantage. It details the structures, activities,
and processes (including the required resources) that connect
the firm’s internal functional areas (e.g., marketing, sales, and
finance) and external constituencies (e.g., suppliers, partners)
in an interdependent system that delivers on the firm’s strat-
egy (Teece 2010). Here, the business model plays a key role in
placing the (“internal”) organizational system of interdependent
activities in a network of (“external”) partners, suppliers and
customer group(s) that is distinctive to the firm’s value propo-
sition to customers. Potentially disparate business models may
be consistent with a given strategy, just as many different paths
may lead to the same destination.
Second, the adoption of a new strategy typically implies
reliance on a new business model, but changes to the busi-
ness model can be made within an existing strategic framework.
For instance, a strategy of low-cost manufacturing may prompt
the adoption of outsourcing if, at some point, it is more cost
effective than in-house production. Such adoption will require
a change to the business model without a significant change in
strategy. Thus, a business model may change more frequently
than a firm’s strategy, although these changes may prompt ques-
tions on whether the strategy needs to be updated as well. For
instance, has updated its business model multiple
times, from creating Prime membership where customers pay
upfront a fee for year-long free expedited shipping, to allowing
third party merchants to sell on its site, to an added emphasis
on creating a preeminent marketplace for digital products, but
its strategy has not wavered from being the ultimate Internet
Third, strategy and business model differ in the level of
detail. The business model takes a firm’s strategy from a rel-
atively abstract level and translates it into a more specific
interdependent mechanism that guides managers in fine-tuning
their actions to realize the firm’s competitive advantage. For
instance, at the strategic level, American Girl strives to be the
premier supplier of dolls for children; at the business model
level, it focuses on how to make transactions more valuable
for both its customers and for itself by seamlessly integrating
customer co-creation, add-on services (such as cafés and spas
where girls can spend time with their dolls) and complemen-
tary products such as accessories for the dolls purchased in their
The preceding distinctions indicate that theory and practice
can benefit from the study of business models, in addition to
research on strategic positioning. In the following section we
extend this conceptualization of business model to the context
of retailing and relate it to the extant literature.
Retailing business model (RBM)
Fundamental to the RBM are two unique characteristics of
retailing which underlie the rationale behind innovations in
1. Retailers primarily sell products manufactured by others and,
as a result, they rarely derive sustainable benefits from exclu-
sivity in their product assortment. Thus, a narrow focus on
product assortment is unlikely to lead to long-lasting compet-
itive advantage, because comparable products may be readily
available elsewhere. A successful RBM, therefore, focuses
not only on what a retailer sells, but more importantly on how
the retailer sells.
2. Retailers engage in direct interactions with end customers,
often with a large number of them, unlike most manufac-
turers. This underscores the importance of the customer
interface, and requires that retail business models articulate
how the retailer will optimize its direct interactions with end
customers to strengthen relationships with them. Retailers
appear to be increasingly aware of these trends. As a result,
the emphasis in retailing has moved from one focused mostly
on transactions, where the goal was to sell goods and services
to ultimate customers (Coughlan et al. 2001), to one focused
on enhancing the customer experience (Grewal et al. 2009;
Verhoef et al. 2009).
Retailers today can no longer be accurately characterized
as “merchant intermediaries” that buy from suppliers and sell
to customers. Rather, they are best described as orchestrators
or conductors of two-sided platforms that serve as ecosys-
tems in which value is created and delivered to customers
and, subsequently, appropriated by the retailer and its business
partners. Viewing retailing as spaces (sometimes, virtual) for
staging customer experiences requires business models that go
beyond traditional functions of procuring, stocking, and moving
products. Specifically, conceptualizing RBMs in today’s world
requires explicit consideration of interdependencies among, and
choices of: (1) the format that describes the way in which the
key retailing activities will be sequenced and executed, (2) the
diverse activities that need to be executed to design, manage,
and motivate the customer experience, and (3) the governance
of actors that perform these activities, the roles they play and
the incentives that motivates them. Thus, we propose that the
RBM has three interconnected core elements: retailing format,
activities, and governance, which together with their interde-
pendencies define a retailer’s organizing logic for value creation
and appropriation.
The retailing format refers to the structures for sequenc-
ing and organizing the selected retailing activities into coherent
processes that fulfill the customer experience. Specifically, the
format represents a combination of particular levels of each
element of the retailing mix, such as product assortment, pric-
ing strategy, location, customer interface, and so forth (Levy
and Weitz 2008). In any product category, multiple formats are
usually feasible, and different customers choose the format(s)
that best fit their needs. Prior research has extensively studied
the determinants of such choices (for a review, see Bhatnagar
and Ratchford 2004). For instance, food can be purchased from
convenience stores, grocery stores, warehouse stores, online gro-
cers, or mass merchandisers, which all differ in their assortment,
pricing, location, interface and the level of convenience offered
to customers.
In the past decade, the choices of retailing formats have
expanded dramatically driven mainly by changes in the design
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of the customer interface and by channel coordination decisions.
Customer interface design concerns the way in which a retailer
structures the exchange process with its customers. Interface
decisions require not only the positioning of the store in terms
of pricing, assortment, and overall design (e.g., whether the store
should be organized as a convenience store, specialty store, or
themed brandstore), but also require selecting the structure of
the interface itself (e.g., kiosks, stores-within-a-store, catalogs,
e-commerce, or mobile commerce). With regards to channel
coordination, the multiplicity of touch points now available to
reach the same customer, require retailers to coordinate online
and offline channels using multichannel formats such as “click-
and-mortar” (e.g., Dekimpe et al. forthcoming; Pentina et al.
2009; Rangaswamy and Van Bruggen 2005; Van Birgelen et al.
2006). This topic has been highlighted in previous literature in
areas such as price coordination across channels (Zhang 2009)or
coordination through dual franchising (Srinivasan 2006). Thus,
business models need to specify how activities should be con-
nected within an overall format to deliver superior customer
Retailing activities refer to acquiring, stocking, displaying
and exchanging goods and services that fulfill the customer
experience. The specific choice of activities, their structure and
sequencing within processes will be guided by the store format
adopted. Past research has outlined the role of such activities,
for example those related to (virtual) store design and atmo-
sphere (e.g., Diamond et al. 2009), product mix (e.g., Conant
et al. 1993), pricing (e.g., Koc¸as¸ and Bohlmann 2008), branding
(e.g., Borghini et al. 2009; Hollenbeck et al. 2008), and com-
munication (e.g., Zhang 2009). Other research has shed light on
less visible retailing activities, such as the adoption of new tech-
nology (e.g., Padgett and Mulvey 2007) and retailing specific
supply chain optimization (e.g., Basuroy et al. 2001). Consis-
tent with the increased focus on customer experience creation
and management, some studies have addressed how retailers
can design their activities within a certain retail format such that
the level of customer engagement is enhanced, for example by
strengthening customer-brand identification (e.g., Borghini et al.
Retailing governance refers to the actors involved in creating
and delivering customer experiences, as well as the mechanisms
(such as contract and incentive systems) that motivate these
actors to carry out their roles in fulfilling the customer experi-
ence. These actors not only include the retailer and its customers,
but also the retailer’s network of partners throughout the sup-
ply chain. Their roles transcend the transactional realm, with
retailers increasingly relying on both supplier and customer co-
creation across a broad range of retailing activities. For instance,
customers are co-producers in many retail environments, such as
banking (e.g., Internet banking) and grocery shopping (e.g., self-
scanning and self-checkout). Further, customer content (e.g.,
user reviews) has shaped the design of retailer interfaces, while
mass customization has strengthened the role of customers in
assortment co-creation. Suppliers can also help shape retailers’
assortments and can enhance the customer experience by modi-
fying their own supply chain in response to customer needs (e.g.,
Coughlan and Soberman 2005).
An important aspect of retailing governance is the incentive
structure that motivates and organizes these actors to success-
fully perform their roles. In the traditional retailing paradigm,
the manufacturer-retailer governance mechanisms include con-
cepts such as Efficient Consumer Response (ECR) and Category
Management (CM), which describe how incentives and decision
rights are allocated to enhance performance (Basuroy et al. 2001;
Corsten and Kumar 2005). The scope of incentive structures
continues to broaden across stakeholders and activities. Con-
sider, for instance, network marketing organizations (NMOs),
which are retail-selling channels that use independent distribu-
tors not only to buy and resell products, but also to recruit new
distributors into a growing network over time (Coughlan and
Grayson 1998). NMOs crucially rely on the incentive structure
as it determines whether the social network of distributors will
grow successfully.
In sum, a RBM consists of one or more formats, along with the
activities and the governance mechanism supporting the format,
and the interdependencies among these three elements. Multiple
channel retailers may require more than one format, but all these
formats have to be integrated in a cohesive business model that
preserves and advances the retailer’s brand equity.4Cohesive-
ness among the retailing format(s), activities, and governance
is of singular importance; understanding how they connect to
form an integrated system ensures that a change to any of them
is done in a manner that attends to the synergies that they collec-
tively create. For instance, if market conditions or technological
advances prompt a change to retail governance, the first step
in redesigning the business model is to examine its linkages
with format and activities, followed by appropriate updates to
all three elements and their connections, all done in a manner
that optimizes the value created and appropriated under the given
Zott and Amit (2010) have acknowledged the importance
of conceptualizing business models as integrated systems and
have characterized them using prototypical design themes which
detail these systems’ dominant value drivers. They suggest a
‘NICE’ framework – novelty, lock-in, complementarities, and
efficiency – and argue that these themes represent how inter-
dependencies among the elements of a business model are
orchestrated. Novelty involves introducing new elements related
to activities, actors, and/or linkages. Lock-in refers to business
models that emphasize retention of activities and actors. Com-
plementarities involve the bundling of activities and/or linking
of specific actors such that the system is bigger than the sum
of its parts. Efficiency builds interdependencies for lean opera-
tions, minimal costs, and/or low coordination costs. However,
these themes are conceptualized mostly from the perspective of
manufacturing business models.
In the context of retailing, Coughlan et al. (2001) note that
retailers may adopt different approaches towards their system
of activities, depending upon their input objective (i.e., mar-
4If a retailer owns two or more independent retail brands, such as is the case
with Walmart and Sam’s Club, separate business models for each brand may be
A. Sorescu et al. / Journal of Retailing 87S (1, 2011) S3–S16 S7
gin and inventory turnover) and their output objective (i.e., the
service levels delivered to the customer). The former stresses
efficiency as the central theme of an RBM, whereas the latter
is more focused on the effectiveness of an RBM, which may
relate to the design themes of novelty (new ways of providing
more effective superior experiences) and/or complementarities
(bundling activities to provide a more effective output). Fur-
ther, in the context of retailing, the design theme of lock-in
relates to strengthening the exchange relation with the customer.
Thus, taken together, efficiency, effectiveness, and the customer
exchange relation constitute primary design themes of the RBM.
The design themes may be further differentiated as primarily
focused on either value appropriation or value creation goals.
Specifically, we propose that operational efficiency, opera-
tional effectiveness, and customer lock-in represent three distinct
themes that represent ways in which the RBM may appropriate
value; and that customer efficiency, customer effectiveness, and
customer engagement represent themes in which the RBM may
create value for the customer. Next, we define business model
innovation in retailing and discuss how the aforementioned
design themes help retailers innovate their business models.
Business model innovation in retailing
We define a RBM innovation as a change beyond current
practice in one or more elements of a retailing business model
(i.e., retailing format, activities, and governance) and their inter-
dependencies, thereby modifying the retailer’s organizing logic
for value creation and appropriation. First, this definition implies
that the innovations in retail business models are system-wide
changes: even though the change may originate in just one ele-
ment of the business model, it also triggers changes to other parts
of the system. Indeed, an isolated change in one of the business
model elements that does not affect the other elements may be
a retailing innovation, but would not be considered an RBM
innovation. Second, a fundamental aspect of business model
innovation is that it is intended to materially alter the firm’s
value creation or appropriation logic. Therefore, focusing on
the potential changes to the value creation and/or appropriation
logic is a critical lens for examining and classifying business
model innovation. Such a focus helps managers set revenue
expectations, and evaluate the firm’s performance following the
implementation of a business model innovation. Third, we take
the perspective that for a change to qualify as a business model
innovation, it should be a method of conducting business that
has not yet been implemented in practice at the time of its intro-
duction. In other words, such an innovation embeds “new to
the world” formats, activities, governance mechanisms, and the
interdependencies among them.
To illustrate business model innovation in retailing and to
facilitate its critical review and future development, we provide
a categorization of the major types of RBM innovations. We
expect that such a categorization would lead to more focused
research on various facets of business model innovation while
also generating prescriptive implications for retailers who seek
to update their business models.
Several aspects of business model innovation provide a basis
for categorization. First, as we pointed out earlier, an impor-
tant characteristic of an RBM innovation is whether its primary
purpose is to enhance value creation or value appropriation.
In practice, many business model innovations are intended to
affect both. As such, our classification only reflects the dominant
objective of the business model innovation without in any way
diminishing or diluting its role for the second objective. After
all, business model innovations with dominant focus on value
creation are not developed without explicit consideration for
its value appropriation potential, and vice versa. Moreover, our
framework consists of three themes discussed above for value
creation – namely, customer efficiency, customer effectiveness,
and customer engagement, and the corresponding three themes
for value appropriation – namely, operational efficiency, oper-
ational effectiveness, and customer lock-in. Table 1 presents a
summary of our categorization, along with examples of busi-
ness model innovations that subscribe to each design theme.
While these examples do not constitute a comprehensive list,
they illustrate the different ways in which retailers can innovate
their business model to ever changing market and competitive
Operational efficiency. In a nutshell, efficiency refers to doing
things right, that is, faster, cheaper, simpler. It entails making
competent and productive use of resources without wastage.
The retailing literature has identified several ways to improve
operational efficiency. First, retailers can streamline back end
operations to improve efficiency (e.g., by streamlining sourc-
ing, or managing inventory levels for optimal turnaround).
Second, retailers have also sought to enhance the store envi-
ronment in a manner that reduces costs and increases profits.
Related research has focused on identifying optimal store lay-
outs, merchandise displays, and shelf allocation, which have
all been shown to impact consumers’ purchase decisions (e.g.,
Drèze et al. 1994; Murray et al. 2010). Finally, cost savings
can be realized by adopting new technologies that automate
processes previously handled by employees. Such technolo-
gies can streamline both the store environments (e.g., self
checkout technology) and back-end operations. For instance,
Netflix’s engineers have modified industry-standard bar-code
sorting machines to handle the odd-shaped envelopes used to
mail out DVDs, increasing the number of envelopes processed
to 5,000 envelopes an hour (Stross 2010). Likewise, Zappos
has automated its fulfillment center to improve visibility, flex-
ibility, accuracy, and speed. Using the Kiva autonomous robot
system, it takes an average of only 12 min from the time an
order is placed online to completing the picking and packing
of the order, greatly increasing operational efficiency (Scanlon
The examples above describe how retailers have tradition-
ally improved the efficiency of their current operations without
significantly changing their business models. Some retailers,
however, have found ways to increase efficiency by completely
rethinking operations, with far reaching consequences for all
elements of the business model. These retailers have taken
the calculated risk of presenting their customers with a new
paradigm, one in which the product assortment, pricing strat-
S8 A. Sorescu et al. / Journal of Retailing 87S (1, 2011) S3–S16
Table 1
A classification of retail business model innovations along design themes.
Design theme Was traditionally
implemented as
Innovative ways to implement
the design themes
Main premise of the model Example
Streamlined store
environment and back
end operations
Fast fashion model Reduce assortment,
implement a fast inventory
Self-service model Streamline dispensing of
“Name your own price”
Minimize unused perishable
Vendor management;
management; Market
research studies
Leverage complementarities Offer products tied-in with
services and company
Apple stores, Best
Adjacency model Capitalize on adjacent
demand by expanding outside
the boundaries of the business
Ikea’s Mega Mall
Customer lock-in Subscription-based
Leverage exclusive products Product assortment is unique,
inimitable and contains
products with a clear and
strong value proposition
Target; Trader Joe
Enduring consumer
relationships via
multichannel processes
Continuous experimentation
to identify appropriate
assortments and customer
Equipment, Inc. (REI)
Multiple locations;
product displays, sales
support, and so forth
Innovative format
which facilitates the
shopping experience
Store within store Sephora inside JC
Automated selling Redbox
Depth of
Rely on stakeholders to determine
the optimal depth of assortment
and supporting services
Customer co-creation Mix my granola,
Supplier co-creation Amazon affiliates
Reliance on
Rely on added value
Products sourced from
sustainable sources,
sustainable business practices
Embedding the product into a
complex store experience
American Girl
egy or even the store format may be completely different from
current practices familiar to customers.
A prime example of an RBM innovation which stems from a
pursuit of maximizing operational efficiency is the fast fashion
model, often associated with the Spanish retailer Zara, which
is now the world’s largest clothing retailer by revenue (Bjork
2010). While Zara initially became successful by effectively
implementing old-fashioned inventory and brand management
methods (Kumar and Linguri 2006), its managers soon realized
that maintaining competitive advantage in an industry of ever-
shrinking margins requires a completely new business model.
The premise of their new business model is simple: use a smaller
assortment with faster turning inventory, which would create
an aura of exclusivity and cut down on the need for excessive
markdowns. In an industry where merchandising is seasonal,
Zara shattered industry practice by stocking stores with new
designs twice a week (Rohwedder and Johnson 2008). This vis-
ible change to their retailing activities was in fact enabled by less
visible, but critical changes in the retailing format and activities,
driven by sophisticated operations research models which deter-
mined the most efficient manner to distribute inventory from
Zara’s two central warehouses to its over 1,500 stores world-
wide (Caro et al. 2010). Thus, this business model innovation
involved not only significant changes to Zara’s configuration
of activities, but also modified how these activities are coordi-
nated, specifically how Zara interacts with its suppliers, who
themselves had to alter their operations to accommodate Zara’s
new supply chain methods driven by a continuously updated
forecasting model.
Redbox, the chain of kiosks dispensing DVD rentals for $1
per day, is another example of business model innovation whose
primary design theme is an increase in operational efficiency.
While self-service has been present in retail in many forms,
Redbox has reinvented the concept and pushed it to where no
employees, other than those needed for occasional restocking,
are involved in the retail experience. While this innovation was
spearheaded by new technology, which enabled the kiosk format,
the interdependencies between the three elements of Redbox’s
business model also led to changes in retail activities and the
governance mechanism. Specifically, the new retailing format
is an automated kiosk placed in convenient locations such as
McDonald’s and grocery stores. Both the assortment and the
prices offered are significantly lower compared to those avail-
able from competing retailers. The governance mechanism has
also been changed to one where the customer performs the
transaction without employee assistance (Krauss 2009). Another
A. Sorescu et al. / Journal of Retailing 87S (1, 2011) S3–S16 S9
example of how governance can be leveraged to increase oper-
ational efficiency is the “name your own price” model made
popular by Priceline. Allowing customer input into pricing deci-
sions has resulted in minimizing unused products, a practice that
can significantly increase efficiency, particularly in the case of
perishable products such as hotel rooms or plane tickets.
Operational effectiveness. While efficiency refers to doing
things right, effectiveness entails doing the right things. Oper-
ational effectiveness and operational efficiency are distinct
concepts: for instance, reaching 80% of a target market indicates
high effectiveness; doing so in a streamlined way, with as little
waste as possible, is indicative of operational efficiency. In other
words, operational effectiveness is about producing desirable
results by operating in a manner that maximizes organizational
objectives (such as long-term profits or extent of target mar-
ket reached). Examples of operational effectiveness in retailing
include matching product assortment with demand, or imple-
menting flexible pricing, which extracts maximum profits from
the distinct segments in the market. Retail effectiveness has tra-
ditionally been realized via investments in marketing research
and data management focused on ensuring that customer needs
are well understood. Insights from this type of research are then
used for inventory and assortment management.
In a quest to significantly boost operational effectiveness,
some retailers have gone well beyond matching demand with
supply. Retailers have a distinct advantage over manufacturers,
in that they are not bound by a set product portfolio; rather,
they have a higher flexibility in determining their product assort-
ment and can typically respond to changes in demand faster than
manufacturers. Further, innovations in business models that are
characterized by this design theme seek not only to optimize
demand, but rather to expand demand, or even take advantage of
demand in complementary markets that may develop as a result
of the retailer’s activities. An example of expanding demand
is leveraging complementarities: a retailing practice of tying in
services, or specific retailer’s knowledge of the products sold.
Such efforts are directed by the need to create and manage supe-
rior customer experiences. An example of a company that has
expanded the frontier in operational effectiveness in retailing
is Apple. Primarily a manufacturer, Apple’s ability to leverage
its brand and competencies in retailing has led some to call it
America’s best retailer” (Useem 2007). Apple stores are unique
environments where customers can not only experience the prod-
ucts, but can also get one-on-one tutorials on a wide range of
technical issues, get their computer repaired at the Genius Bar, or
can participate in workshops. This opportunity to learn increases
the customer value proposition considerably along with the like-
lihood that customers will know how to use their products and
will be more likely to be satisfied with them. This new vision
of retail involves significant changes to all three elements of a
typical business model in electronics retailing, and the manner
in which these elements are connected. First, Apple stores have
expanded the range and type of retailing activities provided in
such stores. As a result, the governance mechanism that enables
their retailing activities is one that educates customers and
empowers suppliers to be intelligent co-creators by providing
components that best fit the store environment. Finally, Apple
is also reinventing the retailing format, by opening, alongside
its regular stores, 15-feet wide mini-stores in selected locations
with high pedestrian traffic, while also adapting its assortment
and customer interface to this new store format. Not surprisingly,
Apple stores enjoy higher sales per square foot than any other
retailer (Useem 2007).
Another way of leveraging complementarities, referred to as
adjacency, is capitalizing on seemingly unrelated demand that
has a physical or temporal proximity to the retailer’s current
products and services. Some authors have argued that com-
panies which go out of the boundaries of their core business
to exploit adjacencies can achieve high profitability (Zook and
Allen 2003), but others warn that it is a risky strategy (Stewart-
Allen 2009). An example of a retailer that has successfully
capitalized on adjacencies is Ikea. Ikea’s managers noticed a
dramatic increase in real estate value around Ikea store loca-
tions in Russia, and created a new business division, called Mega
Mall, to capture this real estate appreciation and use it for mall
development (The Boston Consulting Group 2009).
Customer lock-in. The design theme of lock-in is intended
to decrease customers’ propensity to search and switch after an
initial investment, which is determined both by a preference to
minimize immediate costs and by an inability to anticipate the
impact of future switching costs (Zauberman 2003). In retail,
lock-in has traditionally been implemented through mechanisms
that create a high incentive for customers to return to a store, such
as a membership or a subscription to a retailer’s services (e.g., an
extended warranty). Lock-ins, while useful for securing repeat
business, can put customer satisfaction at risk. Retailers are now
seeking more subtle ways to create lock-in, where loyalty reflects
enduring customer relationships rather than constraint-based
(e.g., contract or subscription-based) repurchases.
One element of the RBM that has been astutely leveraged
to create lock-in is product assortment. Since retailers typically
sell someone else’s products, it would appear that product assort-
ment has little potential to be a driver of competitive advantage.
Nevertheless, a few retailers have challenged this notion and
have built their assortments around products that are unique,
inimitable and which deliver a clear value proposition to cus-
tomers. Target, through exclusive deals with designers Michael
Graves, Mossimo, Sonia Kashuk and others, has crafted a hip,
stylish brand image not characteristic of superstores. Success-
fully targeting consumers who value “Cheap Chic”, Target has
thrived where undifferentiated competitors such as K-mart have
floundered. Another retailer that has built its business model on
product assortment exclusivity is Trader’s Joe. This specialty
grocer has attained enviable levels of customer loyalty by offer-
ing customers unique, high-quality private label products sold at
a fair price. Trader Joe’s sells only about 4,000 SKUs, compared
to the 50,000 that a typical grocery store sells, and about 80%
of them are their own private brand (Kowitt 2010). Like Zara,
it has turned a limited assortment into an advantage, perhaps
subscribing to the perspective that too many options do not nec-
essarily optimize the shopping experience (Schwartz 2005), but
ensuring that the quality of the products more than compensates
for the limited choice. Founded in 1967, Trader Joe’s continued
success is due in part to its ability to renew its retailing activi-
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ties and relationships with suppliers (details of which have been
closely guarded by the company) in a manner that always puts
it “a set ahead of Americans’ increasingly adventurous palates
with interesting new items that shoppers will collectively buy in
big volumes” (Kowitt 2010, p. 90). This is yet another example in
which the interdependencies among the elements of the business
model are critical drivers of value creation and appropriation; the
retailing activities involving an assortment centered on exclu-
sive, high quality but reasonably priced products are enabled
by an innovative format which relies on efficient sourcing and
Governance can also be leveraged to achieve lock-in. The
cooperative business model is based on a governance struc-
ture where the owners are also customers. Instead of focusing
on producing profits for its owners, the cooperative offers its
member-owners improved product assortments, better service,
or discount prices, uniquely positioning themselves as their
outlet of choice for that type of merchandise (e.g., Kazuhiko
2003). Although customer cooperatives are common in banking
(credit unions), insurance firms (State Farm), timeshare vacation
properties (Hilton), and agriculture (CSA), such an approach
is relatively rare in retailing. An example of a company that
has successfully implemented this type of business model is
REI, a multichannel retail cooperative selling outdoor gear and
clothing. Because its business model is both focused on, and
empowered by the member customers, REI’s retailing activities
have an unrivaled scope, such as opportunities for on-site train-
ing (e.g., ski lessons), work out (e.g., rock climbing), or trips
offered by its member volunteers. The unique governance sys-
tem enables high levels of employee commitment, which result
in outstanding customer service. REI’s innovative approach to
designing and linking the format, activities, and governance of
their business model has resulted in a degree of customer emo-
tional attachment and loyalty that amounts to de-facto lock-in.
Customer efficiency. Customer efficiency involves making
customers’ access to products as easy as possible. Not achiev-
ing a high level of customer efficiency not only fails to endear the
retailer to the end customers, but also makes it a less attractive
partner for manufacturers seeking to place their products in the
marketplace. Retailers have traditionally sought to increase cus-
tomer efficiency by offering the product in multiple locations,
increasing the convenience of product displays or offering more
sales support. The advent of the Internet has further increased the
efficiency of the shopping experience by reducing customers’
search costs and by allowing them to purchase products that
were previously not geographically accessible. The Internet has
not only enabled selling in multiple channels (e.g., online vs.
stores), but also selling across channels, by allowing customers
to purchase online and pick up at a store, or access the retailer’s
larger online assortment while shopping in store where they can
take advantage of customer support.
Recognizing that there is a limit to improving customer effi-
ciency within an existing store format, retailers have come up
with altogether new store formats. These innovations are useful
illustrations of the interdependencies among the elements of the
RBM, as physical changes to format and location typically also
trigger changes to a retailer’s governance mechanism. Indeed,
governance needs to account for potentially a new customer base
and new customer behaviors brought about by the new format.
For instance, Redbox has increased the efficiency of its opera-
tions by not only completely automating DVD rentals but the
self-service function of the kiosks, and their placement where
customers shop most often, have also made it considerably faster
and more convenient for customers to rent DVDs.
Another example of reducing the footprint of the store to
increase its accessibility is the store within a store concept.
This concept has evolved from a dedicated display area for a
brand that the retailer was already carrying (Dunkin and Brenner
1989), to a mini-version of an independent retailer’s store being
housed inside a larger store, such as a department store (Jerath
and Zhang 2010). Retailers are increasingly embracing the store
within a store concept: from Best Buy’s Mobile mall stores, to
Sears-branded appliance stores inside Kmart, to Sephora inside
JC Penney (inside V&D in the Netherlands). The premise behind
these new retail formats is to go where the customers are, facil-
itating their purchase experience. For instance, the Sephora
units inside JC Penney increased the brand reach of Sephora
to new consumer segments, boosting their fragrance sales while
increasing brand awareness, despite being much smaller than the
regular Sephora stores. Alternatively, JC Penney, which lacked a
beauty department since 2003, gained access to Sephora’s main
customer base, 18- to 35-year-old women, who typically spend
more per item than JC Penney’s traditional base of middle-aged
moms (Porter and Helm 2008).
Customer effectiveness. Customer effectiveness refers to the
degree to which the retailer is able to facilitate consumers’
realization of consumption goals. Increasing customer effec-
tiveness has traditionally meant increasing the likelihood that
customers find products that truly meet their needs. This has
typically been achieved by increasing the depth of product
assortment, often at the expense of efficiency. Some demand was
left unmet, as serving the long tail was seldom considered cost
The growth of online shopping has led many retailers to focus
on niche segments and on the long tail. Some simply capital-
ized on the reduced search costs that the Internet affords and
the increased efficiency that arises from warehousing in central-
ized locations. Others, however, saw an opportunity to innovate
their business models by changing their underlying governance
mechanisms. Specifically, they passed on to their stakeholders
– customers and suppliers – the role of determining the opti-
mal depth of assortment and supporting services that the retailer
should offer. Netflix, for example, designed a consumer-based
recommendation system that increased customer access to a
broader assortment of movies and enabled reinforcement among
the elements of its business model. By passing on the task of
movie reviewing to customers (rather than to employees) and
communicating movie ratings to other customers, movie renters
are exposed to a wider set of potential titles (long tail), enhancing
customer effectiveness. Simultaneously, because of its interde-
pendence with other aspects of the Netflix business model, cost
efficiencies are increased (due to better inventory management)
and customer lock-in is enhanced (due to supporting services
boosting customer loyalty).
A. Sorescu et al. / Journal of Retailing 87S (1, 2011) S3–S16 S11
The Internet has also increased the prevalence of another
phenomenon which has redefined the scope of product assort-
ments: customer co-creation. Customer co-creation has been
embraced by start-ups and established retailers alike, and has
pervaded industries ranging from food and apparel retailing
to industrial cleaning solutions and many more. Customers
can now create their own granola, using favorite ingredients
at, can customize their clean-
ing solutions at, can personalize
M&Ms with text and pictures at,or
can build their own sports shoes online using the NikeID sys-
tem. Manufacturers of established brands such as Nike and
M&M can now more efficiently add retail operations, and can
use mass customization to strengthen their brand associations
and potentially increase loyalty by leveraging the endowment
effect and psychological ownership effect that typically arise
by co-designing products (Franke et al. 2010). In turn, new
retailers such as Mix My Granola can use this tool to create
a customer base by tapping into a market that was underserved
by mass manufacturers. Whether co-creation is integrated into
an existing business model or has triggered the creation of a
new one, if supported by appropriate format and activities, it
enables a governance mechanism that can create significant
value for customers, some of which can be appropriated by the
Alternatively, opportunities for co-creation can also be
extended to suppliers.’s product assortment has
been expanded through third party vendors to levels that
competitors can only marvel at; importantly, this has been
achieved with just a nominal increase in the cost of manag-
ing additional inventory. Customer effectiveness is increased by’s user-friendly interface and streamlined check-
out process that applies also to merchandise sold by third party
vendors. Still, to reap the benefits of supplier co-creation, Ama- has had to update its business model to implement
the optimal level of integration of these partners into its opera-
tions to maximize sales and minimize any potential brand equity
damage that may result from affiliates’ actions. Critical to this
success are’s well-planned format and governance
mechanism, which ensure that it retains sufficient control of the
customer experience creation, even though it maintains little
direct control over order fulfillment.
Customer engagement. The theme of customer engagement
involves the degree to which the retailer is able to design cus-
tomer experiences that evoke emotional involvement that goes
“beyond purchase” (Van Doorn et al. 2010, p. 254). An engaged
customer has well defined perceptions of the retailer brand, often
chooses to articulate these perceptions and occasionally identi-
fies with the brand (see Van Doorn et al. 2010 for a review of
manifestations of customer engagement across industries). We
noted earlier that firms can engage customers through unique
product assortments. Nevertheless, changes to product assort-
ments are highly visible, and thus, imitable. A different, and
perhaps more enduring way to engage customers has recently
emerged: one where added value tie-ins, whether tangible or
intangible, make for a multifaceted and emotionally stimulating
shopping experience which leads the customers to uniquely bond
to the retailer. Retailers are seeking to redefine their activities in
a manner that also allows them to redefine their brand and the
meaning that this brand carries in the minds of their customers.
Retailers have an advantage over manufacturers in leveraging
the engagement design theme due to their direct access to the
end customers.
A prime example of how a retailer has sought to engage a
specific segment of consumers is Walmart’s emphasis on sus-
tainability as a core theme in how they conduct their business,
and in the products that they carry. Walmart has three sustainabil-
ity goals: (1) to be supplied 100% by renewable energy; (2) to
create zero waste; and (3) to sell products that sustain people and
the environment (Retail’s BIG Blog). This emphasis acknowl-
edges the increasing customer interest in green, fair trade and
sustainably produced products, and positions Walmart as a pio-
neer in making such products available to the average customer.
This focus on sustainability has impacted not just Walmart’s
assortment, but also all the functional areas in which various
activities are performed, from sourcing, to manufacturing, to
internal operations, to inventory management. Thus, retail for-
mat, activities, and governance and how they relate to each other
have all been significantly modified to accommodate the new
emphasis. Walmart’s ultimate goal in pursuing sustainability is
to seek to increase the loyalty and positive associations that cus-
tomers have vis-à-vis its brand and become the store of choice
for the increasingly large segment of environmentally conscious
Another way in which a retailer can engage customers is by
selling not just products, but an entire experience that – while
centered on the products – adds an entirely new exciting layer
to the retail setting. Themed brand stores such as the Ameri-
can Girl Place are exponents of a retail brand ideology meant to
immerse the customer in a complex experience which includes
socialization, co-creation and embedding of the brand into per-
sonal memories (Borghini et al. 2009; Kozinets et al. 2008).
Retailers that convincingly enact their brand ideology in their
stores become a part of their customers’ life projects, and conse-
quently occupy a privileged position in these customers’ brand
hierarchies. Linking retail activities with a set of particular ide-
ologies may require significant changes to a retailer’s business
model but it is nevertheless a change worth considering given
its high upside potential on value creation. The American Girl
Place example also suggests that customer effectiveness and
engagement are related. If a high level of customer effective-
ness is achieved, engagement could, to some extent, ensue. For
instance, co-creation has been described by some authors as a
form of engagement (e.g., Van Doorn et al. 2010). We argue that
simply participating in the design of a product does not neces-
sarily result in customers exhibiting brand- or product-related
behaviors that go beyond mere purchase, but has the potential
to do so if the newly designed product represents a significant
increase in the value perceived by customers. Engagement goes
beyond satisfaction; it represents an active, rather than passive
involvement with the product or retailer brand. We should note,
however, that engagement is typically a hefty goal for a retailer
and that direct metrics to assess the extent to which it has been
accomplished are not yet available.
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The discussion and examples above show that innovating the
RBM from the perspective of a particular design theme not only
affects one or more elements of the business model (i.e., for-
mat, activities, and/or governance), but more importantly, an
RBM innovation leverages the interdependencies between the
business model elements, making it harder for others to repli-
cate the business model. Thus, an integrated set of changes in
the system of format, activities, and governance of the RBM
makes business model innovations a potentially powerful source
of competitive advantage. Below, we describe different ways in
which RBM innovations may contribute to sustainable compet-
itive advantage. However, for retailers to engage in business
model innovation, they need to first be aware of the factors that
may stimulate or inhibit them to do so. We therefore first discuss
some of the main potential drivers and barriers for retailers to
engage in business model innovation.
Retail business model innovation: drivers and barriers
Both internal and external drivers can lead a retailer to inno-
vate on its business model or even create an entirely new
business model. With respect to internal drivers, one poten-
tial driver of business model innovation is a customer-centric
orientation. A sustained focus on improving the customer expe-
rience may prompt retailers to identify innovative ways to
best align their “backstage” (back-office), “frontstage” (phys-
ical environment, service employees, service delivery process),
and “auditorium” (fellow customers) design areas (Zomerdijk
and Voss 2010). Oregon based Umpqua Bank, for example,
redesigned its branches to reflect a retail feel that would generate
heavy foot traffic. Its patented branch design, aimed to provide
a unique customer experience modeled after the hotel industry,
has been highlighted as a success story (Banerjea et al., 2006).
An emphasis on innovation in general can also lead to business
model innovations, as experimentation will motivate and enable
firms to discover viable new business models (Chesbrough 2010;
McGrath 2010). Research also shows that service providers with
an emphasis on innovation are more likely to also introduce
service delivery innovations (Chen et al. 2009).
Changing customer values (e.g., McGrath 2010) and techno-
logical developments (e.g., Sood and Tellis 2010) are potential
drivers of business model innovation external to the firm. By
focusing on customer value creation, the business model con-
cept promotes managers to take an “outside-in” perspective,
requiring them to engage with, and adapt to changing customer
values (McGrath 2010). Alternatively, technological develop-
ments can also enable firms to successfully design new ways
of creating and appropriating value (Padgett and Mulvey 2007).
In this respect, the emergence of the commercial Internet has
led to many new (and often more effective and/or more effi-
cient) ways of information exchange and transaction (McGrath
2010). This has stimulated market entry of a wide variety of
(more and less successful) firms with business models based
on electronic platforms for customer interaction (e.g., Mahajan
et al. 2002). Information and communication technology has
also created new business models based on multiple channels
and self-service technologies (e.g., Meuter et al. 2005).
A retailer’s motivation to engage in business model innova-
tion may be inhibited by inertial forces due to either cognitive
barriers to change (Chesbrough 2010) or resource commitments
(Padgett and Mulvey 2007). Success of the current business
may render managers reluctant to change the organizing logic
of how value is created and appropriated (Debruyne et al. 2010).
Likewise, retailers may be reluctant to change their current busi-
ness model because of stickiness of resource endowments. Path
dependencies and prior investments may limit a retailer’s flexi-
bility to make significant changes to its prevailing logic of value
creation and appropriation. For instance, Padgett and Mulvey
(2007) argue that incumbent firms have a vested positioning
strategy based on the resource base that has been built over
the years; changing the positioning may alienate profitable cus-
tomers and therefore could be both difficult and dangerous.
Blockbuster is an example of a retailer whose reluctance to
update its brick and mortar business, and delays in adding a mail
and digital delivery business, eventually resulted in a Chapter
11 filing. Experimentation (Chesbrough 2010; McGrath 2010)
may enable retailers to explore potential ways to innovate their
business model without jeopardizing current performance.
Consequences of retail business model innovation
Can business model innovation lead to competitive advan-
tage? While many of the RBM innovations described above are
clever and have the potential to generate new cash flows, they
may also be fairly easy to imitate. If the business model is eas-
ily imitable, and if barriers to entry are low, the competitive
advantage it affords is not sustainable for an extended period of
time (e.g., Adner and Zemsky 2006; Makadok 1998). Drawing
from our previous arguments, we propose two ways in which
retailers can maintain their competitive advantage. First, while
the activities and to a lesser extent the governance of a busi-
ness model may be visible and imitable, the way in which the
activities are structured, that is, the format, can offer unique
advantages. Replicating the format would require more insight
into a retailer’s core processes and the interrelationships that
keep these processes running seamlessly. Thus, while it is tempt-
ing to ponder innovative retailing activities, it is worthwhile
paying close attention to how the format can be simplified, ren-
dered more efficient or transposed into different domains. The
resulting business model with enhanced properties of coherence
and interdependency between its elements may provide a better
protection against competitive encroachment.
Second, pursuing innovations that heighten the uniqueness
of the customer experience may also hold the key to maintain-
ing the competitive advantage derived from a business model
innovation. If competitors have also devised ways to reduce risk
perceptions, leverage new technologies, and leverage partner-
ships, then a retailer could offer unique value-added services
that elevate the customer experience above their expectations,
with positive consequences for loyalty, retailer brand equity and
repeat purchase. For instance, in the crowded consumer electron-
ics retail market, Best Buy’s well trained floor and Geek Squad
associates facilitate and enhance customers’ purchase and the
post-purchase experiences, helping Best Buy differentiate itself
A. Sorescu et al. / Journal of Retailing 87S (1, 2011) S3–S16 S13
from competitors. In the online realm, seeks to stand
out from similar drugstore retailers by offering a completely new
shopping interface that mirrors the customers’ cabinets, which
in turn is supplemented by value-added features, such as budget
and planning tools, which complement the shopping experience.
It is important to note that the value-added services in the above
examples are not merely additions to the retailers’ assortments;
rather they allow increased synergy with other activities within
the chosen format.
Useful insights can be gathered from the financial conse-
quences of different business model innovation examples we
previously discussed. Redbox’s revenue grew by 99% in 2009
as it installed over 8,700 new kiosks, or almost one every hour
of every day and rented over 365 million DVDs (Coinstar, Inc.
at Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference
2010). Zara also boasts impressive financial figures. Profits at
Inditex SA, the owner of the Zara retail chain, have jumped 64%
in the first quarter of 2010, while the company’s stock has risen
43% in the past 12 months. Zara, now present in 77 countries,
also recently launched online operations in 85 countries encour-
aged by the two million people who have downloaded Zara’s
smartphone application in the first six months after its launch
(Bjork 2010).
The above examples suggest that profits from retail business
model innovation can exceed the profits that can be extracted
from product or process innovations (which often mainly influ-
ence short-term gains). Are there long-term profit gains for
innovative business models? An industry study has documented
enhanced returns to business model innovations by comparing
the premium in shareholder return for innovators against that of
the average total shareholder return in several different indus-
tries (Lindgardt et al. 2009). The authors report that, on average,
product and process innovators gained 1.7% premium over a 10-
year period, whereas business model innovators gained a 2.7%
premium, that is, a net gain of 1% for business model innovators
as compared to product or process innovators. Thus, it appears
that the unobserved interdependency aspect of business mod-
els provides enduring competitive benefits. Although one might
raise questions regarding the direction of the cause-effect rela-
tionship here (i.e., whether high performing companies innovate,
or whether innovative companies become superior performers),
the longitudinal nature of the study engenders some confidence
in the conclusions. Nevertheless, because patenting a business
model innovation is difficult, the best course of action is to
embrace a dynamic perspective whereby the business model is
continuously updated as changes in the environment dictate it.
Also, in order for the components of the business model to come
together seamlessly as updates are being made, an organizational
structure which encourages communication across departments,
and which takes a systemic view of the activities undertaken by
the firm’s stakeholders, can help keep the retailer stay ahead of
Business models in retailing: a look ahead
For researchers studying business model innovationsin retail-
ing, much work lies ahead. Although the conceptualization we
present here is a start, more research is needed to clarify the
concepts and to measure them empirically. A rich theory that
elaborates on antecedents, consequences and various facets of
business model innovation needs to be developed and linked to
extant theoretical frameworks such as value chain (Porter 1998),
configurational theories (e.g. Meyer et al. 1993), or the resource
based view (Barney 2001). In particular, more theoretical work
is needed to specify different modalities of interdependencies
among the elements of retail format, activities, and governance,
as well as develop empirical models for measuring such interde-
pendencies and their effects on customer experience and retail
For retailers, we have proposed a three-element conceptu-
alization of RBMs and a framework consisting of six design
themes that they can use to design innovative business models.
The three elements that comprise an RBM – format, activi-
ties, and governance – can help retailers to think strategically
about the optimal locus of business model innovation, as well
as any necessary updates to how these elements are connected.
The framework of design themes can also be used as a check-
list of expected outcomes with respect to value creation and
value appropriation associated with a business model innovation.
Finally, the framework may provide performance benchmarks
for retailers’ current business models, and help them set up
continuous improvement processes along as many of the six
dimensions as possible. In addition to periodically examining
the performance of their business model along each of the pro-
posed six design themes, a retailer would benefit from keeping
abreast of the major internal and external factors that might war-
rant changes to the business models. We summarize below some
of these key factors.
Keep abreast of new technologies. Retailers should monitor
any new technologies that can reduce the cost structure of their
business or that can increase efficiencies. Self-service technolo-
gies are now pervasive in many stores and have gone beyond
the ubiquitous self-service checkout counter. For instance, Stop
& Shop Supermarket, a subsidiary of Ahold USA, has intro-
duced wireless-based shopping cart “buddies.” Customers can
use them to search for the product they need by name or category
using a dropdown menu, and the selected products are displayed
on a map of the store. The shopping cart buddy can also place
deli orders, notify store associates of out-of-stock items and emit
electronic rain checks, enhancing and simplifying the shopping
experience of the customers who use it. Although retailers could
consider the impact of such self-service technologies mainly in
terms of the opportunities they afford for product and/or process
innovations, they could also gain an understanding of the oppor-
tunities and challenges to their business models that arise from
technology developments (Grewal et al. forthcoming; Shankar
et al. forthcoming).
Another threat that is harder to monitor, but nevertheless
important to keep on the radar screen, is that of technologies that
could make a retailer’s product outdated. Just as stores selling
typewriters had to change their business models as PCs became
popular, so do booksellers faced with electronic readers, or CD
retailers faced with MP3 players and downloadable music. Join-
ing an emerging market or forging alliances with the technology
S14 A. Sorescu et al. / Journal of Retailing 87S (1, 2011) S3–S16
providers may be the best way to preempt this threat. Jeff Bezos
beat Sony to the market with its Kindle, and leveraged the large
book inventory that carries by offering an impres-
sive e-book library for Kindle. Barnes & Noble soon followed
suit with the Nook, upping the value added by offering free clas-
sics that can be downloaded to it and in 2010 a new color version
of the e-reader. In contrast, Borders, a once successful retailer,
failed to capitalize on this opportunity, reported a net loss of over
$100 million in revenues for each of the past two years, and has
filed for bankruptcy.
Sometimes new technologies require thinking outside the
box, as they have the potential to introduce completely new
retail formats. Hamilton South, a founding partner of HL Group,
a retail consultancy, thinks the future of luxury retail may not
be online but on television. He envisions a world where view-
ers use their remote controls to buy the clothing that appears in
the programs they are watching. “Retailers need to stop thinking
about making shopping entertaining, he says, and concentrate on
making entertainment “shopable” instead” (Economist 2009,p.
73). And yet another example of how we will, in the near future,
shop differently can be seen in a Cisco ad that has gone viral
on YouTube with over 1.7 million views, which depicts a young
woman virtually trying apparel on an electronic screen. The ad
suggests not only that a radically new customer experience is
possible in the near future, but also that retailers will have to
yet again rethink the manner in which they manage assortments
and inventories, as well as any aspect of the business model that
relates to them.
Keep abreast of new consumer trends. Even if a retailer’s
model is customer centric, it is only as good as the assump-
tions the retailer makes about what customers value. Accurately
identifying the main drivers of customers’ utility function
and constantly updating this information is critical to keeping
the business model current (see, for example, Reinartz et al.
forthcoming). For instance, retail sales of organic foods in the
US have increased 17.1% to $24.6 billion in 2008 (Organic Trade
Association press release 2009). Anticipating this change in con-
sumer priorities and modifying their business model accordingly
have helped certain retailers, including Walmart, build competi-
tive advantage. Conversely, food retailers that have waited to join
this bandwagon may have to face yet another shift in consumer
preferences, with some analysts reporting that the organic sector
is peaking, and a focus on sustainability, fair trade or localization
is now trending up (McKay 2010). Thus, retailers should have
in place intelligence processes which ensure that they keep up
with what their customers truly want.
The extensive involvement of today’s consumers with social
media is also something that can be leveraged to update a
retailer’s businessmodel and increase its efficiency. For instance,
many retailers show parts of their assortment on Facebook in
an attempt to gauge customer interest. Gathering customer reac-
tions to the retailer’s communications on social networking sites
can be institutionalized and integrated more systematically with
merchandising decisions. Retailers need to think beyond the
advertising function of the social networking sites, and find
innovative ways to use them as exchange media, rather than
as one-way,or even two-way,communication channels. These
sites are an integral part of the life of many consumers; retailers
need to integrate them within their business models.
Maintain organizational flexibility. Retailers should maintain
organizational flexibility to create a new brand if a new retailing
format or concept shows potential, but cannot be directly inte-
grated into their current business model. While in some cases
this may involve a simple brand extension (Toys R Us and Babies
R Us), in other cases it may require a fundamentally new busi-
ness model. A good example is Procter & Gamble’s first forays
into retailing, the now defunct, an Internet retailer
of custom skin care products. While Procter & Gamble’s busi-
ness model relied on mass merchandising and economies of
scale, the business model of its retailing venture had
to accommodate customer co-creation and entailed completely
different retail format, activities, and governance components,
which were difficult to integrate with Procter & Gamble’s core
business model.
Another context where organizational flexibility is of
paramount importance is in ensuring that the various functional
areas that define and bring to life each facet of the business
model are in constant communication with each other. If feed-
back between the functional areas is exchanged on a regular
basis, it is more likely that the critical interdependencies between
the retailing activities, format and governance components of the
business model are maintained and updated for optimal business
Finally, perhaps the best wayto ensure that the business model
stays current is to start thinking about the next business model
innovation as soon as the current one is implemented. Walmart
is a prominent example of staying ahead of competition by con-
stantly innovating its business model –from the manner in which
Sam Walton chose the location of the Walmart stores, to its inno-
vative inventory management processes, to the way in which this
retailer has embraced organic merchandise and now to the sus-
tainability emphasis –and doing so with the nimbleness of a
small retailer, rather than that of a large, stodgy incumbent. We
hope that the concepts, arguments, and examples we provide in
this paper help other retailers to innovate their business models
to enjoy sustainable competitive advantages.
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... The complexity of the business model and its adaptation will depend on the digital that the company equips to adapt to the more dynamic and competitive business environment (Al-Debi et al., 2008;Zott et al., 2011). The need for business model innovation in the retail sector increases due to the changing retail environment, focus on customer experience, and fierce competition (Sorescu et al., 2011;Spieth et al., 2014). This study is exploratory to European Modern Studies Journal, 2023, 7(3) including product and service systems, markets and customers, infrastructure and logistics, and financial viability are shown in Figure 1 (Osterwalder & Pigneur, 2010). ...
... When an incumbent faces a disruptive business model innovation in its market, it can either strengthen the old business model or adopt the disruptive model (Osiyevskyy & Dewald, 2015). Sorescu et al. (2011) define Retail Business Model innovation as a change in one or several of the three core elements: retailing formats, activities, and governance. However, if it is just a change of one component, it has to impact the other core elements, as Retail Business Model innovation has to be system-wide. ...
... As communication with customers is easier and faster with the digital transformation, the relationship between retailers and customers has also changed (Hagberg et al., 2016). Customers are more involved in creating value, also called co-creation or co-production (Sorescu et al., 2011;Lehdonvirta, 2013). With the European Modern Studies Journal, 2023, 7(3) development of new digital tools, customers are performing activities that earlier were done by retailers. ...
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... We consider the investigation of these interaction effects to be theoretically and practically relevant. Scholars have called for empirical analyses of the interdependencies among business model dimensions and their effect on firm performance (e.g., Foss & Saebi, 2017;Ramdani et al., 2019;Sorescu et al., 2011). Spieth et al. (2014, p. 244) even state that "interaction processes and effects in business model innovation are important to the extent that good designs in isolation can fail." ...
Despite the increasing interest in business model innovation (BMI), the literature lacks solid empirical evidence about its impact over time. We address this gap by taking an element-based perspective, differentiating three core dimensions: value creation, value proposition, and value capture. We collected cross-industry data based on more than 35,000 press releases, capturing over 2,300 events of BMI from 60 German publicly traded corporations , and regressing them against firm performance measures. Our findings show that BMI has a positive, albeit lagged effect on firm performance. We further find substitutive as well as complementary effects of the different business model dimensions. Moreover, concentrated BMI activities outperform BMI activities dispersed across different business model dimensions when it comes to subsequent firm performance. Our findings contribute to the literature by stimulating a deeper reflection on the role of resource allocation, highlighting the need to carefully plan BMI activities at the level of strategic management.
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The business model or economic model is a key element in the success of any business. It determines how a company generates profits to be profitable. The article focuses on identifying key elements of business models of Slovak retail companies, which characterize the change in the way they do business. The article provides an overview of the above issues in terms of selected forms of retail stores in Bratislava, whose sales area exceeds 700 m2 and which supply most of the population of the capital. The article presents the results of the primary research carried out in 2022. At the same time, it lists as major retailers the ways in which they seek to revive demand in the economy in the context of pandemic SARS-CoV-2. The article uses methods of logical deduction based on a critical analysis of available secondary resources and quantitative research findings. The article also provides suggestions for further research into new business models of Slovak retail stores. The article is a follow-up to the project VEGA 1/0012/22 Innovative business models of retail outlets based on geomarketing data and their influence on the creation of the value base offer and food retail chains in the digital period.
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Many large retailers offer “advertised as retailer exclusive products” or AREPs. Retailers work with manufacturers to produce these unique, retailer exclusive versions of otherwise common products. While not all retailer exclusive products are advertised as “exclusive,” AREPs are advertised and labeled as retailer exclusives. The retailer exclusive product attributes are often “trivial,” but still may add customer value and discourage price comparison shopping. Here, two experiments assess AREPs effects on consumers. Contrary to managerial expectations, the findings suggest that AREP exclusivity promotions are ineffective at influencing consumers, but that the choice of exclusive, seemingly “trivial” attribute can sometimes be a significant negative influence on consumers. Further, the authors suggest contexts that may encourage specific responses to retailer exclusive product promotions and trivial attributes.
Nowadays, the importance of social media and its influence on customers for customer behavior transformation has been highlighted. This has introduced the importance of analyzing the impact of social media on Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) phases and how to use it for more efficient product development cycles. The paper has shown through the literature review, the lack of contributions for benefiting from the potentials of social media platforms for PLM refinement. Especially, the capabilities of social media analytics for extracting customers’ emotions and perceptions are neglected. Moreover, the paper has highlighted the importance of perceptive quality and has and investigated it with a focus on the Omnichannel concept. Customer satisfaction and perceptual quality as two crucial factors which directly can be influenced by social media platforms have been considered. Using the system dynamics approach, a cause-and-effect model for demonstrating the relations and effects of these factors in product lifecycle management frameworks has been developed. Also, a social media data analytics model has been developed to formulate customer satisfaction and perceptual quality. The approach applies sentiment natural language processing and analysis to provide a basis for relating the mentioned factors. The findings have provided insights for embedding social media analytics in PLM analytical frameworks.KeywordsPerceptual quality analyticsProduct Lifecycle Management (PLM)Social media data analyticsSentiment analysisOmnichannel
Retail businesses are the type of businesses that sell their goods individually or in small quantities rather than in bulk, mainly to individual customers. The retail business is one of the most important economic sectors in the world, with its capacity to create jobs and generate revenues, as well as its potential to act as a gateway to sustainability. Retail businesses are under increasing pressure from customers, stakeholders, and governments alike to take on more responsibility for their environmental impact. In that sense, it has become increasingly important for businesses to be aware of their environmental footprint and develop strategies to ensure they progress toward sustainability goals. This chapter will discuss how retailer businesses can adopt sustainable practices within their operations and management practices and the benefits of adopting them.
Purpose Environmental dynamics affect all sectors, and retailing is no exception. Scholarships reveal that, in such turbulent times, entrepreneurial characteristics are essential for business. In academic research, entrepreneurial characteristics like entrepreneurial orientation (EO) and entrepreneurial competence (EC) are seldom evaluated for retailers. This study aims to decode the impact of small retailers’ EO and EC on firm business performance (BP). It also traces the mediation effect of EC in the relationship between EO and BP. Design/methodology/approach The study executed among 740 small retailers is a pioneering work to trace EO’s efficacy via EC on the retailer’s BP. The present research is a primal work in the Indian context. This work redesigns the EC scale to suit the retail context and evaluate its mediation role in the EO and BP relationship. Findings Examining the mediation model through structural equation modelling (SEM) adds empirical evidence to entrepreneurial value creation (EVC) theory and throws light on the indispensable qualities required for small business retailers. The outcomes of the SEM model portray that there is an association between the EO, EC and BP. Research limitations/implications This study, though carried out methodically, it is constrained by the ensuing intricacies. The investigation was limited to the small- and medium-retailers engaged in retailing with a floor space from 500 to 5,000 square feet. All three constructs used in the study are measured using the self-reported perceptual scale, which infuses the subjectivity in the data. Exploring the EO and EC of widely dispersed retailers, examining the entrepreneurial character of large-format independent retailers and evaluating financial performance measures through retailers will add value to the study in future. Originality/value The study verified the central role of EC in the intangible resource-reward relationship. Among the five pillars of EVC theory, the role of intention and external finance are not considered in this work. The present work explored the EO and EC of existing retailers, and hence intention is excluded. The study concentrates on small retailers, and the role of external financing is not explored. Mishra and Zachary (2014b) opined that the EVC process should be studied in different context and listed out several prepositions. Considering the role of intention and external financing and studying several prepositions spelt out in the theory in varying contexts will throw more lights on the EVC process.
After more than 30 years of hard thinking about strategy, consultants and scholars have provided an abundance of frameworks for analyzing strategic situations. Missing, however, has been any guidance as to what the product of these tools should be - or what actually constitutes a strategy. Strategy has become a catchall term used to mean whatever one wants it to mean. Executives now talk about their "service strategy," their "branding strategy," their "acquisition strategy," or whatever kind of strategy that is on their mind at a particular moment. But strategists-whether they are CEOs of established firms, division presidents, or entrepreneurs - must have a strategy, an integrated, overarching concept of how the business will achieve its objectives. If a business must have a single, unified strategy, then it must necessarily have parts. What are those parts? We present a framework for strategy design, arguing that a strategy has five elements, providing answers to five questions - arenas: where will we be active? vehicles: how will we get there? differentiators: how will we win in the marketplace? staging: what will be our speed and sequence of moves? economic logic: how will we obtain our returns? Our article develops and illustrates these domains of choice, particularly emphasizing how essential it is that they form a unified whole.
Collaborative manufacturer-retailer relationships based on efficient consumer response (ECR) have become ubiquitous over the past decade. Yet academic studies of ECR adoption and its impact on marketing relationships are relatively scarce. Inspired by the relational view of competitive advantage, the authors empirically investigate whether the extent to which suppliers of a major retailer adopt ECR has a beneficial impact on their outcomes. The results demonstrate that whereas ECR adoption has a positive impact on supplier economic performance and capability development, it also generates greater perceptions of negative inequity on the part of the supplier. However, retailer capabilities and supplier trust moderate some of these main effects. The overall results are robust with respect to differences in supplier size as well as between branded and private-label suppliers.