Supply chain management is already a big field, touching every organization in every kind of industry. But a look into the world of retail supply chain management shows a kind of fractal explosion of supply chain experiences.
That’s because retail itself can involve so many kinds of companies and operations. A global convenience store chain and a one-person Etsy jewelry crafter are both retailers. They both have critical supply chain needs to fill. But each of those supply chains are as different as night and day. The right way to manage them can be just as different.
As big as retail is, with sales topping $5 trillion in 2022 according to the Census Bureau, retail trade still only amounts to around six percent of GDP.
But as the consumer-facing tail of the supply chain, retail operations have their own hoops to jump through. The reality of modern supply chains for most retail goods is that they have become long, complex, and fragile. And they require expert managers at every part of that chain.
As Retail Supply Chains Go Through a Sea Change, Leadership Is Needed
The COVID-19 pandemic was a vivid illustration for many retailers of just how fragile those connections could be.
Supply chain management in retail organizations has to contend with the daunting last-mile delivery problem. They face considerations that many other logistics teams do not:
All of that comes on top of the standard challenges of supply chain management. It’s a tough environment out there for building resilient transportation routes, supplier diversity, and affordable storage space.
Retailers often have thin margins. Thoughtful supply chain management can be the difference between making payroll or going out of business. And true supply chain innovation can create new fortunes from legacy industries that aren’t known for year-over-year growth.
Adapting Supply Chains to the E-commerce Revolution Has Kept Big Retailers on Top
Supply chain innovation is the key to unlocking new potential in old markets. For existing retailers, that can offer both challenges and opportunities.
There’s no better example of this than the American retail behemoth Walmart.
Sitting comfortably atop a brick-and-mortar empire of stores in 24 different countries, the company sits on top of many lists: the largest private employer in the world, the company with the greatest annual revenue stream, and the most profitable retailer. But by the early 2000s, the writing was on the wall: e-commerce was coming.
Amazon had been growing like gangbusters since the 1990s. Optimized from the start for online shopping and home delivery, the company was poised to eat Walmart’s lunch.
Significant differences exist between e-commerce and outlet supply chains. To fight back, Walmart was going to have to find a way to make both systems work—and with the customary efficiency needed to preserve their profit margins.
Just in time for the COVID-19 pandemic, investments in automation, private label listings, and in-store pickup for online orders gave Walmart a new foothold in e-commerce. In the second quarter of 2023 alone, the company’s online sales boomed by 24 percent.
Retail Supply Chain Management: Where Does Retailing Fall in the Supply Chain?
Although retail may not have fat margins, it does come with solid employment prospects. According to 2021 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, retail trade represents one of the top five sectors for employment in the country. Plenty of those positions are all about logistics.
With so many different kinds of retail operation available, there are positions in supply chain management open at every level. That means that college degrees in supply chain management at any level can get you started.
Retail represents the end of the line in the supply chain, where in-demand market-ready product is displayed on shelves just long enough for consumers to place in their carts and push it the register.
The lead up to that final phase, though, includes every type of SCM specialization.
Particularly useful in many retail operations are concentrations in areas like:
Retail also has some unique crossover opportunities for supply chain professionals, like loss prevention. Shrinkage, as lost inventory is euphemistically called in the business, costs retailers nearly $100 billion a year according to 2022 data from the National Retail Federation.
More than any other kind of supply chain management, retail is an area where you can forge your own path.
Degrees to Prepare You for Retail Supply Chain Management Jobs
A degree in supply chain management is one of the clearest ways to lay a foundation for a career in retail logistics.
Degrees in SCM come at every level and can be found with all the specialties that big retailers crave.
Any degree in logistics and supply chain management delivers coursework in areas such as:
Of course, plenty of retail professionals pursue a degree in business to get a broader range of training in accounting, marketing, HR, and other administrative skills. But you can throw in valuable supply chain expertise by choosing a business degree that has a focus in supply chain management. Four-year programs like a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) in Supply Chain Management are common.
To build your knowledge for more senior roles in retail logistics, an MBA in Logistics and Supply Chain Management delivers essential supply chain education with leadership and advanced business skills. It’s a degree that helps you integrate all the demands of retail operations with slick supply chain management, building the greatest efficiencies into your business.
There are also colleges that offer degrees that are specific to retail supply chain considerations, like a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a concentration in Retail Supply Chain Management. These come with courses that specifically address the major concerns in retail SCM, including:
There are also degrees like the Bachelor of Arts in Retail Management which offer a broader overview of retail operations while also including courses in logistics considerations.
Most supply chain management degrees and certificates today are available online as well as in traditional formats, giving you the flexibility you need to keep your career and your personal life on track.
Finally, graduate and post-graduate certificate programs deliver a quick shot of supply chain knowledge for a lot less time and money than a full degree. Something like a Graduate Certificate in Supply Chain Management can give you a good overview of the field if you are building off a bachelor’s degree in a different major.
And once you have a little experience under your belt, you can pursue certification in various areas of supply chain management. Different from an academic certificate, professional industry certification offers an independent third-party evaluation of your specific skills and expertise. While there aren’t certs that aim specifically at retail SCM, all of them cover concepts and techniques that are used every day in various retail logistics operations.
Looking At Salary Levels in Retail Supply Chain Management
It’s tough to put a number on what you can make in retail supply chain management both because the field is so broad and the range of positions you can qualify for varies by education and experience. The more senior jobs, with management and supervisory responsibilities, usually fall into the category the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) calls Transportation, Storage, and Distribution Manager. More boots-on-the-ground SCM staff usually go into the BLS category for Logisticians.
According to BLS, there are twelve different sub-sectors within the retail trade sector, from motor vehicle and parts dealers to non-store retailers. Each comes with their own carefully tracked salary data.
While BLS doesn’t wrap up the combined average in a bow, it’s possible to tease it out from their data. For the position of Transportation, Storage, and Distribution Managers across all specialties, the annual median wage for 2022 was $98,560.
For Logisticians in the same year, the median came to a still-respectable $77,520.
A solid command of supply chain management leaves you with plenty of promotion potential in the retail world. Keeping inventory under control, building supplier relationships, and making sure the shelves are stocked is good preparation for even senior executive roles in the industry.
2022 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and employment figures for Logisticians and Transportation, Storage, and Distribution Managers reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed July 2023.