The 8 Best Retail Management Books

Learn how to keep both customers and employees happy

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The Internet has revolutionized modern shopping, but retail is still king. To be the best retail manager, you can possibly be, you will need to have wit and a sense of humor, both for dealing with unhappy customers and clients and for dealing with everyday on-the-job challenges. You will need to know basic design principles and fundamentals of psychology, including what motivates people and how to keep individuals loyal to you.

Sounds like a really complicated job, doesn’t it? Learning lots of new tips and getting expert advice from leaders in the industry will make the process easier. Competing with online retailers is possible by studying the different aspects of customer culture and their behaviors. These books all offer different angles to retail management so you can grow your business.

Best Psychology Book: Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping

Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping
Courtesy of Amazon

Why do we buy the things that we buy? Our consumer culture is always changing. If you want to be the best retail manager around, this is a critically important thing to understand. Through decades of data analysis, Paco Underhill’s critically-acclaimed book shows you an inside look at the shopping behaviors of customers in malls, department stores, and even grocery stores across the world.

From the way that displays are organized, you can control a ton about the way consumers will interact with your merchandise — and you will learn how to take advantage of that fact in this book. You will also learn the common turn-offs and turn-ons that can convert casual “just browsers” into loyal customers who keep coming back again and again.

Paco Underhill has worked with Microsoft, McDonald's, Adidas and more. His knowledge of customer behaviors is invaluable. He provides multiple examples of ways to increase your store's sales, making this worth the read if you own a retail business.

Best for Understanding Motivation: 'Drive' by Daniel H. Pink

To be a successful retail manager, you have to motivate clients and customers to purchase items and return again and again — but that is much more easily said than done. In order to attract and retain clients, you will need to understand what motivates them in the first place. Rather than simply the price of an item, there are so many factors that drive whether or not an individual decides to buy an item — and, drawing on four decades of research on human motivation, Daniel H. Pink helps you tap into these factors.

Best Customer Service: The Nordstrom Way to Customer Experience Excellence

While we're sure you have a pleasant personality, when most people ask to speak to a manager, they are hoping for results, not a great conversation. But if you can interact with customers before it gets the point where you are trying to de-escalate a situation, you will be well on your way to becoming the best retail manager they ever meet. One company that has figured out this approach to great end is Nordstrom, and this book helps us all understand why.

Nordstrom places the highest value on delivering excellent customer service, and that’s something retail managers in any industry can learn from. But that is not the only thing Nordstrom gets right: They have also figured out how to treat their employees in an excellent manner, something every retail manager should learn how to do. Filled with interviews with top Nordstrom veterans, you will enjoy and learn a lot from this excellent case study. 

Best Textbook: Silent Selling

This book is expensive but worth it. When you are not standing over a customer or answering their questions, the visual designs you create as a retail manager will have to speak for themselves — and they are doing so, whether you like it or not. Mastering the art of visual merchandising will help you become a more innovative thinker and attract new and returning clients without even trying.

Inside, you will see large and helpful color photographs that you can use to inform your own display making, as well as practice problems to help you master techniques, such as the displays of Bergdorf Goodman, Tory Burch, Dolce & Gabbana, and Printemps, among others. You will also master a “Look-Compare-Innovate” model that allows you to learn from others while improving your own work. 

Best On Competitive Advantage: The Shopping Revolution

In the era of Amazon and Alibaba, you are not just competing with stores down the street, but stores across the globe. We are not only in an age of increasing competition but an era of shopping revolutions. In order to keep your customer’s attention as a retail manager, you will have to learn from those who have mastered the art. Thankfully, Wharton Business School professor Barbara E. Kahn provides you with plenty of examples.

The book examines Amazon’s rise, but also the growth of Sephora, Walmart, Warby Parker, and others who have carved a space for themselves out of an existing and competitive market — and have managed to surpass all expectations. If you want to develop a comprehensive strategy to attract clients, this book is for you.​

Best Amazon Case Study: The Amazon Way

Written by an Amazon insider, his book breaks the astonishing rise of Amazon into fourteen simple-to-understand steps that you can actually use from day one. Leadership, rather than market domination, is the focus of this book — and that is definitely something managers can apply to help their company soar.

Amazon insists on hiring the best. They operate frugally, and the leaders know how to earn trust. These are just a few of the principles they stand by. The author of this book launched Amazon’s wildly successful third-party seller program and knew how to build a retail environment better than most. This book is excellent if you are curious about how Amazon works, if you are in competition with Amazon, or are applying for a job with Amazon.

Best Storyline: My Father's Business

There is so much to learn from small-town success stories. For over 100 years, Dollar General has grown from a small family owned and operated business into a Fortune 300 company — and, as the author, CEO Cal Turner Jr., will argue, it's all because of the leadership’s small-town values spanning three generations.

Throughout the years, tough decisions had to be made. They reduced advertising to keep their prices down. They turned down the opportunity to sell cigarettes and beer because they were not in the customer's best interest. They had their customer's best interest at heart every step of the way. Turner tells an interesting story, and you will learn a lot about leadership and retail management — as well as Dollar General family lore — by reading it. 

Best Overview: Just About Everything a Retail Manager Needs to Know

This often-updated book is a classic for a reason and is true to its title. John Stanley served as an international retail consultant for decades, and you are sure to learn a ton from this information-packed book. If you are short on time and ever need to review, it’s super skimmable, too. Quickly look up the topic you need help with to gain the clarity you need. It is written in an approachable how-to style that busy managers everywhere will appreciate. You will learn how to keep customers, sell to all ages and demographics, train your team, create great signage and display, manage your store, and even how to use color to your best advantage.