From left: Prof Anthony Brabazon, dean of the UCD College of Business; Breege O’Donoghue, Primark brand ambassador and board member of the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School; and Prof Damien McLoughlin, marketing subject area head at UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School.
By Aine McMahon
Retailing is changing, but it is not disappearing. Retailers are having to adapt in order to respond to new sources of competition and changing consumer behaviours. The new UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School masters in Marketing and Retail Innovation will give students a comprehensive grounding in marketing, while opening up opportunities to embrace the data and technological changes which are transforming retail all over the world.
“A lot of people think retail is dying, but that is clearly not the case,” says Damien McLoughlin, UCD Smurfit School Marketing Subject Area head who also leads the Marketing and Retail Innovation masters programme. “The need to be able to buy things in increasing, not decreasing. Advances in technology means that organisations of any size will be able to have a direct relationship with individual customers.
“If you are an Irish artisan cheesemaker, a music producer, or book publisher, you will be able to do this,” he continues. “In the past, if you wanted to internationalise you had to go through a distributor or other channels. Now you can have a direct relationship with consumers anywhere in the world. This new programme will give students the opportunity to help firms create relationships with those customers and possible customers.”
He points to another tectonic shift on the retail landscape. “The University of Pennsylvania recently published a research article on why brands are dying. The consumer choice landscape is changing. When you go to Amazon or Alibaba you can order something and get it. It doesn’t matter whether it takes two weeks to deliver, or two hours if you are in Manhattan, the transaction has taken place and the goods are on their way.
“If you go to a physical store and they don’t have what you want the message is that they don’t care enough about you to find out what you want and have it in stock for you. That’s part of the problem. The programme offers an opportunity for young people in Ireland and internationally to introduce that kind of thinking to organisations. For hundreds of years, organisations have looked to new blood for new thinking. Organisations will look to our graduates to help them create direct retail relationships with consumers.”
The programme blends marketing expertise and customer-driven retail innovation which is integrating the new and old, the physical and digital, the consumer and the supplier. “While a significant trend has been a move away from bricks and mortar to digital and e-commerce worlds, the real challenge will be to see companies integrating these dynamics to deliver a more personalised and seamless experience to the customer.”?
The programme is divided into a number of separate modules. The first looks at how the world’s great retailers are leading strategy in their business today. Retailing will be examined and the strategies of the world’s most innovative retailers dissected. The firms examined will be drawn not just from the large, but also from the most innovative and creative retailers in international markets.
“We will look at the leading retail organisations across the work and see what’s happening in terms of strategy and if it makes sense,” says McLoughlin.
McLoughlin believes the second module is not currently being taught anywhere else in the world. “We will look at the leaders in retail innovation. We will talk with business leaders from around the world and ask them what is needed to be a leader in innovation. We will have structured discussions with these leaders about what is needed to move to the next level.”
Another element, which is also unique to the UCD Smurfit School programme, looks at international retail propositions. “The programme is highly internationalised and most of the faculty have international experience,” McLoughlin explains. “When you go to Asia you don’t find retail like it is in the west. Japan is very different, for example. In China, they are skipping the shopping mall and going straight to online in many places. They have very different perspectives. In India, the unwillingness of the government to allow international investment in retail has made for a different experience again. We tend to assume that every country has retail like us, but that’s not the case at all and we need to understand the difference.”
Students will also have an opportunity to undertake a consulting project to address a challenge facing a major retail operation in Ireland which is seeking to fundamentally transform its business. The retailers involved in the projects will be grappling with the structural changes required to meet the needs of the customer in the digitally transformed world.
“The students will work with the faculty here and with the retailer to solve a problem for them,” McLoughlin adds.
Ultimately, the course will prepare students for rewarding careers in leadership positions in the rapidly changing retail sector. “The jobs market is good but a lot of organisations are looking for someone with different skills and unique perspectives,” McLoughlin concludes. “The new programme gives the students just that. They will have an understanding of latest thinking in the retail market and will have skills not taught anywhere else. They will have a set of unique insights and will be highly differentiated in the jobs market.”
Applications are open for the UCD Smurfit School masters in Marketing and Retail Innovation.
This article was originally published in the Irish Times on April 26, 2019.