MONTREAL, Canada — The retail apocalypse is far from over. Casualties are still mounting in the form of bankruptcies and store closures, while the proliferation of digital brands is making the fight for customers more cutthroat than ever.
To survive, retailers need to flip the script, said Aldo Bensadoun, founder and executive chairman of footwear giant Aldo Group. That’s a major reason his family foundation donated $25 million to help found the Bensadoun School of Retail Management at McGill University, which will serve as a hub for the academic institution’s research around the retail sector, in addition to educating the next generation of retail talent.
The need for academic resources focused on the retail industry has only grown with the dramatic changes to the retail landscape in recent years, Bensadoun said. Thanks to the rise of technology, e-commerce and globalisation, as well of the coming of age of the millennial generation, the needs of the industry have evolved.
The new school will feature interdisciplinary programmes that draw from different departments at McGill, reflecting the more complex realities of modern day retail.
“Before retailing was considered just accounting, or it was a question of math and understanding figures and balance sheets,” he said. “But today, before you get to the balance sheet, you need to understand the behaviour of the consumer. That means you need to understand anthropology, you need to understand analytics, you need to understand computer science, architecture, sociology.”
The school will also house a retail experience lab, which, among other uses, will provide pop-up space for retailers to experiment and providing industry individuals, students and academics an opportunity to observe the behaviour of consumers.
Research is a key component of the Bensadoun School. Its research department will span various sectors within retail, including fashion and beauty, financial services, technology, food and health and wellness, and will delve deeper into topics such as the circular economy and sustainability.
In addition to the Bensadoun Family Foundation’s contribution, Walmart, Apparel Group, Peerless Clothing and Birks Group Inc. were among the retailers who donated $7.5 million. As the school’s founding retail partners, they will collaborate on research and provide internship opportunities for students.
While Friday marks the official opening of the school, the first cohort of students on the Retail Management Bachelor of Commerce programme have already enrolled this autumn. A Retail Management PhD course and Executive Education will launch next year, followed by a Retail Management Masters programme in 2020.
“The school will give a new playbook to the retailer in order to win,” said Bensadoun. “And today, I think every retailer needs a new playbook.”