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The Amazing Story of Retail Management at Ryerson

Since 1948, Ryerson University has been a leader in offering Retail Management education. Learn about our program’s fascinating history and the innovation that lies ahead.

By The Chang School’s Business Program Area

Ryerson’s continuing education offerings in retail management began with the school’s founding in 1948. Established primarily as a training ground for the post-war workforce, The Ryerson Institute of Technology offered certificate courses in retail merchandising and business machines in exchange for a $25 tuition fee.

In 1994, the program experienced its first major evolution when the T. Eaton Company teamed up with Ryerson University to establish the Eaton School of Retailing. Offering two certificates in Retail and Services Management to Eaton’s employees – and eventually, to employees of other retail organizations – the continuing education program was unique in Canada. No other institution offered a program that focused on retail management, included degree-credit courses, enjoyed national reach (courses were offered in four Canadian cities), and emphasized the incorporation of current technologies in program delivery.

As highlighted at the Retail Council of Canada’s 1996 conference, “…almost 800 Eaton’s employees have attended classes covering change in consumer behavior, international competition and new technologies. A CD-ROM multimedia program in retail merchandising and finance is now being developed.” Yes, a “CD-ROM multimedia program” …how far we have come!

The program was so successful that it led to the creation of Canada’s first School of Retail, within the Faculty of Business at Ryerson University, which began welcoming students into a four-year specialized Bachelor of Commerce degree in 1998. This is now the School of Retail Management at Ryerson’s Ted Rogers School of Management (TRSM).

Today’s Online Certificate Program: Unique to Canada

Building on this rich history, The Chang School and TRSM have continually enhanced our retail curriculum, including the development of our fully online Certificate in Retail Management – the only program of its kind in the country.

What makes this program unique is its constant focus on employer needs and collaboration with industry experts. For example, in 2002, Jim Armstrong, co-founder of Blue Yonder (and Ryerson alum) generously donated software and license agreements valued at over $7 million, making Ryerson University the only educational institution in Canada that provides students with an opportunity to use Blue Yonder’s space planning software remotely. Enhancing the learning experience in CRMG 452 – Visual Merchandising and Space Planning (an elective in the certificate program), students gain practice in analyzing consumer and market insights and integrating them into the development of visual merchandising and space planning. 

In addition, Ryerson is the only Canadian university to have a course that has achieved accreditation from the Category Management Association  (CRMG 806 – Retailer Perspectives on Category Management). Category management is of growing importance to retail and is already well-established in the grocery and packaged goods industry. This course uses a digital case study, featuring both Petro Canada and Red Bull, to teach students how to optimize soft drink sales in convenience stores. Taking this elective course prepares students to become a Certified Professional Category Analyst (CPCA) – this certification opportunity is yet another job market advantage unique to our students.

COVID-19 and the Future of Retail Management

Over the last 25 years, the retail sector has been dramatically impacted by globalization, technological change, and heightened consumer consciousness. The COVID-19 pandemic presents yet another set of challenges for retail managers as well as opportunities for innovation in the sector at large.

Food retailers, for example, are in a particularly complicated space. On the one hand, they are navigating the negative impacts of COVID-19 on supply chains both globally and domestically. On the other hand, online grocery delivery is surging among all customer demographics (especially those over the age of 50) bringing about a ‘new normal’ characterized by a realignment of supply chains and considerable awareness of customer safety. 

On the consumer side, shifts in buying patterns could become permanently adopted behaviours beyond the pandemic as customers may be more willing to try new technologies such as self-checkouts, contactless payments, in-store robots and non-contact “click and collect” or even drone-led delivery options. These changes will require companies to build their brands and encourage customer loyalty in new ways while also creating new opportunities for management to leverage artificial intelligence and data analytics. In fact, large companies, such as Amazon and Loblaw, are already adding to their workforce at operations and management levels demonstrating that employers continue to need talent with a deep understanding of supply chain management, omni-channel retailing and data-based decision-making.

Moreover, in the wake of COVID-19, experts predict the competitive landscape of retail as a whole will be altered. As countless smaller to medium-sized  retailers close and/or shift to online storefronts, job loss is already evident with 207,500 Canadian jobs related to wholesale and retail trade lost in March. Meanwhile, the most powerful players increasingly dominate through their existing digital supremacy combined with a series of eliminating competitors through mergers and acquisitions. 

While no one can accurately predict the lasting impacts of COVID-19 on the retail sector, we can be sure that success in retail management will require agile and innovative thinking alongside a solid foundation in strategic planning, retail technologies, operations management and customer experience.

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