Retail capability systems

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Drawing on the retail literature, archival records, and managerial interviews, we identify twelve capabilities associated with retail success. These capabilities are hierarchically grouped as foundational or supportive. Foundational capabilities are the basis upon which retail advantages are built, while supportive capabilities principally enhance the value of foundational capabilities. Drawing on systems theory, the loosely coupled systems perspective, and the Resource Based View, we propose that unique combinations of a foundational capability and an interdependent subset of supportive capabilities form four capability systems: brand management, merchandising, service, and market information management. The capability systems are socially complex and causally ambiguous making imitation by rivals particularly difficult. A retailer’s strategy determines the emphasis and focus placed on each of the four capability systems. We use the Miles and Snow (1978) strategy typology and the strategic fit literature to develop propositions linking our four capability systems to Defender, Analyzer, and Prospector strategies. We further propose that maintaining status-quo investments in all capabilities is necessary to achieve competitive parity. Ultimately, our capability systems perspective adds to the retail literature by enhancing our understanding of firm heterogeneity and performance.

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