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The managerial revolution in British and American Retailing

Britain has long been known as a ‘nation of shopkeepers’. However, the UK has a poor reputation for the quality of its management and the efficiency of its corporate sector compared to the United States, typified in the popular mind by the comic figure of David Brent. Such a view is supported by a substantial volume of historical literature. Moreover, some influential recent accounts paint Britain as unable or unwilling to adopt the ‘managerial revolution’ or new innovative retail technologies emanating from the USA, owing to ‘barriers to retail industrialization’.

In a series of works we examine relative productivity and managerial innovation in various sub-sectors of large-scale retailing and find that British retailers were at least as competitive as their American counterparts. Moreover, rather than being unwilling, or unable, to adopt the managerial revolution, they enthusiastically embraced it. We examine a set of household names that resonate in UK retailing including large scale department stores (for more details please see here), variety stores such as Marks and Spencer (for more details please see here) and Woolworths (for more details please see here), and the British pharmacy sector (including leading firms such as Boots), in relation to U.S. `drug stores’. We also contribute to the retail literature by providing explanations for success of these household names, though, for example, their development of capabilities in own branded products and supply chain innovations, such as Boots (link to working paper), Marks and Spencer; promotional and pricing strategies, (for more details please see and click here); and heavy investments in new managerial and accounting systems (for more details please see and click here).