Retail Business Model In A Nutshell

A retail business model follows a direct-to-consumer approach, also called B2C, where the company sells directly to final customers a processed/finished product. This implies a business model that is mostly local-based; it carries higher margins but also higher costs and distribution risks.

Concept OverviewThe Retail Business Model is a fundamental approach to merchandising and selling products or services to consumers. In this model, retailers act as intermediaries between manufacturers or wholesalers and end consumers. Retailers acquire products from suppliers and make them available for purchase in physical stores, online marketplaces, or both. The retail sector encompasses a wide range of businesses, from small local stores to large national or international chains. The primary goal of the retail model is to meet consumer demand and provide a convenient and satisfying shopping experience.
Key PrinciplesThe Retail Business Model is guided by several key principles:
1. Customer-Centricity: It places consumers at the center, aiming to understand their preferences and needs.
2. Assortment: Retailers curate a diverse assortment of products or services to meet various customer demands.
3. Location and Accessibility: Physical store locations are strategically chosen to maximize customer reach.
4. Pricing Strategies: Retailers employ pricing strategies, such as competitive pricing or value-based pricing, to attract and retain customers.
5. Inventory Management: Effective inventory management ensures products are available when customers want them.
ProcessThe process of the Retail Business Model typically includes the following steps:
1. Sourcing and Procurement: Retailers acquire products from suppliers, which may include manufacturers, wholesalers, or distributors.
2. Merchandising: Products are displayed or listed for sale in physical stores or online platforms.
3. Sales and Customer Interaction: Retail associates or online interfaces assist customers in finding and purchasing products.
4. Payment Processing: Payment is collected from customers through various methods, such as cash, credit cards, or online payment systems.
5. Fulfillment and Delivery: Products are delivered to customers or made available for pickup.
6. Customer Support: Retailers provide assistance, handle returns, and address customer inquiries.
Types of RetailersRetailers come in various forms, including brick-and-mortar stores, e-commerce platforms, department stores, supermarkets, boutiques, discount stores, online marketplaces, and more. Each type caters to different consumer segments and offers unique shopping experiences.
ExamplesProminent examples of retailers include Walmart (a multinational superstore chain), Amazon (a global e-commerce giant), Apple (known for its retail stores), and Zara (a fast-fashion brand with physical and online stores). These retailers represent a wide spectrum of retailing approaches and strategies.
AdvantagesImplementing the Retail Business Model offers several advantages:
1. Convenience: Retailers make products readily accessible to consumers.
2. Assortment: They offer a wide variety of products or services in one location.
3. Personalization: Retailers can tailor their offerings to local preferences.
4. Customer Experience: Physical stores offer sensory experiences, while online platforms provide convenience and 24/7 accessibility.
5. Brand Presence: Retail stores create brand visibility and engagement.
Challenges and RisksChallenges in the Retail Business Model include intense competition, inventory management challenges, evolving consumer preferences, technological disruptions, and market saturation in some sectors. Additionally, retailers must address issues related to supply chain management, customer data privacy, and sustainability.

Introducing the Retail Business Model

The coffee shop follows a retail business model where the store is competing locally. The coffee shop has direct access to customers, who are usually local people from the neighborhood, opposite the wholesale business model. Therefore, the coffee shop must follow a localized strategy to build relationships with the local community.

As a classic example of a retail business model, think of the local coffee shop or restaurant.

The coffee shop owner buys a set of products in bulk from wholesalers (coffee beans, foods, drinks, etc.), thus paying for these products at a low price and selling them back in its store with a high markup.

For instance, as a trivial example, the coffee shop might buy a coffee bag at $100 and, with that, make 100 coffees, which it will sell at $3 each, thus turning the $100 into $300.

That all seem simple, yet there are a few things to take into account when it comes to retail business models.

In fact, while the retail business model runs with higher margins than wholesale, there are a few critical differences. And a few things to take into account:

Local and direct access to customers

The retailer distribution is mostly local.

Therefore, just like in the case of the coffee shop, the retailer can build a strong tie with the local community to enjoy repeat customers who help the local shop’s bottom line.

Higher margins

The local shop enjoys higher margins, given the fact it can sell directly to customers.

Therefore, transform a simple product (perhaps a bag of coffee) into a product served to customers and, therefore, with an incredible markup.

Distribution risks

While the local shop might enjoy high gross margins, in reality, its net margins might be pretty tight (that’s because the local shop needs to pay for expenses like a rental in a central area, personnel costs, and so on) which makes it hard for it to survive in the long run.

Therefore, the retailer does take on its shoulders the distribution risks, associated with the costs of running the overall business and making sure that a continuous stream of customers and repeat customers feed the business.

Local competition

In some cases, local competition can also be very strong.

Take the case of the ice cream shop, which is a retailer that enjoys very tight margins, as you might find in the same neighborhood many others selling the same product, thus leading to saturation of the local market and a price competition that erodes the bottom line.

The same applies to local shops like gas stations, where margins on the main product (the oil) are extremely low.

And instead, the real money will be made by selling ancillary products at much higher margins (like candies, drinks, snacks, and so on).

Wholesale prices fluctuations

Since the retailer usually does not control the supply chain it might also be exposed to price fluctuations that it can’t control.

Take the case of the increased price of coffee beans for coffee shops, which can’t be easily translated into the final product (the cup of coffee) as this would disappoint local customers, thus threatening the survival of the business.

Vertical integration

Horizontal integration refers to the process of increasing market shares or expanding by integrating at the same level of the supply chain, and within the same industry. Vertical integration happens when a company takes control of more parts of the supply chain, thus covering more parts of it.

To have more control over prices and on the overall supply chain, retailers might expand upward.

Take the case of a coffee shop that buys coffee plants and the machinery to make that coffee.

While much more expensive to control the supply chain, this might give more stability to the retail business in the long term.

While direct-to-consumer wasn’t common decades ago.

With the rise of the Internet and the access of millions of consumers, many companies in various industries have converted to this model.

One example is Tesla which, by opening local showrooms across large cities (similar to the Apple store), can sell directly its cars to consumers.

Therefore, enjoying higher margins (as it doesn’t have to pay middlemen and car dealers) and access to customer feedback.

Tesla is vertically integrated. Therefore, the company runs and operates the Tesla’s plants where cars are manufactured and the Gigafactory which produces the battery packs and stationary storage systems for its electric vehicles, which are sold via direct channels like the Tesla online store and the Tesla physical stores.

How can retail business models survive and thrive long-term?

As we saw, the retail business model has the advantage of having direct access to local consumers.

Therefore, it can build a strong tie with the local community to build a profitable business.

Yet, we also saw that the local retailer also carries distribution risks and that local competition can also be fierce.

In addition, since the retailer does not control the supply chain, it might be subject to price swings for the raw products, which it can’t pass to local consumers so easily as this would lead to a loss of its customer base.

How do you deal with these?

Strong local community

A retailer should focus on understanding the local community as a primary focus.

In fact, by building ties with the neighborhood, it can develop a product offering tied to that.

This is a long-lasting advantage.

Hard to copy products and experience

While many retail shops sell products that can be easily copied. It can also offer an experience around the product, which is hard to copy.

As an example, the same coffee shop can become the second home for many of the neighborhoods, which goes there to work, hang out and organize local events.

Go upstream and innovate the product


The retailer can also, over time, try to control more steps of the supply chain upward so as to have more control over price swings.

Perhaps thinking of an ice cream shop, instead of selling the same ice cream, it can open its lab to make its own ice cream and experiment with new tastes.

Key Highlights

  • Definition and B2C Approach: The retail business model, also known as B2C (business-to-consumer), involves selling finished products directly to end customers. This model is usually localized, providing higher margins but also facing higher costs and distribution risks.
  • Application and Local Focus: Retail businesses like coffee shops or restaurants compete locally and build relationships with the immediate community. They buy products in bulk at lower prices from wholesalers and sell them with a higher markup to customers.
  • Margin and Distribution Considerations:
    • Retailers enjoy higher margins due to direct sales.
    • However, net margins can be impacted by expenses like rent and personnel costs, affecting long-term survival.
    • Distribution risks are taken on by retailers, ensuring a continuous stream of customers to cover expenses.
  • Local Competition and Price Competition:
    • Local competition can be strong, leading to market saturation and price competition.
    • Ancillary products with higher margins might become more significant for profitability.
  • Vertical Integration:
    • Retailers might expand upward for more control over prices and the supply chain.
    • Vertical integration involves taking control of more parts of the supply chain, enhancing stability.
  • Rise of Direct-to-Consumer Model:
    • The internet’s rise has enabled direct-to-consumer models in various industries.
    • Examples include Tesla, which sells cars directly to consumers through showrooms and online stores.
  • Survival and Thriving Strategies:
    • Build Strong Community Ties: Develop a strong bond with the local community to create a long-lasting advantage.
    • Offer Unique Experiences: Create experiences around products that are hard to replicate, setting the business apart.
    • Control Supply Chain: Gain control over more supply chain steps to manage price fluctuations.
    • Innovation: Experiment with new products and tastes to differentiate the business.

Connected Business Model Types And Frameworks

What’s A Business Model

An effective business model has to focus on two dimensions: the people dimension and the financial dimension. The people dimension will allow you to build a product or service that is 10X better than existing ones and a solid brand. The financial dimension will help you develop proper distribution channels by identifying the people that are willing to pay for your product or service and make it financially sustainable in the long run.

Business Model Innovation

Business model innovation is about increasing the success of an organization with existing products and technologies by crafting a compelling value proposition able to propel a new business model to scale up customers and create a lasting competitive advantage. And it all starts by mastering the key customers.

Level of Digitalization

Digital and tech business models can be classified according to four levels of transformation into digitally-enabled, digitally-enhanced, tech or platform business models, and business platforms/ecosystems.

Digital Business Model

A digital business model might be defined as a model that leverages digital technologies to improve several aspects of an organization. From how the company acquires customers, to what product/service it provides. A digital business model is such when digital technology helps enhance its value proposition.

Tech Business Model

A tech business model is made of four main components: value model (value propositions, mission, vision), technological model (R&D management), distribution model (sales and marketing organizational structure), and financial model (revenue modeling, cost structure, profitability and cash generation/management). Those elements coming together can serve as the basis to build a solid tech business model.

AI Business Model


Blockchain Business Model

A Blockchain Business Model is made of four main components: Value Model (Core Philosophy, Core Value and Value Propositions for the key stakeholders), Blockchain Model (Protocol Rules, Network Shape and Applications Layer/Ecosystem), Distribution Model (the key channels amplifying the protocol and its communities), and the Economic Model (the dynamics through which protocol players make money). Those elements coming together can serve as the basis to build and analyze a solid Blockchain Business Model.

Asymmetric Business Models

In an asymmetric business model, the organization doesn’t monetize the user directly, but it leverages the data users provide coupled with technology, thus have a key customer pay to sustain the core asset. For example, Google makes money by leveraging users’ data, combined with its algorithms sold to advertisers for visibility.

Attention Merchant Business Model

In an asymmetric business model, the organization doesn’t monetize the user directly, but it leverages the data users provide coupled with technology, thus having a key customer pay to sustain the core asset. For example, Google makes money by leveraging users’ data, combined with its algorithms sold to advertisers for visibility. This is how attention merchants make monetize their business models.

Open-Core Business Model

While the term has been coined by Andrew Lampitt, open-core is an evolution of open-source. Where a core part of the software/platform is offered for free, while on top of it are built premium features or add-ons, which get monetized by the corporation who developed the software/platform. An example of the GitLab open core model, where the hosted service is free and open, while the software is closed.

Open Source Business Model

Open source is licensed and usually developed and maintained by a community of independent developers. While the freemium is developed in-house. Thus the freemium give the company that developed it, full control over its distribution. In an open-source model, the for-profit company has to distribute its premium version per its open-source licensing model.

Freemium Business Model

The freemium – unless the whole organization is aligned around it – is a growth strategy rather than a business model. A free service is provided to a majority of users, while a small percentage of those users convert into paying customers through the sales funnel. Free users will help spread the brand through word of mouth.

Freeterprise Business Model

A freeterprise is a combination of free and enterprise where free professional accounts are driven into the funnel through the free product. As the opportunity is identified the company assigns the free account to a salesperson within the organization (inside sales or fields sales) to convert that into a B2B/enterprise account.

Marketplace Business Models

A marketplace is a platform where buyers and sellers interact and transact. The platform acts as a marketplace that will generate revenues in fees from one or all the parties involved in the transaction. Usually, marketplaces can be classified in several ways, like those selling services vs. products or those connecting buyers and sellers at B2B, B2C, or C2C level. And those marketplaces connecting two core players, or more.

B2B vs B2C Business Model

B2B, which stands for business-to-business, is a process for selling products or services to other businesses. On the other hand, a B2C sells directly to its consumers.

B2B2C Business Model

A B2B2C is a particular kind of business model where a company, rather than accessing the consumer market directly, it does that via another business. Yet the final consumers will recognize the brand or the service provided by the B2B2C. The company offering the service might gain direct access to consumers over time.

D2C Business Model

Direct-to-consumer (D2C) is a business model where companies sell their products directly to the consumer without the assistance of a third-party wholesaler or retailer. In this way, the company can cut through intermediaries and increase its margins. However, to be successful the direct-to-consumers company needs to build its own distribution, which in the short term can be more expensive. Yet in the long-term creates a competitive advantage.

C2C Business Model

The C2C business model describes a market environment where one customer purchases from another on a third-party platform that may also handle the transaction. Under the C2C model, both the seller and the buyer are considered consumers. Customer to customer (C2C) is, therefore, a business model where consumers buy and sell directly between themselves. Consumer-to-consumer has become a prevalent business model especially as the web helped disintermediate various industries.

Retail Business Model

A retail business model follows a direct-to-consumer approach, also called B2C, where the company sells directly to final customers a processed/finished product. This implies a business model that is mostly local-based, it carries higher margins, but also higher costs and distribution risks.

Wholesale Business Model

The wholesale model is a selling model where wholesalers sell their products in bulk to a retailer at a discounted price. The retailer then on-sells the products to consumers at a higher price. In the wholesale model, a wholesaler sells products in bulk to retail outlets for onward sale. Occasionally, the wholesaler sells direct to the consumer, with supermarket giant Costco the most obvious example.

Crowdsourcing Business Model

The term “crowdsourcing” was first coined by Wired Magazine editor Jeff Howe in a 2006 article titled Rise of Crowdsourcing. Though the practice has existed in some form or another for centuries, it rose to prominence when eCommerce, social media, and smartphone culture began to emerge. Crowdsourcing is the act of obtaining knowledge, goods, services, or opinions from a group of people. These people submit information via social media, smartphone apps, or dedicated crowdsourcing platforms.

Franchising Business Model

In a franchained business model (a short-term chain, long-term franchise) model, the company deliberately launched its operations by keeping tight ownership on the main assets, while those are established, thus choosing a chain model. Once operations are running and established, the company divests its ownership and opts instead for a franchising model.

Brokerage Business Model

Businesses employing the brokerage business model make money via brokerage services. This means they are involved with the facilitation, negotiation, or arbitration of a transaction between a buyer and a seller. The brokerage business model involves a business connecting buyers with sellers to collect a commission on the resultant transaction. Therefore, acting as a middleman within a transaction.

Dropshipping Business Model

Dropshipping is a retail business model where the dropshipper externalizes the manufacturing and logistics and focuses only on distribution and customer acquisition. Therefore, the dropshipper collects final customers’ sales orders, sending them over to third-party suppliers, who ship directly to those customers. In this way, through dropshipping, it is possible to run a business without operational costs and logistics management.

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