Retailers are heading off on their summer holidays and Retail Week has found the ten top books for the discerning chief executive.

Top ten retail reads for the summer

Alibaba’s World: How a Remarkable Chinese Company is Changing the Face of Global Business

By Porter Erisman


One of the most remarkable things about the rise of Alibaba is how much it has taken the West by surprise.

The world’s largest ecommerce company has beaten records and outperformed rivals throughout the world, becoming a global sensation in the flash of an eye.

Written by one of Alibaba’s first Western employees, the book charts the staggering story of a schoolteacher who failed his college entrance exams twice but still outshone Amazon, and the decade of phenomenal growth he masterminded before the West began to take notice.


From Main Street to the Mall: The Rise and Fall of the American Department Store

By Vicki Howard


At the turn of the 20th century the department store stood as a model of chic, modern shopping in a grand exquisite setting. But with the march of history and two world wars a new age, of urbanised populations, automobiles and malls began.

Littered with photographs from the heyday of the department store, Main Street to the Mall documents this ending of an era where it was felt most acutely, in the USA.


Shopgirls: True Stories of Friendship, Hardship and Triumph from Behind the Counter

By Pamela Cox and Annabel Hobley


The rise of illustrious retail names like John Lewis and Harrods are stories every modern retailer can doubtless recall.

But less is known of the people who worked in those stores as their proud histories were made.

Shopgirls revives some of those forgotten episodes: from the days of the Blitz to the swinging 60s, the book tells the stories of the women who worked in the stores, and the friendships and bonds that were made in the process.


Beautiful People

By Simon Doonan


Barneys’ own exuberant and irreverent Simon Doonan’s memoirs are a classic, eccentric romp through a colourful life in retail.

From the little-town blues of a childhood in Reading to the highs of dressing windows in LA and New York, Beautiful People charts Doonan’s remarkable journey to realise his dreams and the eccentric, beautiful people he has met along the way.


Window Shopping Through the Iron Curtain

By David Hlynsky


In the 1980s American-born artist David Hlynsky visited Krakow, the city his grandparents had left, to get a glimpse of how the other half lived. During his journey, through Eastern Europe and into Soviet Russia, he found particular fascination with shop fronts and windows, which he says often served to confound Western perceptions of consumerism behind the Iron Curtain.

This collection of photographs and essays documents the last days of retailing in a crumbling system and Hlynsky’s own discovery of a different type of consumerism.


Woolworths: 100 Years on the High Street

By Kathryn Morrison


Retailers will need to wait until the end of the summer for what should be a fascinating account of the downfall of a beloved high street name.

With a particular focus on the stores that stood in towns up and down the country and the emotional impact their decline – and ultimately, disappearance – had on the British way of life, this looks set to be a sad but invaluable piece of modern retail history.


Behind The Counter: Shop Lives from Market Stall to Supermarket

By Pamela Horn


In the humblest of corner shop and the great retail stores, shopfloor workers have grafted away for centuries.

The history of the shop worker, through periods of tumultuous social and political change in the 19th century right through to the modern era, is documented in this sharp portrayal of one of Britain’s largest and most crucial workforces.




By Mary Portas


The memoirs of one of UK retailing’s most renowned and outspoken figures is always going to be worth a read.

Unlike with some of the other books on the list, Portas’s contemporaries might be flicking through the index for a personal reference in Shopgirl. But the book is as much about her simple upbringing, in a humble Irish family in Watford as it is her ascension to the throne as the Queen of Shops.

Portas spoke with Retail Week about the book earlier this year.


Something Wholesale: My Life and Adventures in the Rag Trade

By Eric Newby


Newby’s classic 1985 memoir tells the story of an extraordinary life in the fashion world.

In 1945, released and repatriated after being taken as a prisoner of war, Newby turned to the family couture business for stability. But as Something Wholesale recalls, through Newby’s own infectious, eccentric style, what his new life in the rag trade lacked in danger it made up for in chaos and colour.


On the Commodity Trail: The Journey of a Bargain Store Product from East to West

By Alison Hulme


Globalisation has transformed the world of retailing, and the way all contemporary businesses view their supply chain. But few are likely to have looked into the journey their products take from East to West in as much detail or as imaginatively as Alison Hulme does.

On the Commodity Trail examines the complex path goods and commodities take across the planet, how they end up on the high street, and the people who get them here. Supply chain directors might never look at their products the same way again.