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Strategic Design Responsiveness: An Empirical Analysis of US Retail Store Networks



This study uses a service operations management (SOM) strategy lens to investigate chain store retailers' strategic design responsiveness (SDR)—a term that captures the degree to which retailers dynamically coordinate investments in human and structural capital with the complexity of their service and product offerings. Labor force and physical capital are respectively used as proxies for investments in human capital and structural capital, whereas gross margins are proxies for product/service offering complexity. Consequently, SDR broadly reflects three salient complementary choices of SOM design strategy. We test the effects of “brick and mortar” chain store retailers' SDR on current and future firm performance using publically available panel data collected from Compustat and the University of Michigan American Customer Satisfaction Index databases for the period 1996–2011. We find that retailers that fail to keep pace with investments in both structural and human capital exhibit short-term financial benefits, but have worse ongoing operational performance. These findings corroborate the importance of managers strategically maintaining the complementarity of design-related choices for improving and maintaining business performance.