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The human resource management practice of retail branding: An ethnography within Oxfam Trading Division

Stéphane J.G. Girod (Saïd Business School and Templeton College, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK)

International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management

ISSN: 0959-0552

Article publication date: 1 July 2005




While the charity retail literature emphasizes the richness of human resource practices among charity retailers, it rarely makes the link between these practices and their interest for establishing charity retailers' brands. Simultaneously, while the retail branding literature increasingly emphasizes the central role of human resource practices for retail branding, it rarely explains how retailers should conduct such practices. The purpose of this study is to test the recent model proposed by Burt and Sparks in 2002 (the “fifth generation of retail branding”) which proposes that a retail brand depends on the alignment between a retailer's substance (vision and culture) and its perceived image by customers.


The research is based on an ethnographic study conducted within the Oxfam Trading Division, GB from October to December 2002.


The study supports the Burt and Spark's model and makes explicit the practice of human resource for branding. The study demonstrates that it was the alignment between the vision of Oxfam's top management and its new customer‐oriented culture, two elements of its core substance mediated to customers by store employees, which has enabled an improved customers' perception of the brand. The study also seeks to elaborate upon the Burt and Spark's model by specifying an ascending feedback loop starting from customers' perception of Oxfam brand and enabling the creation of a suitable culture and vision again mediated by store employees.

Research limitations/implications

New research should explore whether and how retailers create synergies between human resource and marketing functions to sustain their brand image.

Practical implications

If the adoption of business practices by charity retailers is often discussed, this study highlights that commercial retailers could usefully transfer human resource best practices from leading charity retailers to develop their retail brand.


The paper is of value to commercial retailers.



Girod, S.J.G. (2005), "The human resource management practice of retail branding: An ethnography within Oxfam Trading Division", International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management, Vol. 33 No. 7, pp. 514-530.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2005, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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