Politics Is All About Running a Retail Business

You’ve heard the expression “retail politicians,” and it is a very accurate phrase, perhaps more accurate than you realize. Politicians are selling something as surely as a shoe store sells footwear or a T-shirt shop sells T-shirts. The same rules that make a store successful—or a failure—apply to politicians and political parties.

Both the Democrats and Republicans have target customers and are competing for market share, and their conventions were the “store grand opening” events where they unveiled this season’s fashions.

This is not about politics. It’s about retail business. 

So don’t post anything political. I’m writing about retail, and politicians are just one kind of retailer. Think of the RNC and the DNC not as political parties, but as Macy’s vs. Gimbals or Saks Fifth Avenue or Nieman Marcus, or any other competing stores or retail companies you can think of.

Here are some of the rules that apply to all politicians and political parties just as they apply to a bricks-and-mortar store.

  • Have great product
  • Deliver excellent customer service
  • Display creative visual presentation
  • Manage an appropriate turnover rate

Let’s take a quick look at how the major rules that govern running a retail business are expressed in a political party.

The Products 

A big part of successfully running a retail store is having the right product at the right time. We used to say in the department store business that “the customer votes every day.” That means they “vote” with their wallets. Sales performance is measured each and every day by sales. If the customer buys it—whatever “it” is—that is a vote. If you sold through all of your blue-and-gold-striped ties, but you didn’t sell even one paisley tie, then the customer has “voted” for stripes over paisleys. The numbers have no personality, no agenda or philosophy; they are indisputable.

Well, with our political parties, the votes are actual votes, and when tallied up, someone will end up being a re-order and someone will end up being sent to the outlets.  

Customer Service 

In a traditional bricks-and-mortar store, customer service usually means having enough sales associates working on the floor to help each and every customer. It also means having the product for sale in stock and available. Today, of course, that also means a seamless customer experience through any channel, store, ecommerce, and mobile experience.

Political parties were some of the last retailers to make omni-channel shopping (all the possible channels for a particular brand) work for them. But now they do. They have interactive websites and social media platforms to reach their customers in addition to their “stores”—which can be thought of as the rallies, speeches, and other appearances by the candidates.

The party that can most effectively manage the omni-channel experience for their current customers while gaining new ones is most likely to be successful when it comes time to vote.


In an apparel store, good presentation means making it easy for the customer to find his or her size, organizing the colors from light to dark, displaying featured items attractively, and so forth.

Political parties usually try to pick inspirational and patriotic backdrops for their events and rallies (their stores). Veterans’ halls, schools, and factories of American-made goods, and so on. There are usually lots and lots of flags. In this area, politicians have been pretty good for a long time. They have been very aware of the importance of “visuals” and the messages those images convey to the customers.


Inventory turnover rate is driven by the sales (votes). If customers don’t buy the woven shirts, then those must be marked down and more knit shirts brought into stock. If the trend is toward solid colors and not patterns, the stripes must be liquidated in favor of stocking more solid blues and blacks.

Political parties must also change and adapt to their customers’ needs and trends in order to be successful.

How effective do you think the visuals at the recent conventions were for rallying the TV audience? How about customer service, and the product presented? I invite your comments on the current political parties and their candidates as retailers and you as their customers.

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