TECHNOLOGY

Top 10 Women in Retail Tech

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Chain Store Age’s fourth annual Top 10 Women in Retail Technology celebrates a distinguished group of female executives who, as a group, exemplify the passion, innovation and inspiration needed to succeed in today’s fast-changing retail environment.

The achievements of the individuals profiled below are all the more remarkable given the significant barriers that still exist for women in the overall tech industry — from a shortage of female role models and mentors to a still-persistent gender bias and diversity gap. (Women make up less than 25% of the STEM workforce in the United States.)

In retail, however, the tide appears to be turning as more women take on leadership roles. CSA’s Top 10 honorees are helping to change the face of technology even as they position their companies for success.

Karen Beebe (CIO and senior VP of technology, Vineyard Vines)


One of Vineyard Vines’ mantras is “if you do what you love, you’ll be successful.” The same holds true for Karen Beebe.

Beebe, CIO and senior VP of technology at the specialty apparel retailer famous for its smiling pink whale logo, was always a fan of math and science. She envisioned a career in the medical field, specifically forensics. But while studying at Miami University of Ohio, Beebe switched gears to pursue a degree in systems analysis.

The transition quickly revealed a distinct correlation between IT and forensics.

“IT is the practice of understanding what is happening within a system and how the infrastructure is glued together — similar to the study of the human body,” Beebe said. “Like surgery that streamlines blood flow, IT engineers take apart and replace system interfaces to reconnect the flow of data. There is a likeness.”

She put this theory to the test during a three-year tenure in the manufacturing sector, an experience that prepared Beebe for her retail IT debut when she joined Victoria’s Secret as a programmer analyst. She spent the next few years at Limited Brands holding various positions across the entire family of brands, including serving as chief technology officer for Bath and Body Works.

In 2009, Beebe was named senior VP of application development and delivery for Chico’s FAS. She led enterprise-wide technology solution direction and transformation programs, and also oversaw all integration aspects of an acquired company, Boston Proper, including the relocation of its warehouse operations.

In late 2015, Beebe joined Vineyard Vines, where she manages all facets of the organization’s technology and drives the unified commerce vision to deliver the apparel retailer’s signature “every day should feel this good” customer experience.

Some have questioned Beebe’s decision to transition from multibillion-dollar companies to a growing, but relatively small, privately held firm.

“Someone even asked if I thought I was going ‘backwards’ in my career, but I don’t look at it that way at all,” Beebe said. “It is about having an opportunity to make an impact at a larger scale.”

Beebe is part of the team guiding the retailer’s expansion. Two brothers founded the company in 1998 as a catalog operation. Since then, it has grown into a multichannel retailer with more than 90 freestanding stores, an e-commerce operation and a seasonal catalog. It also distributes product to more than 600 specialty and department stores worldwide.

Beebe and her team at Vineyard Vines have been recognized for their accomplishments. While she said she feels honored with these accolades, Beebe is even more inspired by the success of her teammates. In fact, she considers these her biggest accomplishments.

“When associates I’ve mentored become successful, that is when I feel most accomplished,” Beebe said. “When I get a call or LinkedIn message thanking me for advice I’d offered over the years — and knowing that it made a difference — that is what actually makes me feel successful.”

Mentors have always played a strong role in Beebe’s career — so much so that she still connects with three of hers, including one that dates back to 1991. It was these relationships, she said, that spurred her desire to constantly learn.

“If you ever get to a point where you feel you’re not learning, you’re in the wrong place and it’s time to move on,” Beebe said. “Things change daily, and I continue to learn every day. And your mentors are there to help you along your journey.”

Mary Campbell (Chief interactive experience officer, QVC)


QVC has evolved from a TV shopping channel to a multi-platform retail giant that leverages e-commerce, mobile and social platforms — and Mary Campbell has had a front-row seat through it all.

Campbell’s journey at QVC dates back to 1991, when she joined the company as an associate buyer in merchandising. Throughout the years, she went on to leadership roles across business, planning and commerce platforms — and each move helped her gain a deeper perspective of the company’s ever-changing business operations.

Campbell is credited for playing a vital role in enriching the customer experience across QVC and for providing deeper engagement across all of its screens and platforms. Her expertise is reflected in her newest role, chief interactive experience officer, which she took on in October. Campbell is responsible for driving QVC Group’s ongoing transformation and expanding marketing programs to reach new segments of consumers. In looking to keep such initiatives relevant, she continues to take cues from how customers consume content and interact with the QVC brand.

“As new platforms and technologies emerged over the years, we’ve transformed how we operate to evolve our business to be everywhere our customer wants us to be,” she said. “As part of this, we’ve looked closely at how the customer is choosing to engage with us on digital platforms in different contexts.”

According to the 26-year QVC veteran, career development is a marathon, “not a sprint.”

“It’s important to be exploratory and take risks even if it means deviating from your original career path,” she said. “To be a successful leader in retail technology, it’s essential to always watch and react to how the customer is shopping in the moment, and think about all the technology and multifaceted experiences available to consumers today.”

Ivy Chin (Divisional senior VP of digital, PetSmart)

Always fascinated by the “push-pull relationship” between technology and business, Ivy Chin leverages the concept daily in her role at PetSmart.

The company’s mission is to “deliver a best-in-class, convenient customer experience across all 1,600 stores and online.” To ensure that this happens, Chin, PetSmart’s divisional senior VP of digital, said she is dedicated to “finding solutions that truly provide value to the business — not just the latest trend or ‘shiny object.’”

“We focus on understanding the actual issues we’re trying to solve, what the potential consumer implications/demands could be, and how to measure the incremental impact,” she added.

Chin, who joined the company in fall 2016, is responsible for PetSmart’s omnichannel strategy and ensuring its integration within the retailer’s overall business mission. The digital initiatives introduced in 2017 range from a mobile app that keeps PetSmart’s 55,000 employees informed to a new e-commerce site and expanded delivery options.

Being a pet parent herself, Chin knows PetSmart’s customers also want solutions that make it easier — and more affordable — to care for their pet’s total health and wellness. One effort addressing this goal is the retailer’s recent launch of its online-only pharmacy for pet medications.
“We strive to be the trusted partner to pet parents, and our online PetSmart Pharmacy is a natural extension as we look to provide the right products and services along with convenient options to meet pet parents’ needs,” Chin said.

As if her daily responsibilities don’t keep her busy enough, Chin also serves on the boards for Shop.org and the Women in Retail Leadership Circle, and is a member of the National Retail Federation Digital Council.

Before joining PetSmart, Chin spent seven years at Belk. She started her tenure as senior VP of e-commerce, and later was named senior VP of e-commerce and omnichannel digital.

Prior to Belk, Chin spent 14 years at QVC in a variety of tech-related roles. She was named VP of QVC.com in 2007. While in this role, she led the QVC.com development team, which delivered the technology solutions that helped the company achieve $1 billion in online sales a year ahead of schedule, Chin said.

While her expertise is clearly digitally driven, Chin believes her retail technology success stems from expanding her career path beyond the IT organization.

“Gaining experience and knowledge in a variety of areas of the business is what can help make someone more successful,” Chin said. “A successful leader in technology practices customer-centric thinking, has financial acumen, appreciates business challenges and understands business opportunities first and then utilizes technology to maximize the opportunity. I encourage female associates to push themselves from a conservative career path and to explore a broadened one.”

Michelle Garvey (CIO and deputy chief transformation officer, J. Crew Group)

According to McKinsey & Company, effective CIOs and chief transformation officers are role models who inspire employees as well as encourage and embed change. These executives are also tasked with striking a balance between short-term improvement and long-term value. Such a definition makes Michelle Garvey, CIO and deputy chief transformation officer for J. Crew Group, a particularly good fit for her job.

Garvey started her career as an IT consultant for financial systems in 1981, but within three years she made the transition to retail IT. In 1997, after working in various roles at several regional chains, she was named CIO of Brooks Brothers. In 2004, she became the global CIO of Warnaco Group’s Calvin Klein Jeanswear Europe division. Throughout her eight-year tenure at Warnaco, she transitioned into other CIO positions, including overseeing IT for the company’s Canadian operations and swimwear division.

In 2012, Garvey became senior VP and CIO of Ann Inc. (Ann Taylor). When Ascena Retail Group acquired the company in 2015, Garvey reached “an inflection point,” and was ready to make a move. She joined J. Crew in March 2016. She was ready for a
new challenge.

“There are jobs out there where everything is going great, everyone is waving goodbye to the outgoing CIO, and expect the new executive to hold the ship steady and keep everything the way it is. I never interviewed for those jobs,” she said. “I want to work for companies willing to make a directional change, and I want to be the change agent that offers a fresh vision. I like to look at a landscape, leave my mark and make things better. Fixing problems is interesting and important to me.”

Garvey’s philosophy is playing out as J. Crew strives to reinvigorate its namesake brand — which has been struggling with sluggish sales — while continuing to solidify longer-term strategies.

“This is an opportunity to do more,” Garvey said. “The IT seat is a unique position to hold as we execute the overall company vision, and this can change at any time. While retail is always about improving the customer experience, there is no one playbook on how to make this happen. It is unique for every company, and it is not uncommon to have multiple plates spinning at the same time to achieve our goal.”

Garvey is no stranger to multitasking, or going out on a limb. Among the projects she is most proud of are those that were built from scratch — even before they were industry trends.

While these were innovative projects at the time, they are among Garvey’s biggest accomplishments because they revolve around “applying and executing new tools and capabilities in radical ways to save money, drive customer satisfaction and, overall, fix the business,” she said. “The big question is not just whether this is a better path, but will this path be transformational?”

Gina Hitz (VP and CIO, QuikTrip Corp.)

As QuikTrip Corp. expands its footprint, all its new stores need to leverage corporate business systems, process digital promotions through its mobile app and accept payment cards — including e-gift cards. This tall order rests in the hands of Gina Hitz, the company’s VP and CIO.

A 23-year veteran with the Tulsa, Okla.-based retailer, Hitz has learned many aspects of the business — and held a variety of positions throughout her tenure. She started her QuikTrip career in 1994 on the construction side of the house. After joining as a development engineer, she was soon promoted to store design supervisor.

Hitz went to positions of increasing responsibility in the company, including director of design and engineering. In 2014, she was named VP of IT and CIO. In addition to leading IT strategies, Hitz is responsible for ensuring the chain’s technology programs meet or exceed the business’s needs and preparing the company for new opportunities.

Her drive and dedication to technology, as well as knowledge of design and engineering, are a boon for QuikTrip as it expands its footprint. The retailer recently announced plans to open 100 stores in the San Antonio and Austin areas, with the first locations due to open in summer 2018.

Ann E. Joyce (Executive VP and CIO, Chico’s FAS)

Chico’s FAS continues to find ways to improve the customer experience in an evolving digital environment — and Ann Joyce is leading the charge.

Joyce has 30 years of IT experience supporting the apparel industry, including retail, wholesale, licensing, manufacturing and even in international environments. Currently, she is putting her expertise to work as the executive VP and CIO at Chico’s FAS.

The specialty apparel retailer is one of many companies impacted by a horrific hurricane season in the third quarter of 2017. Besides forcing the company to reduce operating hours, and temporarily close more than 300 stores, the hurricanes also caused a decline in direct-to-customer sales.

Despite the third quarter hit, Chico’s is not pulling back on its technology goals, which include better addressing customer needs, transforming business operations and pursuing operating efficiencies, CEO and president Shelley Broader said in a statement.

Other technological improvements in the works across Chico’s brands include broadening omnichannel engagement and creating alternative sales channels to fuel growth. These include the recent launch of a new digital storefront featuring styles available at Chico’s Outlet locations, and a real-time digital gift card program, powered by CashStar Consumer.

“At Chico’s FAS, we consistently look for ways to improve the customer experience in this evolving digital environment and make it as seamless as possible,” Joyce said in a statement at the time.

Prior to joining Chico’s FAS in 2015, Joyce spent more than 12 years as CIO for Aeropostale. Before that, she was VP of IT for Polo Ralph Lauren. During that seven-year tenure, she directed the implementation of many new application capabilities, along with a comprehensive methodology for tracking and monitoring the return on technology investments.

Sam Norpel (VP of digital commerce, David’s Bridal)

Sam Norpel is using her digital marketing expertise to give brides-to-be new reasons to make David’s Bridal their go-to wedding resource.

Norpel, who joined the bridal retailer in January 2016 as its VP of digital commerce, is leveraging her strong knowledge of interactive marketing and e-commerce to help the chain connect with the modern bride.

Upon joining, she helped launch a multichannel marketing campaign focused on the individuality of the modern bride. Combining television, print and digital offerings, David’s Bridal created 30-second TV spots promoting wedding gowns sold at
the retailer.

The campaign also weighed heavily on social media — specifically Pinterest, where brides were encouraged to answer survey questions. The result was a personalized inspiration board composed of 22 curated pins based on the bride’s responses.

Norpel has found other ways to merge social media into the David’s Bridal engagement strategy. Keeping its eye on the millennial bride, for example, Norpel spearheaded the launch of a new video experience. By integrating e-commerce and professionally produced, user-generated video content from Love Stories TV — a web-based video platform — David’s Bridal now features a hub where brides can view real wedding videos featuring brides and bridesmaids wearing David’s Bridal merchandise and get ideas and inspiration for their own wedding.

Before joining David’s Bridal, Norpel spent three years honing her digital marketing expertise at Lands’ End, where she was the VP of digital marketing and e-commerce.

(At press time, Norpel was no longer with David’s Bridal.)

Christine Putur (CIO, REI)

Leading technology initiatives comes naturally to Christine Putur.

A retail veteran with more than 25 years of experience, Putur has led IT strategies for one of the industry’s biggest luxury brands and, prior to that, one of its largest big-box brands. Her new assignment — CIO for outdoor apparel and gear retailer REI — puts her up front with two of her passions.

“Joining the co-op [REI] presents an incredible opportunity to have a positive impact on two things I care about: the outdoors and personal wellness,” Putur said in a statement. “I am particularly excited about advancing the use of technology to enable the next generation of outdoor experience.”

Putur joined REI in November after spending four years at Coach Inc., where she played a pivotal role in ramping up the luxury retailer’s digital efforts. Before Coach, Putur served 13 years at Staples, where she held numerous IT roles before taking on the global CIO role in 2011. Prior to Staples, she was with Compaq Computer Corp.

At REI, Putur leads a team responsible for the retailer’s technology strategy, implementation and operations. In addition, she is on the board of the global technology research and advisory firm, Information Services Group.

Putur’s interest in technology can be traced back to her college years. She holds a bachelor’s degree in administrative science and math from Colby College, as well as a master’s degree in management information systems from Boston University.

Janet Schalk (Executive VP and CIO, Hudson’s Bay Co.)

Hudson’s Bay Co. has put omnichannel technology at the center of its far-reaching corporate growth and efficiency initiative — and tasked an accomplished retail tech veteran with driving its success.

Janet Schalk joined the Canadian department store giant, whose holdings include Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor, as executive VP and CIO in August 2015, with an impressive resume. Prior to HBC, she served as executive VP and CIO for Kohl’s, where, among other things, she incorporated digital wallet functionality and a loyalty rewards program into a mobile application, overhauled the chain’s website, and implemented new software to process inventory and pricing. Previous to Kohl’s, Schalk spent four years as executive VP and head of global IT for Target Corp., which she joined in 2004.

Announcing her hiring, HBC’s then-CEO Jerry Storch described Schalk as “a proven leader,” one well-versed in creating “strategic information technology functions that drives customer engagement across all channels.” The company wasted no time leveraging her skills. Upon joining, she was tasked with driving the company’s goal of “advancing IT systems,” a move that required the integration of common systems, support, business architecture and analytics.

Within a month of coming aboard however, expectations intensified and the retailer announced an all-encompassing corporate growth and efficiency initiative focused on delivering an enhanced omnichannel customer experience and accelerated financial performance. Schalk and Dion Rooney, executive VP of HBC digital, were tasked with overseeing this effort, as well as enhancing existing technology and accelerating the consolidation of all corporate IT to one common platform across all banners.

Schalk began her IT journey upon graduating from Northwestern University with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and economics in 1980. In 1982, she earned her MBA in finance from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

Pam Sweeney (Senior VP of logistics systems, Macy’s)

Pam Sweeney believes in RFID technology. So much so that in addition to championing the adoption of the technology across Macy’s diverse portfolio, she has also emerged as one of the industry’s top RFID evangelists.

The Macy’s veteran has referred to RFID as a transformational and foundational element that drives omnichannel retailing. She should know — having had a front-row seat to the technology’s evolution.

The need to keep Macy’s supply chain efficient is what prompted Sweeney’s initial leap into RFID technology. What started as a deployment of passive RFID tags as a means of tracking inventory has evolved into an integrated way of how the department store does business. In fall 2016, Macy’s set a goal of expanding its use of RFID to track every item across its stores and fulfillment centers.

To date, Macy’s results have been impressive. The use of RFID technology has increased the retailer’s rate of on-shelf display compliance and overall inventory accuracy, while also boosting customer satisfaction and enhancing omnichannel fulfillment based on in-store, single-unit accuracy, according to a recent report released by the Platt Retail Institute, developed in cooperation with the Northwest Retail Analytics Council.

It is these results, and Sweeney’s relentless passion, that is driving Macy’s commitment to RFID.

“RFID is about sales growth and improving customer experience,” Sweeney said in a statement. “We’re moving forward with additional categories and penetration into existing categories. The greater the penetration of RFID throughout the supply chain, the greater the benefits we see. I encourage more retailers to get on board.”

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TECHNOLOGY

A new kind of ‘smart’ card is hitting the scene

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Visa’s newest payment card gives new meaning to the term “smart card.”

The card issuer partnered with interactive payment cards developer Dynamics to introduce the “connected” Dynamics Wallet Card. While the card is the same size and shape as a standard Visa credit or debit card, this new version incorporates multiple features and technologies.

Embedded with a cell phone chip and antenna, the card enables users to transfer data between the card and their bank in real-time. An embedded button also enables users to access their debit, credit accounts as well as pre-paid, multi-currency, one-time use, or loyalty cards that are loaded onto the card. When at a retail point-of-sale, shoppers can pay with points or credit by pressing a button on the card, according to Venture Beat.

The card also supports a visual 65,000-pixel display that shows account information, text messages and coupons. This technology is also expected to step up security. For example, after every purchase text messages can notify the consumer of the purchase and their remaining balance on pre-paid or debit cards. Cardholders can also be notified of suspicious purchases, and click on a “Not Me” icon to report suspected fraud and request a new card number, Visa said.

Banks can also quickly delete a compromised card account number, and replace it with a new account number, according to Visa.

The card was introduced Monday at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show (CES).

“Innovation in the payments category is not limited to wearables, cars, security or mobile technology,” said Mark Nelsen, senior VP of risk and authentication products, Visa. “There is still much that can be done to update the card-based experience, which continues to be the primary form factor used globally to complete digital payments transactions.”

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Kuiu Q&A: Former NFL player finds retail success in pursuing passion

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

An ex-player NFL player has built two businesses from scratch — both focused on his lifelong passion.

Kuiu is the brainchild of Jason Hairston, former linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos. Dedicated to high-performance, ultralight clothing and gear for mountain hunters (the offerings are also popular with more traditional hunters and outdoor enthusiasts), the brand is named after one of Hairston’s favorite spots, an island in Alaska.

Hairston launched Kuiu in 2011, and it’s been on an upward trajectory ever since. It’s his first foray into selling direct to consumers, but not his first brand success. He found his way into business in the early 2000s, after chronic injuries from a broken neck ended his professional football career and forced him to start anew. He worked in commercial real estate for a time, but found himself unfulfilled. Inspired to start a business based on doing what he loved, Hairston took refuge in one of his passions: mountain hunting. Unhappy with the quality of the available apparel and gear, Hairston took matters into his own hands. In 2006, he founded Sitka, a high-performance (and pricey) technical brand for mountain hunters.

“I zeroed in on ‘experience’ apparel and began building a new business,” he told Chain Store Age.

The line proved a hit, and specialty outdoors retailers nationwide began selling Sitka products. In 2009, Hairston sold the brand to W.L. Gore & Associates, best known for its Gore-Tex fabric, “and I was unemployed again,” he quipped.

Armed with a higher level of industry and product knowledge, Hairston founded Kuiu. But he did things differently this time, employing a direct-to-consumer digital retail strategy and offering full transparency. By cutting out the middleman, Hairston avoids retail markups that can make Kuiu’s pricey offerings even pricier. He also gets easy access to customer data that he would otherwise not have if the goods were sold by other retailers.

Hairston talked more about the brand with Chain Store Age.

CSA: How did you first spread the word about Kuiu?
Hairston: About 90 days before we launched, I decided to “pull back the curtain” on the brand. I created a product design blog to show followers how the product was made, its functionality and potential merchandise pricing. It attracted several hundred views and many comments.

Our transparency paid off because the day we launched we hit $500,000 in sales, and hit just under $2 million our first year in business. Since then, we have hit 52% growth year-over-year.

I believe that this type of transparency is the future of retail. Companies that just markup merchandise, run out of product without explanation, or just don’t openly interact with shoppers contribute to why the traditional retail model is “broken.”

CSA: To maintain this level of “transparency,” you rely on customer feedback. Can you explain how you leverage this information?
Hairston: I call myself a student of customer connections, and social media is a great educational platform. Since day one, we integrated the power of social media, including live weekly Q&A sessions on Facebook. Here, we cover all aspects of our lines, the materials used in our merchandise, and how product is produced. This has since evolved to photos and live feeds posted on our web site and social media channels, including YouTube.

We also use data analytics to break down customer information and feedback. We apply this data to demand, as well as our planning of colors and sizes across specific product lines. It is not easy for an apparel retailer to know how much merchandise it will sell next year. Armed with analytics, we can be more predictive, and change our marketing and production spend, as needed.

CSA: What are your thoughts about opening physical stores?
Hairston: We want to build more brand awareness, but we’re not ready to invest millions of dollars into one location. Instead, to explore the market — and create momentum in the physical marketplace — we embarked on a 26-city cross-country tour that used an 18-wheel truck as a mobile showroom. This gave us a 900 sq.-ft. “pop-up” store that we would operate for three days in each city we visited.

We analyzed customer data to determine which stop would be next, and then digitally marketed our arrival and offering to that customer segment. We carried a limited assortment of 400 SKUs for shoppers to try out — about a third of our entire 1,200 SKU product line.

CSA: How did the tour go?
Hairston: At each stop on the tour, which ended in November, we serviced between 1,000 and 1,500 customers. Overall, we generated an estimated $3.3 million in revenue — this was between 75% – 80% greater than what was anticipated. The average order was $323, which was about $75 more than our average online order.

It was also a great way to get a head start on our holiday season. Instead of offering site-wide discounts like last year, during the 2017 Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend, Kuiu focused on highlighting select products. Our average cart size was also slightly up this year, since we sold more full-price items.

Overall, between our transparency strategy, as well as getting our products in front of our consumers, we are building trust among our customer base. We expect this to translate into long-term loyalty for the brand.

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