Top Women in Retail Tech
EVP & CIO, HSNi
Karen Etzkorn has been an in-demand retail IT executive for over 30 years, manning top positions at some of the world’s most powerful retailers including Home Depot, The Gap, Williams-Sonoma and Limited Brands. She has held the top IT spot at HSNi for the past four years and has helped usher in a new age of personalization across the retailer’s brands.
Etzkorn is responsible for HSNi’s entire tech platform including finance systems, merchandise planning, merchandising, catalog management systems, content management systems, dotcom platforms and customer order management platforms. Not only does Etzkorn run technology for the iconic HSN but also its growing Cornerstone Brands which is composed of Frontgate, Ballard Designs, Garnet Hill, Grandin Road, and Improvements.
HSN was omnichannel long before there was even a word to describe it, running its shop from home television and catalog business and driving some key innovations in the space like its patented shop by remote technology that allows television viewers to purchase products they see on their TV with just a few clicks of their remote. “One of the things that drove me to join HSN was its ability to recognize that technology is strategic to business growth and where we are going as a company, it has always been at the center of what we do,” Etzkorn says. Over the past few years Etzkorn and her team have taken that commitment to technology to new heights with its consumer analytics and personalization engine designed to connect with shoppers like never before.
“Personalization is something that everybody is working towards,” Etzkorn says “About three years ago we decided to make the investment in an infrastructure platform that will enable us to provide that capability. Now thanks to our consolidated personalization engine every time we interact with the consumer, be it e-mail, SMS, call center or our website we are able to tailor that communication. We can see her purchase history, how often we are speaking to her, and what we are speaking to her about. We are able to use that information to make sure that we are not overloading her and that we are giving her the messaging and communication she wants.”
Another key technology Etzkorn and her team has implemented is HSNi’s digital asset management platform. The retailer produces new and unique content on a daily basis but before the deployment of this game-changing solution it was very difficult if not impossible to retrieve and share content across the enterprise. “It used to be that we would create a picture and throw it out to an archive and no one would be able to find it and leverage it again,” Etzkorn says. “Now the team has the ability to easily locate and use this content. It has boosted productivity tremendously.”
Founder & CEO, Hointer
Nadia Shouraboura has been on both sides of the fence. She helped develop Amazon’s masterful supply chain network, which disrupted retail like nothing before. And also founded her own brick-and-mortar retail business that is dedicated to perfecting the in-store experience through the use of innovative, one-of-a-kind technology.
For eight years Shouraboura worked for Amazon ascending to VP of technology and a member of Jeff Bezzo’s inner circle, running the e-commerce giant’s global supply chain and fulfillment platform. Her time at Amazon gave the Princeton mathematics PhD an education on the importance of providing a superior customer experience, a lesson she took with her when she struck out on her own and founded Hointer, an apparel store in Seattle, WA, and began filling the store with customer-wowing tech.
“Starting my own physical jean store opened my eyes to the enormous potential of in-store shopping,” Shouraboura says. “We haven’t even scratched the surface of what’s possible.”
The Hointer experience is defined by a minimalistic, uncluttered storefront that makes the merchandise the star of the show, while seamlessly integrated technology provides shoppers access to the entire product array. Shouraboura’s Microwarehouse technology can seamlessly locate and retrieve items from the back room or warehouse and have it in the shopper’s hand in less than 30 seconds.
“We try to imagine the ultimate customer experience — the most unreal, from fairytales,” Shouraboura says. “And then we try to make it happen in reality and at scale using technology.” Shouraboura and her team have been so successful that Hointer has grown from a single-store retailer to an end-to-end software platform that Shouraboura licenses to fellow retailers.
While the Microwarehouse put Hointer on the map, Shouraboura is far from done pushing the innovation envelope. “I have not finished it yet, but I’ve been working on an entirely new way for customers to shop for grocery and apparel,” she says. “Imagine shopping for grocery in a new way. No lines, no carts to lug, no walking down an endless isle — you touch and go.” Shouraboura has yet to unveil her latest creation but if her track record is any indication it is sure to be a game changer.
CIO, Carter’s | OshKosh B’gosh
Having been at the helm of Carter’s | OshKosh B’gosh’s IT department for seven years, Janet Sherlock is one of the retail’s most successful and highly-visible CIOs. Prior to joining Carter’s, she held high-ranking IT positions at Guess? and BP, but it was her time spent as an analyst at Gartner that fully prepared her for the CIO position.
“My role as omnichannel and digital practice leader at Gartner Research (formerly AMR Research) afforded me the opportunity to help shape the digital strategies of dozens of companies at a pivotal time in the digital age continuum,” Sherlock says. “In addition, I was exposed to the offerings of emerging and disruptive technologies. That in-depth knowledge of the marketplace still helps me tremendously in my role as CIO.”
At Carter’s, Sherlock and her team continue to deliver on the retailer’s omnichannel promise. Carter’s was late to the digital commerce game, but has been making tremendous strides over the past few years, growing its online business to more than 10% of total sales. But the IT department prefers not to view its business as a collection of channels but rather one cohesive unit. “My team is delivering on our company’s omnichannel vision,” Sherlock says. “Which has included exciting and impactful programs surrounding loyalty, product fulfillment and customer touch points.” Most recently the retailer has introduced buy online pick-up in store, upgraded its POS systems, and deployed save-the-sale technology to blur the distinction between
in-store and online.
In addition to her vast duties at Carter’s, Sherlock is also in the middle of a two-year term as the chairman of the National Retail Federation’s CIO Council. The prestigious, invite-only council is comprised of the industry’s most prominent CIOs that meet to discuss industry trends, emerging technology, and share ideas and experiences in a peer-to-peer environment.
CEO, Andronico’s Community Markets
Suzy Monford represents the new breed of CEOs. As she puts it “business is tech and tech is business.” And from the chief executive chair she has been on the frontlines, driving technological innovation at Andronico’s Community Markets in the highly competitive San Francisco Bay grocery market.
“A CEO can’t lead unless they also leading the technological revolution inside their own company,” Monford says. “It takes a different type of leadership because you have to bring everybody along the journey with you -— the c-suite, support staff, every employee. It is a paradigm shift for a lot of people.”
Leading from the front comes natural for Monford. When she took the reins at Andronico’s two years ago she was charged with driving a revival at the struggling grocer and increasing market share and valuation as the retailer’s venture capitalist backers looked to improve the profitability of the company. Through the innovative use of technology, she did just that. In fact, she did such a good job that it was announced in November that Safeway had agreed to acquire the retailer.
Prior to joining Andronico’s, Monford developed her FitBank application which incents and rewards people for working out and then going to the store to shop. Over the past year Andronico’s has been piloting the technology, which tracks the user’s fitness regime and then rewards them for exercising in the form of free CPG products and promotions.
“There is nothing like it today, nothing that incentivizes and rewards people for working out,” Monford says. “We are directly connecting people to healthy brands and helping them make healthy decisions. It is one of the reasons why we are getting a tremendous amount of business and why Andronico’s is such a hot topic.”
In addition to developing and deploying her own innovative tech, Monford is also highly sought after as an innovation and ideation consultant. For example, she has been advising Instacart on a number of initiatives and Andronico’s was granted exclusive rights to the solution provider’s click-and-collect service in Marin County, CA. The grocer is also piloting Instacart’s latest shopper app, which allows users to quickly checkout in Instacart-only express lanes.
Monford has worn multiple hats over her career and continues to do so from the CEO chair, melding technical innovation with business strategy. “Today you need to be part CEO, part CIO, to grow and to innovate, that is all there is to it,” Monford says.
As the CIO of Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) Julie Averill leads the co-op’s technology strategy and overall IT operations. With 25 years of industry experience under her belt, she joined the company as VP of IT in 2014 and was named REI’s first-ever CIO shortly thereafter. She is responsible for technology solutions across the company, including 149 stores in the areas of digital experiences, business intelligence, marketing, data-powered merchandising, supply chain, and data center/cloud infrastructure.
REI’s core belief is that a life outdoors is a life well lived, and everything the company does points back to that edict, including many of the technology innovations Averill and her team have instituted.
“Technology is changing the in-store, online and mobile experiences, and it’s creating new ways for us to connect our members to meaningful outdoor adventures,” Averill says. “Our new REI Adventures site for example, helps launch people into life changing adventures all around the world. On the sustainability front, we just opened the country’s first LEED Platinum Net Zero distribution center in the Arizona desert. This is a massive facility that actually helps put water back into the rivers and energy back onto the grid.”
While REI has a unique corporate vision that focuses on conservation and outdoor pursuits, it still must conquer the same challenges every retailer faces, including protecting valuable payment data. Under Averill’s leadership REI has made payment security a top priority and has gone above and beyond simple compliance with security mandates.
“We decided to raise the bar and create a foundational payment platform that focused on secure encryption with industry-leading tokenization of customer card data,” Averill says. “At the same time, we moved our entire business to a single extensible payment platform. This work positions us to explore new emerging payment technologies like mobile wallets and contactless pay while keeping the customer experience at the forefront.”
Chief Sourcing Officer & SVP, DXL Group
Angela Chan has spent her career working for the who’s who of retail including Macy’s, Victoria’s Secret and Saks Fifth Avenue. Currently she leads the end-to-end strategy and implementation of sourcing, product development, production, technical design, quality assurance and vendor compliance of private label and branded programs at the DXL group.
Chan joined the company over eight years ago to restructure and build the global sourcing team at corporate headquarters in Boston and later open the retailer’s Hong Kong office. Over her tenure at DXL Chan has helped manage a host of game-changing technologies, but her crowning achievement remains the successful re-implementation of NGC Software’s product lifecycle management (PLM) solution.
“Before I came into my current role, DXL had previously implemented NGC Software’s PLM but unfortunately the solution wasn’t adopted properly and we had to go back to square one,” Chan says. “I fought to re-implement the solution, retraining the team on the software and our sourcing practices. Not only was it a big tech project to undertake, but it really brought together the entire company as we worked together to overcome the challenges from the first implementation. Now that we have achieved implementation, we have become incredibly efficient.”
Efficient is an understatement. DXL’s on-time delivery, quality and compliance reached over 98% in 2015 compared to 85%-90% before implementing PLM and streamlining processes.
The next big deployment Chan and her team are working on is NGC’s EZ-Ship Scan/Pack technology. The solution should bring major advancements to the retailer’s supply chain that will improve operations and speed to market.
“The technology will help us reduce chargebacks and packing errors by validating the contents of each carton and shipment sent from the factory,” Chan says.” We hope this will set us up to ship product from the factories, directly to each store."