Retail is in an era of rebirth. Traditional retailers have been forced to adopt an innovate or die approach to keep pace with new market entrants that have redefined what retail is and should be. Amid this upheaval, new industry leaders are emerging who are charting a new course for career success.
RIS’ third annual look at the top women in retail tech highlights the leading-edge female technologists that are setting the standard for excellence across the industry. The women included on the following pages exhibit a unique mix of reach-for-the-sky dreaming coupled with boots-on-the-ground knowhow that differentiates them and their organizations in a crowded retail landscape.
Vice President, Supply Chain Strategy & Network Development, Lowe’s
Robin Bornkamp is leading a multi-year, multi-phased supply chain transformation at Lowe’s. Bornkamp joined the home improvement retailer in 2005, holding several positions and working her way up to vice president of supply chain development in 2017. Last year she was given the additional responsibility of overseeing physical infrastructure design and network capacity management.
The retail technology veteran has led significant change at Lowe’s and is guiding the company on the next phase of its ongoing transformation. Most recently, she developed a streamlined buy online pickup in store (BOPIS) process where products are stored at the front of the store, making it easier for customers to quickly come in and out.
“Since implementing the new BOPIS process, we’ve reduced time spent by customers who use BOPIS by more than two-thirds, which has increased customer satisfaction and repeat usage of the service,” says Bornkamp.
In addition, Bornkamp and her team have launched a new direct fulfillment center in Coopertown, TN, which she calls “one of the most technologically driven and sophisticated operations we’ve ever built.”
Despite these impressive achievements, when asked what project she is most proud of, Bornkamp references spearheading her first technology implementation 10 years ago when she streamlined direct-to-customer parcel delivery.
“That was my first IT project, and I went into it with a pure business mentality,” she says. “I came out with a whole new perspective and skill set thanks to the guidance of many talented team members involved in the effort. This helped me realize the importance of looking at the larger picture.
Enterprise Data Architect, Columbia Sportswear Company
Jennifer Canney has been obsessed with technology, specifically coding, since she was very young, spending hours every day after school perfecting her skills.
“My first experience with digital was as a youngster coding programs on my Commodore 64,” says Canney. “I would type away until I got the syntax just right, so that a cool sound or melody would be produced (the concept ‘bug free’ had a different meaning to me back then).”
Canny has held onto that enthusiasm for digital and data she displayed in her formative years and it has had a major influence on her career development. Her data-centric drive
has led to positions across industries and geographies. She started her career as a data integration tester and has held various positions with progressively increasing responsibilities, leading to her current role as data architect at Columbia, a position she has held since 2017.
“At Columbia I’ve been dedicated to transforming and modernizing the data management and analytics landscape,” she says. “Columbia has invested significantly in the evolution of the data landscape with the heavy use of cloud as a key component of the transformation. This journey is more than just changing the technology, it is about changing the way we approach data practices and delivery.”
Since Columbia has transitioned to cloud and big data platforms the retailer has seen significant strategic improvements. For example, teams throughout the enterprise are able to directly contribute data for analytics, and it is accessible in real-time, providing visibility and a continuous pulse on operational health. In addition, the retailer has made significant progress in data governance, ensuring transparency and alignment with its
use of data lake controls and GDPR compliant strategies.
VP, Intelligent Automation, Canadian Tire Corporation
Cari Covent is a career technologist. Following a decade in software sales and management at IBM, she was hired by Canadian Tire Corporation (CTC) where for the past 13 years she has been focused on building and improving high-performing tech teams.
During her tenure at CTC she has built a vendor management team and consulted on the development of technology and business roadmaps, developed a leading cyber security strategy, developed and executed a disaster recovery program, and successfully implemented PeopleSoft financials.
Over the past year, Covent and her team have formed an artificial intelligence start-up within the company. The new business unit, dubbed Canadian Tire Xponential (CTx) has developed and deployed more than 250 bots that have automated more than 70 test cases and 30 processes. The team has also developed multiple prediction machines that are helping streamline and supercharge forecasting, replenishment, inventory allocation and e-mail marketing campaigns.
“Initiating CTx has been the proudest moment of my career,” Covent says. “We were in the process of completing the implementation of PeopleSoft Financialswhen we realized that we could use automation technology in combination with our new platform to reduce manual tasks within finance and give time back to employees to focus on higher value work.
“This type of automation was a new concept to most of us. This quickly segued into revenue generating opportunities. Starting with a clean slate, it has been amazing to find the signal through the noise, develop pragmatic results-based solutions and be recognized within the organization as a thought and change leader and team.”
Co-Founder, CEO, Jetblack
Jennifer Fleiss has a remarkable background in inventing new ways for women to shop. She co-founded Rent the Runway, a business that transformed the retail industry by making designer clothing rentals a convenient and accessible luxury experience for millions of women. She then co-founded Jetblack (a Walmart company) a year and a half ago, and currently serves as CEO.
“After more than eight years at Rent the Runway, I set out to begin a new journey to change the way consumers shop more broadly by leveraging conversational commerce,” says Fleiss.
Jetblack’s membership-based service enables consumers to offload their shopping needs across various categories ― from reordering laundry detergent to getting curated gift or beauty recommendations. The company infuses the convenience of e-commerce with the customized attention of a personal assistant using a combination of artificial intelligence practices and expertise from professional buyers and consumers.
“We have created an entirely new concept that enables consumers to get exactly what they need through the convenience of text messaging and the freedom of a nearly unlimited product catalog,” explains Fleiss.
Since the launch, Fleiss says the demand to join Jetblack has been high and the brand continues to see increased frequency and breadth of member shopping. In the first half of 2018, Jetblack purchased items from 3,700-plus different brands for members and has begun introducing voice shopping via voice to text.
“My work is embedded into my daily life and I’m constantly using my own life experiences to think of creative solutions,” says Fleiss. “At the core of each of the companies I founded, identifying with the end consumer and constantly gut-checking innovation against real customer feedback has been the key to success and longevity.”
CIO, Fareway Stores
Over her long and successful career Lisa Kerns has built a reputation for running multi-billion-dollar companies with relatively small IT teams. As the CIO of Fareway Stores she is leading a digital revolution at the 120-store, Midwest grocer with a team of less than 50 technologists.
Kerns joined Fareway a little more than a year ago as the retailer’s first-ever CIO. She was tasked with modernizing the 80-year-old traditional grocer, and overseeing a digital transformation to personalize the shopping experience and connect with a new generation of shoppers.
“Fareway really rocks when it comes to grocery and store operations,” says Kerrns. “But in technology and visual merchandising it kind of got stuck behind. I was brought in as a
strategic retail leader to get unstuck from where we were and move forward and catch up very rapidly in the marketplace.”
When Kerns took the reins of the IT department she was faced with a rather large change management challenge. She had to find a way to make significant operational and technological changes and earn buy in from long-standing executives and managers.
“The first thing we needed to do was let people know what we are going to do and their part in it,” Kerns says. “Then we could talk about the tools and tech that supports it.”
Following a year of strategic planning, development, and preparation, Kerns and her team are ready to put their first major initiatives into the field. In the first quarter of 2019, Fareway is going live with a new personalized digital shopping experience. Based on their shopping history consumers will receive digital ads that are reordered based on their product preferences. In addition, the brand’s digital coupon library will be personalized for each individual shopper so the relevant coupons are most prominently displayed.
Director, Product Delivery, HBC
As director of product delivery, Caitlin Morley is responsible for the portfolio that supports the e-commerce sites for HBC’s businesses, which includes some of the world’s most iconic brands: Saks Fifth Avenue, Hudson’s Bay, Lord & Taylor, and Saks Off 5TH.
“At all of our businesses we are ensuring we’re adequately equipped to serve customers across various digital touchpoints, whether it’s online, via their mobile device, or in-store,” says Morley. “We’re continuing to leverage data-driven insights to build our digital strategies and improve the end-to-end customer experience.”
Recently, Morley and her team have been focused on transitioning the businesses to the cloud, a large scale effort that has been HBC’s largest initiative for 2018. The move is projected to save over $5 million annually in licensing fees and downtime, while providing the scale needed to service a growing marketplace. Along with the cloud transition, there were change management and operational adjustments that needed to be overcome to effectively implement the new system.
“It requires an overall mindset shift across the team in order for it to be successful and I am proud of the commitment and hard work my team has dedicated to this,” notes Morley.
Morley has held her current role at HBC since 2016, but previously was the senior program lead at XO Group, where she oversaw the company’s portfolio of brands and supported its transition from a media content site to a mobile-first technology organization. She has seen first-hand how an organization can unlock new technology, leveraging it to support the overall goals of the company.
“I’m interested in organizational transformations,” notes Morley. “Prioritizing the work that supports growth and innovation, while letting the operational processes and tools facilitate an environment that encourages collaboration.”
VP of IT, Lucky Brand
Inez Murata is a cross functional leader in digital commerce and omnichannel strategies. Her can-do, roll-up your sleeves approach has helped numerous retail brands transition and build out their digital capabilities.
With more than 19 years of experience, Murata notes, “technology changes so quickly that some things that were bleeding edge one year are standard features the next.” For example, she once led a project to build a subscription service in which customers could buy a subscription of a product to be delivered at a predefined interval (years before Amazon subscription services).
Murata has managed programs across technology, digital commerce, marketing, brick-and-mortar, merchandising and logistics in the retail and entertainment industries. While she is new to her role as vice president of IT at Lucky Brand, she’s been instrumental in developing digital strategies across e-commerce, mobile, and social platforms. Murata has also led teams at Walmart, TOMS and Sony Pictures, managing their enterprise project portfolios with an unblemished delivery track record of implementing e-commerce, POS, merchandising and infrastructure solutions on time and within budget.
As senior director of IT at PacSun, she implemented technology that allowed for endless aisle capabilities on its e-commerce platform.
“This tool gave us the ability to expand our assortment with our vendors,” explains Murata. “Additionally, through this new technology, we were able to integrate with a retail marketplace that exposed our merchants to new and emerging brands that traditionally would have been too expensive to onboard.”
Director of Operations, Sunglass Hut North America
Michelle Neal is a career retailer, working her way up the corporate ladder at Gap, Express and now Luxottica. She has been with Sunglass Hut for nine years, the last four years as director of operations.
To help streamline operations she has implemented a host of new technology including an upgrade to the retailer’s task management and communication system to refine processes and strengthen in-store execution and consistency. She worked hand-in-hand with Reflexis developers to provide feedback for optimal use of the tool and provide insight on Sunglass Hut’s unique requirements.
In addition to the WFM tool, Neal and her team have implemented prescriptive analytics software from Profitect that uses exception based reporting to identify and measure opportunities for operational improvement. The solution integrates sales data from the register to allow for greater visibility and control of sales behaviors to identify fraud, compliance, pricing and associate efficiency.
Neal believes that omnichannel has yet to be fully realized and integrated into the shopping experience. And only those retailers that can unite digital and physical experiences and make every touchpoint shoppable will win in this new age of retail. Currently, the Sunglass Hut is developing buy online, ship to store capabilities to ensure the retailer’s full product array is available in-store.
“These projects are necessary to be competitive in the current retail landscape and will allow us to have a greater reach and ease of fulfillment and reduce shipping costs as well as delivery time in many instances,” says Neal. “Consumers will also benefit from greater product choice in how they shop, and the freedom to decide where they will receive their product. Pilots are planned to launch the first half of the year, with rollouts pending later in the year.”
Vice President of Finance and Operations, Topo Athletic
Natalie Riley has been with Topo Athletic since 2012, joining just months before the running and fitness retailer’s launch into the market. The key to her success was knowing early on the importance of using tools and technology to run a successful retail business.
“As a young company, the challenge for us is to operate as efficiently and effectively as the other players in the market who are much larger and have much broader resources,” says Riley.
Riley has put her accounting, retail, and tech expertise to work by helping Topo Athletic run on a unified, cloud-based platform to ensure its systems can scale as the business grows.
"It was important for us to not operate as a start-up and NetSuite allowed us to do just that,” notes Riley.
More recently, Riley helped upgrade Topo Athletic’s e-commerce platform. “This upgrade really enhanced the user experience with our website,” she explains. “Beyond improved product and shopping features, the biggest improvement was making our whole platform 100% mobile responsive. As soon as we implemented this change, we saw a significant increase in conversion and time on site.”
Going forward, Riley will be leading the launch of an enhanced B2B platform, an upgrade which will give Topo Athletic’s sales team a sophisticated tool to present product, create customized line sheets and catalogs, and streamline the order process.
“I love to learn and grow,” says Riley. “I started as a CPA and now oversee not just finance, but operations, customer service, IT, HR and administration. The more I learn, the more I am able to work well with others and lead.”