Leading female retail tech execs see progress, call for more growth

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
Top Women in Retail Tech awards

Women are obtaining more influence in the retail technology industry, with positive results for companies, customers and society in general.

It was my privilege to moderate a panel of leading female retail technology executives as part of the virtual Chain Store Age Top Women in Retail Tech awards ceremony held Thursday, March 4. Cynthia Kleinbaum Milner, VP of marketing, Walmart+, Mobile and Online Pickup & Delivery at Walmart, Ashley Sheetz chief marketing officer/chief digital officer, At Home, and Hally Pinaud, head of product marketing, Podium (presenting sponsor for the panel and the event), discussed topics of importance to women in the retail technology industry, as well as the industry in general.

Discussing how things have changed for women in retail technology over the course of their careers, all three panelists agreed that the industry has become more equitable, but still needs to evolve.

“There was no female representation at the top when I started out,” said Kleinbaum Milner. “It was not a welcoming environment. Today, you see more women in executive positions and boards. It’s good for business, not just good for optics. A 30% increase in female leadership leads to a 15% increase in margins. We’re not where we need to be, but are on the right path.”

Sheetz said that a heightened focus on the customer experience has helped lead to more women taking roles of authority in retail. “Technology is now driving the customer experience,” she stated. “As more and more retailers try to connect with the customer along their journey, more women are entering the technology space. Traditionally, women have focused more on the soft side of the customer experience. You need to have empathy for the customer.”

Pinaud agreed that a growing awareness of the customer has been a driver for increasing the number of women in retail technology leadership positions.

“Customers are so diverse in the industry,” said Pinaud. “It’s important to have that representation with the people who are building the products and architecting the solutions.”

When asked to look forward and predict what direction retail technology might take in the next 12 to 18 months, Sheetz touched on what she sees as true personalization at scale finally arriving in the coming year.

“Personalization at scale has been taking a long time,” she said. “There is a lot more for us to do. Back in the day, personalization was putting somebody’s first name in the subject line. You’ll see a lot take off in personalization that’s really more relevant and not about promotion, but more about serving up and curating for the customer.”

Pinaud said retail is discovering a new way to engage mobile customers. “In 2016, mobile meant push notifications,” said Pinaud. “We’re now seeing more comfort with text as a channel for retailers to engage customers. The ROI is unparalleled in how effective it is to have that sort of intimate connection with a customer.”

Kleinbaum Milner sees continuing growth in livestreaming as a digital commerce tool among North American retailers. “Liverstreaming has been successful for years in China,” she commented. “In the U.S., we will see livestreaming as more of a part of the customer journey on retailers’ sites. 




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