The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a “leader” as a person who has commanding authority and influence. The female executives highlighted in the fifth annual Chain Store Age “Top 10 Women in Retail Technology” report — profiled below in alphabetical order — exemplify the innovation and leadership needed to succeed in today’s ever-changing retail environment. They share a record of success that is worthy of emulation by all their peers.
senior VP, marketing (media, guest engagement and measurement)
Kristi Argyilan learned early in her career that a business must stay in a constant state of change if it wants stay relevant. The lesson has helped her transform Target’s approach to customer engagement.
Argyilan has spent her career working with big brands. She started her professional journey as the associate manager, media development for Clorox Company in 1992, where she created the media strategy for the company’s largest brands. She went to work for a variety of advertising agencies, creating media marketing strategies for such companies as Nike, Starbucks, eBay, Dunkin Donuts, TJX and CVS. In 2007, she joined Universal McCann Media Agency as executive VP, global managing partner and quickly moved up the ladder to chief transformation officer.
Throughout all of these roles, she learned an important lesson: “Few companies truly view their brand as an asset, and invest in marketing and guest experience accordingly.”
Target, according to Argyilan, is one of these “few companies” that builds an amazing experience resulting in a strong emotional connection between itself and its customers.
“Their commitment to brand through marketing and customer experience made my jump to Target an easy decision,” Argyilan said.
Since joining Target in 2014, Argyilan has been transforming all paid, owned, earned and shared media channels, focused on strategy, events and measurement. She has also been tasked with creating a new level of customer engagement — one the puts the customer in control.
Constant change driven by ever-evolving customer expectations keeps Argyilan on her toes — and makes her relationships with technology providers especially valuable.
“I am in the lucky position to meet with some of the most advanced data, technology and content companies in the world,” she explained. “I get super excited about the possibilities when you bring different combinations of them to the same table to solve a guest or business problem.”
Argyilan takes the same approach when embarking on transformational projects — initiatives that often require a quicker speed to market. To stay on task, she relies on a team that can offer different points of view that will keep her end-game on point.
“My brain is hard-wired to think conceptually and act with only the first few steps laid out in front of me,” she said. “But to truly accomplish transformation at scale, I need others whose wiring complements mine. A more diverse group of skill sets can bring ideas together; this results in rapid expansion of stronger ideas and longer term success.”
This mindset has helped Argyilan successfully launch a variety of projects, including Target’s media network. The company’s entry into the advertising business offers a high-quality audience-based media product to other advertisers. Additionally, Target is building strong relationships with companies are also changing the marketing and retail landscape, such as Google, Comcast/NBCU, Pinterest and Disney.
“Given the pace of change that society is going through, members of the business community don’t have the luxury of rest,” Argyilan said. “I learned early in my career that a business must continue to change or possibly become extinct. My job is to manage change.”
executive VP, CTO
When Julie Averill began pursuing her dream of becoming a CIO, she didn’t get much support.
The fast-rising tech executive recalled that, years back, when she first told people she wanted to be a CIO, those who knew what the position entailed told her it was the most difficult job in a company — and the most lonely. They also told her as a woman, she would be an unlikely candidate.
“But I think all that motivated me because it gave me a challenge and I became focused on what it would take,” she added. “Soon it became a real goal I started working toward, then it became a reality.”
Averill started her professional career in 1999 when, armed with an MBA, she took a position as director of project management at a website development consultancy, moving on to VP of a financial site. In 2003, she joined Nordstrom as VP, selling and marketing systems. She spent a decade there, honing her skills in the demanding and fast-changing world of retail. Among her accomplishments: leading the company’s initiative to deliver store fulfillment capabilities and leading a mobile POS initiative, and integrating Hautelook as a new business model for the retailer.
In 2014, Averill joined REI as VP, information technology. Less than two years later, her dream became a reality when she was named the first CIO of the outdoor apparel and gear retailer, responsible for technology solutions across the company, including stores, digital experiences, marketing and analytics, strategic merchandising, call center, supply chain, and data centers/cloud infrastructure.
In 2017, Averill joined Lululemon Athletica as executive VP, CTO, attracted by the athletic apparel brand’s mission of “putting the customer first.” She keeps a sharp eye out for innovations that create engaging and memorable experiences for customers through all channels, and also for ones that empower store associates and business partners to be more efficient and effective.
Averill, who is tasked with preparing Lululemon for international growth, has created a strong, global technology team that is balanced between the retailer’s corporate base in Vancouver and Seattle.
Averill shares her expertise on various community and non-profit boards. She is an independent director for fast-growing retailer Indochino, where she provides strategic counsel on the custom menswear company’s technology infrastructure and growth strategy.
At home, Averill often counsels her teenage children on their own career goals, encouraging them to focus less on planning their career, and more on applying themselves.
“It’s about understanding what’s uniquely you and being proud of that,” she added. “Set goals, tell people about them, and work hard.”
VP of IS & IT
White Castle Management Company
Technology has always been a family affair for Susan Carroll-Boser.
White Castle Management Company’s VP of IS & IT got her first taste of technology from her tech-savvy parents. Her father held IT positions spanning programming to network security at Ohio Bell, AT&T and IBM. He also set up a network of Unix computers at her childhood home, making Carroll-Boser “comfortable with computers long before personal computers were the norm,” she recalled.
She got even more exposure during annual “Bring your Daughter to Work Day” visits at her father’s various offices. “It made a lasting impression,” she said.
Meanwhile, her mother implemented an ERP system for their family business during Carroll-Boser’s college years, a move “that made everything flow better,” she said. “The idea that you could transform your business process with something so simple intrigued me.”
After graduating from Keller Graduate School of Management of DeVry University with an MBA in information technology, she joined White Castle in 1994 — kicking off a 24-year career with the company. Initially, she focused on administration and support, and then took on analyst positions. Soon, she transitioned into management roles, where she was increasingly exposed to more opportunities, she explained.
She spent 15 years as director of IS, and was recently promoted to VP of IS & IT, a move she credits to her passion for innovation.
Among the initiatives she is most proud of include efforts to pinpoint and decrease internal loss. Additionally, Carroll-Boser is bullish on the company’s Team Member App, “a shared platform that allows us to grow and meet all needs,” she explained.
White Castle is currently testing the app on “Wi-Fi only” smart watches, a huge move since “mobility on the floor is the name of the game in a restaurant,” she explained.
She also championed the company’s loyalty program. Determined to create her own methodology, she applied for a patent.
“Our goal was to drive behavior change segmentation for increased check and visits, but we wanted an entirely different methodology,” she said. “I designed the methodology, and the patent was applied to the entire team of developers.”
Carroll-Boser is most driven by initiatives that work on many platforms, and serve different audiences in a customized way. To that end, she is evaluating artificial intelligence around security (both internal and cyber), data mining, and the impact of natural language processing (NLP) AI on ordering and customer support operations.
VP, digital commerce
Kim Williams-Czopek knows the secret to improving the customer experience — create an emotional connection with shoppers. This philosophy fits well with Lilly Pulitzer, where she is VP of digital commerce.
“Increasingly, we’re seeing that customers expect greater relevance than ever before, and you can only be relevant to a customer if you personalize their experience,” she explained in a blog on Monetate’s website.
For Williams-Czopek, this means learning what the customer — not the retailer — wants.
“We need to walk a mile in our customer’s shoes,” she said in the blog. “We can’t just assume they are going to behave the way we want them to.”
Williams-Czopek started focusing on customer-centric experiences some 22 years ago, long before it became an industry strategy. One of her first experiences occurred early in her career, when she was a senior project manager and director of usability and information design for Nexiv Internet Design back in 2000. She oversaw both formal and formal lab-based usability testing sessions. The user responses helped her develop and improve operating processes. Little did she know that this background would help her develop user experiences at Lilly Pulitzer 16 years later.
At Lilly Pulitzer, her team uses “a variety of systems … to track quantitative measures of success,” she explained.
Machine learning is also part of the mix, a solution that helps Williams-Czopek and her team better understand what the customer wants, when they want it, and deliver a more relevant experience faster, according to the blog.
Direct access to customer feedback has helped Lilly Pulitzer create a mobile channel. The company partnered with Mobify to launch a progressive web app (PWA), which functions similar to a mobile app, but is accessed through a search engine query and mobile browser. The first week it launched, mobile traffic jumped 80% and mobile revenue rose 33% compared to a year earlier. Mobile has become the company’s highest traffic channel, according to a company statement.
Customer feedback also helped Lilly Pulitzer redesign its e-commerce site and add functionality to better meet shoppers’ expectations, such as multi-ship capabilities, a buy online, pickup in store service, and a store locator.
“We have a mission to deliver superior digitally-driven retail experiences to our customers, and our new platform … gets us closer to achieving that mission,” she added.
At press time, Williams-Czopek was no longer with Lilly Pulitzer.
Chief digital officer
Carissa Ganelli has one mission as Subway’s chief digital officer: “to deliver as much value as possible to our customers.”
Ganelli, a marketing veteran with almost 30 years experience, describes herself as “a rabid customer and fan of Subway, even before I worked for the company.”
Ganelli joined the company as VP of marketing technology in 2016 — just as Subway embarked on its five-year transformation effort. Responsible for the company’s digital media and co-leading the digital division, Ganelli focused heavily on executing all web, social media, email and digital advertising campaigns.
Driven by the potential benefits of personalization, she and her team spearheaded the company’s digital overhaul, which included launching a more responsive website, deploying on-site digital signage, and most importantly, re-launching the company’s mobile app.
The relaunch was an immediate success, producing 25% month-over-month growth in mobile app orders, and the growth of mobile users jumped by 100%. Similarly, the company’s new website doubled its e-commerce orders, she reported.
“We created five years’ worth of development within two years, and the results have been incredible,” Ganelli said. “Our iOS mobile app also has a 4.7-star rating in Apple’s App store — the highest rating our company has ever seen.”
Promoted to chief digital officer in July 2017, Ganell’s first task was to launch the company’s new loyalty program. Available through Subway’s mobile app, the program features digital coupons and offers. Customers earn $2 for every $50 they spend, and also receive “surprise rewards” based on frequency of visits.
Within six weeks of launching the program, the company saw 15% growth in loyalty members. It has also proved a conduit to attract younger, new customers who may not have been loyal customers previously, according to Ganelli.
To further appeal to these new customers, Ganelli saw an opportunity to digitally recreate the “personal touch.” Ganelli and her team to launched a rich communications services (RCS) platform earlier this year which is still in limited tests due to wireless carrier support.
Unlike static text messages sent on a “white screen,” RCS messages contain multimedia data, including color, images, and other media, including short videos. Currently, the test targets customers with specific meal deals, and among customers that receive the messages, “we are seeing tremendous results,” Ganelli said. For example, a price promotion deal on two Footlong subs produced a 140% lift in conversion rate, and a meal deal test produced a 60% lift in click rate over SMS.
Additionally, Subway features a chatbot interface, providing the company with a platform that fosters two-way conversations with customers.
“We are transforming a 53-year old company’s history and using digital channels to make our affordable food more accessible,” Ganelli added. “That is something to be proud of.”
Executive VP, CIO
Amid a major restructuring of executive staff at Lowe’s Companies, one of the retailer’s newest appointments is an accomplished tech veteran who is tasked with leveraging technology to support the company’s long-term innovation efforts, such as interactive customer experiences and mobile payments.
Seemantini Godbole joined the home improvement giant as its executive VP and CIO in November, and she brings with her an impressive resume. Godbole, who has 25 years of global technology experience, joined the company from Target where she most recently served as senior VP, digital and marketing technology. Throughout almost nine years with the discounter, she held various leadership roles and helped lead Target’s digital technology transformation, including the re-architecture of the company’s digital platforms and the implementation of agile product management.
Godbole also introduced technology for new customer experiences, including the mobile applications, buy online and pick up in-store and ship from store programs, guest order fulfillment, digital wallet, localized pricing, and customer loyalty and engagement offerings.
Prior to Target, Godbole spent three years as the director of technology at Travelocity, where she directed e-commerce development for the company’s European air, hotel and car operations. Before that, she spent almost 12 years at Sabre Holdings, where she held a variety of senior technology leadership roles.
Marvin R. Ellison, Lowe’s president and CEO, described Godbole as “a proven retail executive” who brings “extensive expertise in transforming digital platforms to drive outstanding results by focusing on the technology needed to improve the customer and associate experience. I am confident Seemantini is the right leader to advance Lowe’s technology efforts for the future.”
For example, Lowe’s continues to step up its commitment to using digital experiences that enable customers to envision how to design and build their homes. Recently, the company launched the Lowe’s Vision app. It leverages augmented (AR) and virtual reality (VR) to enable shoppers to begin planning their renovation needs before they even set foot inside a store.
Other 3D services include Lowe’s “Holo-room How To” virtual reality-based classes, where a virtual reality headset and set of controllers immerses shoppers in a DIY project.
The company is also exploring the long-term role of mobile payments.
senior VP of marketing and e-commerce
Angela Hsu’s passion for learning new things, particularly when it comes to technology, has helped shape her into an e-commerce and digital marketing leader.
Hsu’s retail journey dates back 25 years when she joined Warner Bros. as director, global new business development, for the company’s international stores division. While working at Warner Bros., she learned about retail merchandising, operations and marketing, and used these strategies while working on the company’s global expansion.
After a stint as director, product management and marketing at real estate site move.com, Hsu jumped back into retail, joining Lamps Plus in 2003 as VP, Internet business and marketing, and tasked with growing the company’s fledgling e-commerce business.
“In 2003, Lamps Plus was a category leader in brick-and-mortar, but relatively new in e-commerce. I saw an opportunity to make a difference using my background in retail, analytics and technology,” said Hsu, who became senior VP of marketing and e-commerce in 2017.
During her 16-year tenure at Lamps Plus, the company has grown into the nation’s largest lighting retailer. And Hsu has grown her team to more than 40 people focused on site strategy, SEO, analytics, marketing, PR and social media, marketplace (e.g., Amazon, Walmart), as well as creative services in video, web graphic design and content. Such a wide range of responsibilities make it critical for her to break down internal silos between lines of business.
“Implementing innovation requires key stakeholders throughout the company to work together,” Hsu said. “It is critical to share visions, encourage ideas, and solicit feedback to make sure everyone is on board.”
At any given time, Angela can be involved in multiple projects. Her accomplishments this year included leading a website personalization initiative, increasing the speed of Lamps Plus’ mobile website by nearly 40%, and scaling its AB testing to an enterprise wide operation.
Fluent in three languages — and experienced in the global retail market — Hsu is exploring opportunities to sell Lamps Plus designs through global e-commerce marketplaces, with a special focus on Asia. The company currently sells exclusive designs on Amazon and Walmart.com.
Artificial intelligence is another priority. Lamps Plus uses AI to monitor order status, and to support a chatbot for Facebook and SMS text messages. The next plan is to enter voice-assisted commerce with Google Home and Alexa.
“Innovation is an absolute necessity for us to compete and continue growing the company’s profitability,” she added. It’s also in my DNA. I thrive when I find new technology solutions that solve our challenges or take our customer experience to the next level.”
Group VP IT, digital stores and Rx
Ramiya Iyer had originally planned to follow in her family’s footsteps and work in finance. But she got bitten by the technology bug back in 1993, when she started writing code while interning as an auditor for the State Bank of India.
“I realized I had a knack for technology and never looked back,” she said.
In 2001, Iyer made the jump to retail technology, joining Walmart’s online division as a senior software engineer.
“It was my entry into retail and it was addictive,” she said. She spent the next 13 years moving up the ranks at Walmart’s and Sam’s Club’s online divisions.
After a two-year stint at Levi Strauss & Co. as VP, e-commerce, Iyer joined Albertsons Cos. in 2017 as group VP IT digital and marketing, merchandising. Just about a year later, she was named group VP IT digital stores and Rx. Among her many responsibilities: transforming the company’s legacy systems.
“I consider this transformation a rebirth that is giving the company a fresh start,” she said. “Transformation is about revamping systems to make a big impact and drive customer interaction.”
This philosophy guided Iyer’s redesign of the company’s website, which includes a fresh look and feel and more streamlined fulfillment options, including curbside pickup, as well as a partnership with Instacart that supports same-day delivery of online orders across the chain’s 1,800 stores.
Iyer’s team is also responsible for Albertsons’ automated micro-fulfillment center concept, which will be tested at a store in early 2019. Designed to leverage Albertsons’ existing supply chain and store footprint, it will use artificial intelligence-enabled robots and a system of totes and conveyors to collect items for online grocery orders with the product and deliver to an Albertsons employee, who prepares the order for the customer. The process is expected to take minutes — a fraction of the speed and cost of manual-picking processes.
“At the end of the day, we need to increase service for customers and simplify the shopping experience,” she said.
Simplicity will be a theme in 2019, as Iyer continues looking for ways to take friction out of the shopping experience — especially at checkout. The retailer is currently piloting mobile checkout in one store and plans to roll it out in 2019.
“The key is to transition the shopping from a chore to a fun experience,” Iyer said. “That’s our focus for the new year.”
Johnston & Murphy
Heather Marsh always has one person uppermost in her mind when it comes to improving Johnston & Murphy’s digital shopping experiences — the customer.
“The consumer is always number one,” she said. “I always consider how they will feel when we change an experience. At the end of the day, we need to deliver value to our consumers.”
Marsh adopted this philosophy while interning at RJ Reynolds in 2004. She recalled that she was struck by how disconnected consumer product goods companies are from the consumer.
“They sell to supermarkets, but really don’t know who is buying the merchandise, or how frequently,” Marsh said. “But retailers control the experience from start to finish.”
Armed with an MBA from Vanderbilt University, Owen Graduate School of Management, Marsh joined footwear company Johnston & Murphy in 2005 as director of customer relationship management. She was tasked to building a database and manage marketing analytics.
Marsh’s passion for IT — and consumer data — helped her rise through the ranks. Not all that long after joining, she was tapped as Johnston & Murphy’s director of e-commerce. The transition revealed to her how “tightly connected” purchase history and CRM data was to the company’s e-commerce operation and, ultimately, the customer’s shopping experience.
In 2013, Marsh was named VP, e-commerce, a role in which she manages all facets of Johnston & Murphy’s online site, including digital marketing, direct mail, consumer analytics and enhancements to the website. She also is responsible for mobile.
Initially, Marsh found it “difficult to tell our story on a small device, acquire customers and get conversions.” But the brand’s mobile strategy as been a hit. The company is seeing a 1% conversion rate on mobile devices. Across all digital devices, conversion is just over 2%, according to Marsh.
“To be successful, you need to stay on top of what is new, how it could benefit the customer and associates, as well as can it save the company money and drive sales.”
VP digital merchandising and operations
Hudson’s Bay Co.
Anu Penmetcha is using her passion for elevating the customer experience to boost the omnichannel game of department store giant Hudson’s Bay Co., parent company of such retailers as Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor.
Penmetcha started her career as an engineer in 2003, and quickly be-came attracted to the field of IT. She made the move to consulting in 2005, when she joined Deloitte Monitor. Looking to expand her horizons, she enrolled at the Kellogg School of Management, where had the chance to intern at Amazon.
“Amazon was my first introduction into retail,” Penmetcha recalled. “I loved the online digital experience, and access to real-time data and its impact on the business. It was interesting to see how data can define a specific email campaign, who it is targeted to, and then see the impact in near real-time.”
Upon earning her MBA in marketing and general management in 2008, she rejoined Deloitte, where she took on some of the largest digital retail transformations in United States and the UK. Ultimately, however, Penmetcha wanted a more hands-on experience. In 2014, she joined HBC, as chief of staff for HBC digital. She took on the role of VP of omnichannel in 2016.
“A big piece of this position was finding new ways to look at data experience and drive business decisions, but also to keep a finger on the pulse of innovation, and learn new ways to apply it to our thinking,” she explained.
Most recently, Penmetcha was named VP digital merchandising and operations, tasked with overseeing the retailer’s digital merchandise team and drop ship team.
One of the projects Penmetcha is most proud of is her work on the digital stylist tool available to customers across Saks, Lord & Taylor and Hudson’s Bay. It enables online customers to digitally connect with an in-store associate who can provide personalized, curated assortments to customers through digital tools.
“Our highest converting channel is our associates,” she said. “We rely on this technology to bridge the gap between our physical and digital channels, and get digital tools into the hand of our store associates.”