Miller Center
The Miller Center's annual Retail Smarter Conference brings together the retail industry's top professionals. Retail Smarter 2016 begins today at The Vinoy Renaissance in St. Petersburg.

How technology is impacting the retail industry

The influence of technology on the retail industry has been immense, and will be one of the major topics discussed at Retail Smarter 2016—the retail conference presented by the College’s David F. Miller Retailing Education and Research Center taking place today and tomorrow at The Vinoy Renaissance in St. Petersburg.

Speaking at Retail Smarter will be Laura Loughran (BSBA ’02), Vice President of Application Development-Digital Commerce at Chico’s FAS Inc. Learn how Laura has leveraged innovation within the company’s IT department and which technology trends should have the attention of retail professionals.



Tell us about your duties at Chico’s.

Loughran: I’ve worked in the IT department for 13 years in increasing roles. Currently, my responsibility is leading all digital applications, as well as back-office, core retail, supply chain and distribution applications.

What’s the most challenging part of your job?

Loughran: The most challenging part is managing the three different brands we support (Chico’s, White House Black Market and SOMA Intimates). You’re changing the hats you wear on a regular basis depending season and business priority.  We are also constantly trying to anticipate the customer’s wants and needs, and that’s becoming so much more difficult in the mobile age.

You’ve been in the retail technology/innovation sphere since 2003. How has the digital commerce landscape changed?  How has Chico’s evolved in that time?

Loughran: The growth of technology is nothing like we’ve ever faced. What used to be three- to five-year cycles is now six months. The pace is a lot different.

The old retail tactics don’t necessarily work anymore. I think the days of double-digit growth in e-commerce may be in the past. That growth was organic. Now, we’ll have to work a lot harder, and in more nontraditional ways. Traditional marketing veins and customer acquisition tactics alone will not lead to double digit growth. You have to look at omnichannel and mobility strategies to stay on top and win with your customer.

When I started, we had just one brand, Chico’s. We’ve made various acquisitions and had startups of our own including international expansion.  We have become a household name and we are extremely proud of the brands we have cultivated over time.

What are the major trends retail professionals should be keeping their eyes on?

Loughran: Omnichannel is a big buzzword. When you boil down what omnichannel means, it’s the phone in her hand, and bridging the gap between our physical store and our online presence. Mobile conversion rates are still low, but once you engage her on mobile, there’s more propensity for her to shop in your store. The other piece is how you train associates engrained in brick and mortar to become an omnichannel associate and enhance the customer experience.

We’re also seeing a shift in online traffic. We’ve finally gotten over the 50 percent mark where it’s leaning more toward mobile and tablets than desktop. But within that shift, we’re seeing a shift to mobile and away from tablets. That’s because that phone is with her all the time. I’m seeing mobile apps being de-prioritized, and focus around more mobile friendly websites.

Tell us about your time at Warrington, and the impact it had on you.

Loughran: I love UF. My parents went there, my husband went there. There were four of us (siblings) and three of us went to UF. We’re a big Gator family. It’s amazing to see the differences now versus when I was there. I think I had an email address, and cell phones were used only for emergencies. Now, classes are much more digital, and high school and college students are using technology in a completely different way. I enjoyed every second at UF. Go Gators!