It didn’t take Roxanna Holley long to figure out that her job as a cashier at the Texarkana, Texas, Sears store wasn’t all there was to retail — and that she wanted to discover what more the vibrant field had to offer. Let’s just say she is well on her way. Now nine years into her retail career, Holley is a digital merchandiser for Ohio-based home furnishing retailer grandinroad. Her path has given her an ideal combination of in-store experience and digital know-how, while equipping her with a strategy for building a career. Roxanna Holley's five tips for site merchandisers

  • Be a sponge: Learn as much about as many different parts of the business as you can.

  • Keep a customer focus: View every move you make through the eyes of customers shopping and buying on your site.

  • Don’t concentrate solely on the transaction: Build experiences that engage customers so that they will not only buy, but enjoy the experience and come back for more.

  • Consider the entire shopping experience: If you’re a multi-channel retailer, provide a consistent and seamless experience between in-store and online. When thinking about digital retailing, rely on what you know about how customers behave in physical stores to help create a meaningful online shopping environment.

  • Evaluate yourself: Check in on your own progress regularly. If your brand or organization’s goals are not in line with your own professional aspirations, consider making a move.

“Be a sponge,” Holley, 27, says. “If you’re really interested in moving up in your career, no matter what step you start at, you have to be a sponge. Learn everything you can.”

Holley started absorbing retail lessons when she was a freshman in college, splitting her time between the Texarkana Sears in her hometown and the Sears store in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where she attended the University of Arkansas. “What really piqued my interest to further my career in retail would have to be when I was in Fayetteville. Fayetteville is Wal-Mart’s back yard. My store manager, he came from Wal-Mart and he was very encouraging, very enthusiastic. He loved retail. He lived and breathed it. He instilled a lot of enthusiasm in me.” Holley was determined to become a store manager herself and she worked her way up from cashier to consultative sales in the hardware department to a Sears national retail management trainee to manager of the fine jewelry department to assistant store manager. “What made me a good assistant store manager was that I knew every department in the store,’’ she says. Holley explains that she didn’t just ask for information or ask others to get tasks done. She asked how the information was derived and how the task was performed. “Show me” was the way Holley rolled. In her junior year, she changed her major from history to retail marketing. She took a second job, working as a visual merchandiser for Nike on campus. Then, after five years at Sears, a call from Dillard’s changed her course. “They were building an e-commerce team,” Holley says of the Arkansas-based retailer. “They had hired quite a few people that had an IT background. They liked me, because I came from the retail world and I understood it.” Holley had been intrigued by digital merchandising since her Sears days, when the national retailer was first experimenting with helping in-store customers order online for home delivery, if an item was out of stock. “It was something that I was interested in learning more about,” she said.

Roxanna Holley

She very quickly learned that despite its digital nature, e-commerce is not all about machines calling the shots. It takes a thoughtful merchandiser to curate and correctly categorize products to build a strong online brand. “The computer can make suggestions about what you should do, but you can never take the person out of it,” Holley says. “The computer is the science and the person is the art. You make sense of things.” No doubt having worked in brick-and-mortar is a big advantage for Holley. She says she thinks of the digital store in terms of a physical store. What are the items a customer would be interested in seeing (and possibly buying) at the register, for instance. “You’re trying to create a seamless experience, as if the customer was in a store,” she says of digital merchandising. “I think working in a store has given me a greater sense of who the customers is and what it’s like, what their interaction is like.” And really, Holley says, retail is all about the customer. “Everything you do, you have to do it with the customer in mind,” she says. No surprise, Holley is working to learn everything she can about digital commerce. She’s pursuing a masters in user-experience design so she can better apply what she knows about customers’ behavior with site design and function. She’s already seen a rapid evolution in the online world in the four years since she’s been working in e-commerce. “When I first started,” she says, “it was, ‘Get the product on the site and let’s sell it.’” Content has become much more important in the years since — and not just words. Last Halloween, Holley says, grandinroad produced an elaborate video that took users through a digital version of a grandinroad haunted house. The feature gave consumers the chance to have some fun and buy various Halloween decorations. grandinroad haunted house “If you’re just trying to sell products, you might not think about that,” Holley says of building engaging experiences on a site. “But if you want to have fun with your customer, keep them engaged and sell products, then you can create some really cool stuff.” Besides constantly learning and always keeping the customer at the center of her thoughts, Holley says she employs at least one other technique to increase her chance of success: frequent self-evaluation. “Career-wise, I always ask myself, ‘Are you on the right path? Are you aligned with where you want to be?’” She doesn’t quiz herself in a vacuum, she says. “Business-wise, I want to do what’s best for the brand,” she says. “But when I think about my personal goals, if something is not aligned, you have to know yourself and know where you want to be and make the change.” It seems like sound advice. And it’s hard to argue with the results so far. Full disclosure: grandinroad is a BloomReach customer. Photo of Roxanne Holley courtesy of Roxanne Holley. Screenshot of grandinroad website. Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Contact him at ; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.