With a college degree in fashion retailing, Rachel Stephens never pictured herself working as a search engine optimization (SEO) and customer behavior analyst for Totally Promotional, an online manufacturer and retailer of promotional products. “My major was very broad and covered a whole spectrum in the retail industry,” said Rachel. “It left my options very open after graduation, but I knew I was interested in fashion and shopping, and couldn’t get as passionate about anything else.”
After graduating, Rachel put her passion to use as a merchandiser and stylist at Forever 21. She soon learned that, as an international retailer, the company had a unique merchandising system – headquarters would send general store concepts, but each location stocked different merchandise based on local demographics. As Rachel discovered, the key was to guide customers visually through the store by redesigning and reorganizing the merchandise every few months to ensure the clientele saw what they were looking for.
Everything changed when Rachel moved back to her small hometown. With no major retailers in sight, she started working in graphic design and sales, which led to a career in marketing at Totally Promotional. She found the transition easier thanks to her visual background. Instead of guiding customers through a physical store, she was now guiding customers through a website with visual graphics.
“The two roles are more similar than you would imagine,” she revealed. “Both rely on design concepts and knowing why people buy something before presenting them with that product. I’m fascinated with figuring out why people buy and spend hours studying retail websites for clues to learn more.”
Even with a smooth transition, Rachel experienced her fair share of challenges along the way. Both industries were fast-paced and forced her to stay on top of ever-changing information, whether it was fashion trends or SEO tricks. The only way to stay up to speed was to leverage the knowledge of others in the industry – speaking to co-workers, browsing social media and blog conversations, and following industry news. In both roles, Rachel found the best approach was having a “customer first” mindset, which allowed her to anticipate customer needs and guide them through the purchasing process from start to finish.
Read the fourth installment of our Millennial Voices series.