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Dedication has paid off for veteran Katy Horner

Katy Horner discusses her journey from Air Force officer to Retail management consultant and the increasing role of digital in retail.

Katy Horner Katy Horner

Tell us about your role at Accenture.

I’m a management consultant on the Digital Store team within Accenture North America Retail. With digital becoming such an integral part of shopping today, we have an entire group focused on helping clients drive change by integrating digital into every aspect of a shopping experience.

How did you first learn about the opportunity to join Accenture?

I went to a Military Service Academy Career Conference in 2015, which consisted of companies pursuing Service Academy graduates. I attended the U.S. Air Force Academy and graduated in 2007. After I got out of the Air Force and spent a couple years working for a large retailer, I wanted to transition to retail consulting. I think Accenture has done a fantastic job of gaining visibility as a veteran employer.

Before joining Accenture, you served in the U.S. Air Force for five years. What led you to first join the military?

I grew up in a military family, so I had familiarity with the lifestyle and what it meant to serve. My dad was in the Army, and my sister went to the Air Force Academy. Then, 9/11 happened when I was a senior in high school. I remember that day like it was yesterday as I’m sure anyone does in America. After that, there was a moment when I felt a compelling desire to do something more. During my time in the Air Force, I worked as a missile operator. We pulled long shifts, working underground in a silo. I managed the security and maintenance of the missiles around me.

How has your experience in the military influenced your career or work experiences?

It taught me a lot about hard work and sacrifice from an early age. There is nothing about the military lifestyle that is glamorous. The first priority is always the mission. It is necessary to have a strong work ethic and perseverance, so that was an influential factor in my work ethic after I got out of the military. You do what you have to do to do your job well.

Given your experience in the military, what does Veterans Day mean to you?

I reflect on those who choose to get up every day, put on a uniform and make so many personal sacrifices—themselves and their families. I fortunately never had to deploy, but I have seen first-hand the effects it has on families. I’ve lost several friends and classmates since I graduated in 2007. I am forever indebted to those who fight for the freedoms we exercise every day.

You previously worked as an executive team leader at a large retailer. How has that experienced equipped you with insight and tools for serving Accenture’s retail clients?

It has been immensely helpful. I had the opportunity to walk in the shoes of the retailer. With such an up-close experience in stores, I am able to better understand store processes and pain points. When I’m working with a retailer, I think about what is realistic to implement in the store. I can relate to what they do, so it helps with building relationships with clients.

At my previous job, I led the rollout of two major store apps, which meant I was also part of the associated culture shift from both a customer and employee perspective. Successful change management is an important part of how Accenture helps retailers to be competitive, especially amid their digital journey.

Retail is changing every day, with digital being a driving force. Where do you see the industry headed in the next three to five years?

I think customer demand and expectations are increasing now more than ever. Some are struggling to meet those expectations and we are in the midst of digital “everything.” Many are trying to catch up and satisfy the rising need for immediacy. It makes digital opportunities today really exciting.

When you are shopping—online or in-store—are you able to take off your “work hat” and just shop?

Online, yes. In store, no. When I’m in a store, I’m constantly assessing merchandising, signage, and digital options. If there is anything unique, I take a picture of it so I have a record of different store strategies. Shopping online is so easy, and it is influencing in-store expectations. Retailers have to work harder and be more creative to drive traffic to the store.

What aspects are retailers getting right?

I look for those with digital offerings and high employee engagement. The first impression is really important, so things like merchandising and signage need to be right. Also, employee engagement should be transparent to the shopper. Employee responsibility has shifted from task-oriented to higher expectations of product knowledge. Some are doing a good job with first impressions and bridging that gap between the digital and in-store experience.

In terms of your customer experience, what is most important to you when interacting with a brand?

A seamless shopping experience is important to me—online or in-store. I rarely shop just to shop. I usually know what I’m looking for, so if it’s easy to find and order, I appreciate that. If I’m shopping in-store, I check the availability of a product on the store’s app beforehand if that’s an option. I think digital options that are intuitive are crucial.

Are brands that are making a difference in the world more likely to get your attention, or are there other factors important to you?

Definitely. I always want to give my business to brands that have charitable initiatives. If my purchase can benefit someone else, I’m all for it. Lots of small brands with a charitable focus are popping up and those are important competitive factors for large retailers to consider.

Employee engagement is also important to me. I like to see employees who seem to be happy working there. I generally think that if employees are happy, then the business must be doing something right. It makes for that much more of a positive shopping experience.

Describe the worst retail experience you’ve ever had.

There isn’t one experience that sticks out in my mind, but I find it frustrating when retailers aren’t willing to make it right for the customer. For example, if I see a sign that says an item is $10 and it rings up at $15, it should be a simple adjustment. There shouldn’t be a long price check or a manager called. Some retailers are really good at empowering employees to make it right.

What do you like to do outside of work? Any hobbies or interests?

We moved to Alexandria, Virginia several years ago, so we have mainly been busy exploring the East Coast. Since my husband is still in the Air Force and soon being stationed in Los Angeles, we’ll be moving there this fall, which will be an exciting change. I’m looking forward to the beautiful weather and being closer to family.