By Rosemary Brandt, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Supply chain issues, environmental sustainability, automation, information security, workforce retention and talent recruitment – these are just some of the issues facing the retail sector is facing today. To address these and future retail challenges, a $5 million gift from Terry and Tina Lundgren will fuel innovative research and student opportunities in business, retail and science consumption at the University of Arizona.
“People often overlook the importance of retail, until retail is disrupted,” said Laura ScaramelleUArizona chief John and Doris Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences. “Think about what happened during the COVID-19 pandemic; what other industry transformed so quickly, in no time, to meet consumer needs?”
The giveaway announcement coincides with the 26th annual UArizona Global Retail Ideas Summit, which kicked off Wednesday at the university’s Student Union Memorial Center. Conference presenters include senior executives from retail, consumer and technology brands such as Macy’s, Best Buy, Nike, PetSmart and Levi Strauss and Company.
The gift will establish an endowed faculty chair both in the Eller College of Management and the Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences to help meet industry demand for graduates who embrace change and drive innovation in retail businesses of all sizes. It will also provide better scholarship opportunities for transfer students to community colleges.
“I had to work full time and go to school full time. I was the only child in six to go to college. I was desperate to find a way to graduate because I wanted a better life. I wanted more opportunities,” Lundgren says. “There are kids at community college in the exact same situation. If we just give them the opportunity, they will exceed everyone’s expectations.”
Lundgren, who retired as executive chairman of Macy’s, Inc., in 2018, served as the retail company’s CEO for 14 years. Recognized as a global leader both in stores and online, Lundgren has also twice served as chairman of the National Retail Federation, the industry’s leading voice. He is a long-time supporter of the university’s retail program and helped establish the Terry J. Lundgren Center for Retailhoused in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences.
“Terry’s success and continued support has put the University of Arizona on the map as a destination for students hoping to work in retail and as a talent pool for the biggest brands that we join each year for the Global Retailing Ideas Summit,” said UArizona President Robert C. Robbins. “This new gift from Terry and Tina is essential for the future of an evolving industry, and I am so grateful for their longstanding partnership.”
The giveaway is timely for the retail program, said Lance Ericksonconsumer psychologist and associate professor of practice at the Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences.
“Over the past two years, we’ve really refreshed the program, rethinking where retail is and where it’s going going forward,” Erickson said. “The pandemic has revealed so many changes, in terms of how retailers are integrating new technologies and pivoting to provide needed services. This gift allows us to be at the forefront of cutting-edge technology.
“Terry has always been at the forefront of retail,” said Jean-Paul Roczniak, President and CEO of the University of Arizona Foundation. “As an alumnus, he has been incredibly generous with his time and philanthropy, funding advances in research and practice that have helped create an incredible pipeline of Wildcat talent. This new gift will create partnerships across the campus and fuel innovation.”
Part of the Lundgrens’ contribution will be used to create a retail learning lab, equipped with the latest virtual reality technology, eye-tracking and heat-sensing software, cameras and display hardware to enable students to practice in a variety of retail scenarios.
“Biology students have labs where they can practice their craft and perform experiments to learn more about biological processes. Retail students need to be able to do the exact same thing,” Scaramella said. “If students are working on product display, they can actually set up a shop, create a virtual product, use different display strategies, and then use eye-tracking software to visually track where people are attending.”
The distribution lab will also allow retail and marketing researchers to study consumer behaviors, perceptions and technology adoption. A pressing demand in the retail sector is the contactless point of sale, where a store is equipped with optical scanners and products carry enhanced barcodes to track the items a consumer walks out with and automatically charge their mode. preferred payment card or her saved credit card, Erickson explained.
“For me, the question is, will consumers embrace something like this? How do we educate consumers on how contactless POS works and help consumers overcome their hesitation to walk out of a store without having physically paid something or checked?” Erickson said. “It will truly be a lab space where we can do research with real consumers.”
Additionally, the Lundgrens’ contribution will fund collaborative research to identify and address other emerging and future retail challenges. As part of the summit announcement, the new Lundgren Retail Collaborative launched an open call for proposals from researchers across all scientific disciplines to answer the question: what are the big hurdles retailers and businesses need to overcome now? to better prepare for the future?
“The goal of the Lundgren Retail Collaborative is to build a world-class hub, right here on the University of Arizona campus, that drives retail education, research and practice,” said declared Yong LiuChief Marketing Officer and Robert A. Eckert Endowed Chair at Eller College of Management.
Business and consumer science students will also play a role in the collaboration’s research efforts. Each year, students will be encouraged to apply for scholarship opportunities and form teams covering a variety of fields of study – such as fashion, fine arts, engineering, psychology or information technology. information – to solve problems facing the retail sector.
Selected student teams will benefit from mentorship, professional development training and the opportunity to showcase their solutions to top industry professionals at the annual Global Retailing Ideas Summits.
“If we teach students to really lead innovative change, they need to be able to come up with new ideas and learn to work outside of their own discipline,” Scaramella said. “Giving students the opportunity to work in interdisciplinary teams now will only help them in the future.”