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The Road to Retail Marketing Analytics:
UMD Senior Discovers Soft Spot for Numbers

UMD senior Mary Nelson
UMD senior Mary Nelson leaving home for her first day at maurices.

Like a lot of college students, senior Mary Nelson thought she had her life figured out when she came to UMD. “I had plans of being a pharmacist,” Nelson said. But during her freshman year at UMD, her plans became foggy. “I tried biochemistry, civil engineering, and chemical engineering, but none of them were for me.” After cycling through those four majors, Nelson found she loved statistics. With a new dream, Nelson applied for the competitive Retail Marketing Analytics Program (ReMAP) in the Labovitz School of Business and Economics. It was a surprise to her, but shortly after she was accepted into the program, she successfully interviewed for the summer 2015 e-commerce internship at the maurices headquarters.

One-of-a-kind program

Unlike most traditional programs that use textbooks as the core learning material, the ReMAP program combines textbooks with real case study data from major companies. Program Director Sara Pitterle stresses the importance of using real data to apply the concepts covered in lectures. “When you use real business data things can get messy, because sometimes the answer isn’t clear-cut, and frequently there is not just one right answer.”

Students consider customer information, consumer attitudes and opinions, geographic location, and sales information. While analyzing the data, students look for patterns and trends. As Pitterle described, “Students use all the available data to develop a compelling story about the customers, the sales trends and areas of opportunity for the company.”

Now a senior, Nelson has found analyzing the data a challenge. “You work long hours to find a solution or recommendation and then you have to present it to the company, which is extremely nerve-racking,” she said.

Present it? That’s right; the students have to present the results in front of the decision makers of the company. “The networking opportunity of these presentations alone is huge. How often is it that an undergraduate student gets to discuss company growth and recommendations with top decision makers?” Nelson said.  

Having what it takes

With such unique opportunities available, the program is highly competitive. “Since each cohort can only accept approximately 20 students, we look for applicants who possess strong quantitative skills and have good academic standing. We also select students who have a sense of curiosity, a desire to understand the "why", responsibility, and self-confidence,” explained Pitterle.

For Nelson, being in the UMD honors program and taking advantage of intramural teams on campus, provided her with a solid foundation to be competitive in the selection process.

Landing the internship

A critical piece of the program is the required internship. Pitterle said, “This is where students find out if analytics is what they can see themselves doing after graduation.”

Students in the program apply for internships with companies such as Hormel, maurices, Target, Schwans, and Best Buy. Nelson explained, “I chose to apply at maurices in their e-commerce department because I’ve always really liked fashion, and their headquarters are located in Duluth."

The program prepares the students for the challenging application process by providing guidance on their resumes, cover letters, and interviewing skills. Nelson said,"I had to go through two rounds of interviews for my internship, which challenged me, but I did well because I was prepared.” 

Taking learning to the next level

Receiving the internship is one thing, but excelling in the internship is another.  For Nelson, starting her summer internship at maurices, analyzing e-commerce performance, was an eye-opening experience.

It was tough at first, but Nelson quickly learned how to adapt to the environment. She explained, “I had all these meetings to attend, and I didn’t really know all the terminology that my co-workers were using.”

Program paves a path for big dreams

In December 2015, Nelson will graduate from UMD with a major in statistics and a minor in ReMAP. Although she chose to make a drastic change to her major, she still managed to cut a semester out of her four-year track.

What’s in store next for Nelson? “Ideally it would be great to continue what I’m doing at maurices, and then eventually go to grad school to get my masters,” she said.

Pitterle explains that the program has a strong job outlook, which helps explain the program's impressive job placement rates.

With more businesses looking to analytics for recommendations and solutions, this program promises to graduate prepared and experienced students, like Mary Nelson.


For more information, visit the Retail Marketing Analytics Program website

Written by Elise Viger, July 2015.

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