Six women who shaped retail

From the first-ever computer programmer to the most successful kids' author of all time, these women affected the retail industry in profound ways.

Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters
'Harry Potter' author J.K. Rowling.

International Women's Day is today, March 8. So we're taking a look back at some of the most influential women in business, engineering, and design who changed the way we shop.

From the first-ever computer programmer to the most successful kids' author of all time, these women affected the retail industry in profound ways — whether that was inspiring the birth of online shopping or reforming an entire industry with a young, bespectacled wizard.

6 Women Who Revolutionized Retail

Ada Lovelace

Credited as the first-ever computer programmer, Countess Ada Lovelace was a pioneer in scientific computing. While working on Charles Babbage's proposed Analytical Engine in the 1840s, she developed the first computer algorithm. This work helped derive the basis upon which all modern computing was established, including the now-simple script that allows you to buy cat food on Amazon.

The transition from brick-and-mortar shopping to online retail has been the greatest change the retail industry ever underwent. In December, a study by the Pew Research Center showed that 79% of Americans have shopped online, with 43% of those surveyed shopping "weekly" or a "few times a month." So if we're looking to people who have changed the way we shop, few have had more influence than this woman — whose poet father was supposedly disappointed when she wasn't born a "glorious boy."

Annie Malone

Born in 1869 to formerly enslaved parents, Annie Malone is regarded as the mother of African-American hair care and cosmetics. Before Annie Malone's Poro line found success, black beauty products were largely ignored by major firms. So, preceding the famed Madam C. J. Walker, Malone became one of the first black female millionaires with her beauty empire.

Perhaps Malone's greatest legacy is Poro College, in which she established the first educational institution in the U.S. dedicated to the study and teaching of black cosmetology. The school reportedly graduated over 75,000 students worldwide, with franchised outlets in North and South America, Africa, and the Philippines.

J.K. Rowling

Over 500 million Harry Potter books have now been sold in 67 languages worldwide, making it the best-selling book series of all time. J.K. Rowling and the boy wizard's success have not just had a powerful cultural impact on mainstream fiction, but it's also made Rowling the first billionaire author. What's more, the series' success transformed the publishing industry in what is referred to as "The Harry Potter Effect."

In 2005, just ahead of the release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the sixth book in the series, UK bookseller Waterstones conducted an analysis of the series' effect on the publishing industry. It found that in the previous five years, the number of new kids' books released every month had increased tenfold. Although the industry was also in decline before Potter mania hit in 1997, sales of all other kids' books experienced 2% year-on-year growth after the first book's success. Rowling went on to smash numerous publishing records — in fact, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows would become the fastest-selling book in history.

Cher Wang

Few women have influenced the tech industry as successfully as Cher Wang. As co-founder and CEO of consumer electronics brand HTC, Wang oversaw the development of the first-ever smartphone to run the Android operating system in 2008, as well as the first 3G-capable and 4G-capable phones.

In a bid to return the recently financially unstable HTC to profitability, Wang outlined her aim to shift the company's focus to virtual reality (VR) technology in 2016. This would make her a key figure in the future of gaming and retail, with VR set to transform every aspect of the tech world. The company has created a $100 million accelerator program in San Francisco, Beijing, and Taipei in order to create more content for its HTC Vive and speed up advancements in VR technology. Recently, over 27,000 gaming professionals at the Game Developers Conference voted to name the HTC Vive as the VR headset of choice ahead of its main competitor, the Oculus Rift.

Juanita M. Kreps

A writer, businesswomen, and women's rights activist, Dr. Juanita Morris Kreps' influence on the modern retail industry has been massive, most notably for her role in opening trade relations between the U.S. and China. After serving as director of the New York Stock Exchange, Eastman Kodak, and JCPenney, Kreps went on to become the first female U.S. Secretary of Commerce under Jimmy Carter. It was in this role in 1979 that Kreps guided negotiations to open a ground-breaking trade relationship between the U.S. and China. China is now the nation's largest trade partner and the third largest receiver of U.S. exports, after Canada and Mexico.

The Kardashians/Jenners

Love or loathe the Kardashian/Jenner empire, you can't deny or escape the family's influence on retail. Kim, Kourtney, Khloe, Kylie, and Kendall have all expertly utilized social media to monetize their lives, from the shoes they wear to the tea they drink. Wielding social media clout like few others on this planet, the young women of the Kardashian/Jenner dynasty can make or break a company in 140 characters.

The Apple App Store reportedly crashed within minutes of launching "Kimojis" in 2016 (Kim Kardashian emojis), as it was overwhelmed by 9,000 attempted downloads per millisecond. Money Maker reported in October that Kylie Jenner, at the age of 19, had grossed $8.7 million from branded merchandise, including her infamous Lip Kits. Khloé also joined the record-breaking ranks just last month as her Good American denim line raked in over $1 million in sales in its first day. These are just a few examples that show the massive influence that the Kardashian-Jenners have on the current marketplace, and how they've expertly monetized the American Dream like no others.

This story originally appeared on DealNews.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Six women who shaped retail
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today