My Career Choice: Allison Nevin McCabe – Data Loves Instinct

After graduating from Wellesley College with an economics major, Allison Nevin McCabe began working for a major department store group, then an international woman’s specialty store group, before pivoting into guiding start ups and less traditional merchandising models. “I have loved every minute,” she says. “Life without change is boring.” Business travel took her to London, Paris, Florence, Milan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Osaka, Bangkok, New Delhi and Karachi. Through it all, she learned that the human connection is critical and that there’s always room for improving business practices. 

“My career path has been focused and intentionally multifaceted, maximizing every opportunity to broaden my expertise,” Allison explains. “Each step has been taken with the total customer experience in mind, from the aesthetics of product presentation in every channel, to assortment building led by market trends and category analysis, wrapped in revenue and profitability increases.  With that has also come a hardwired commitment to leading and developing my teams and collaborating closely with both internal and external business partners.”

The world of merchandising continues to evolve and Allison is now using her decades of experience to help companies and startups succeed in this competitive environment. Her blog,, is filled with information. And she’s available – and willing – to work one-on-one with those who need a skilled guide through the retail jungle. “Creative problem solving is what drives me,” she says. “Simplify is my mantra.” To contact Allison, go to her blog or email her at

Can you point to one event that triggered your interest in your career?
During the job interviewing process in college, I realized that a life behind a desk evaluating numbers only would be far too dry for me despite my economics major. Creativity and color had always been part of my life and it needed to be part of what I did every day. So I applied for a department store training program as well as insurance and banking.

What about this career choice did you find most appealing?
The fact that I would be working with physical products creatively and visually as well as analysis. Right brain and left brain are both important to me.

What steps did you take to begin your education or training?
Starting as an economics major, helped to train my thought process toward fact based decisions. Joining a company with a training program was key to my theoretical development. Along with that, I continue to read pertinent publications to increase my awareness.

Along the way, were people encouraging or discouraging?
For the most part, people were supportive. Occasionally one encounters that individual that seems to thrive on negative feedback, but those storms can be weathered if one truly enjoys the work and knows the personality challenge is a point in time.

Did you ever doubt your decision and attempt a career change?
During my first year which was very physical and not the least bit glamorous, I took some time to evaluate the investment world. A few interviews reinforced the lack of visual and creative aspects so I recommitted to the world of merchandising and never looked back.

When did your career reach a tipping point?
In my early 40s, there were some personality headwinds that were difficult. I faced into them with directness, fact and determination and ended up with one of my favorite roles. Since then, there have been a few other curve balls, but that experience gave me confidence that anything can be weathered.

Can you describe a challenge you had to overcome?
The biggest challenge to date is my current situation. Merchandising has been in a state of flux especially in the last 10 years. There is an assumption in the job world that experience equals lack of flexibility. As a lifetime learner that is simply not true, but it is a bit of an uphill climb to find my next full time role. In that pursuit I continue to network extensively both inside and outside of retail, achieved Google analytics certification, and launched on WordPress. How often does one get the opportunity to dig deep into learning? Recently, I have been researching life on the selling floor now vs 30 years ago, by working as a sales associate during the holiday season. It is genuinely fun to re-engage with customers face to face, while at the same time seeing first hand how ecommerce has altered the customer experience.

What single skill has proven to be most useful?
Within my entire career creative problem solving combined with tenacity and tact.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Two things.

One, my greatest joy is my family. Even though I was back to work when each of my two sons were less than 10 weeks old, they still call me mom. My husband has been incredibly supportive of my pursuits, providing the lion’s share of day to day running of the household, coaching and chaperoning while I traveled 25% of the time. Am also very close to my parents and siblings despite geographic distance.

Two, career wise, the fact that I am still in contact with my first big boss, still mentoring previous employees and have been able to bring people along with me to new companies, means that we have added value to each other’s lives. That’s priceless.

Any advice for others entering your profession?
Do something you love. It will occupy most of your day. Should you think the world of fashion/merchandising is something you want to pursue, remember that it will take years to get to the fun part, so find the wins in every day. Be sure to do your research on the companies you’re investigating. Right now, the focus is on technology which will continue to be important. But the 360 degree customer experience requires connectivity.