Best Buy snags Starbucks tech guru

March 9, 2012, 1:00 PM UTC

FORTUNE — Stephen Gillett, the Starbucks chief information officer who revamped the retailer’s technological approach to selling coffee, is joining electronics giant Best Buy. The 36-year-old former college football player is charged with no small task: helping Best Buy go up against Amazon while continuing to sell products in brick-and-mortar stores.

Gillett joins Best Buy (BBY) Monday as president of the company’s digital business, including its online stores, as well as replicating the information-systems responsibilities he held at Starbucks (SBUX). At the Seattle coffee company Gillett was instrumental in offering free wireless Internet service to customers as well as allowing payment by smartphones. The moves were credited with being a part of the rejuvenation of the customer experience at Starbucks under CEO Howard Schultz. In recognition of his efforts, Fortune named Gillett to its list of 40 top executives under age 40 in 2010.

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Best Buy’s challenge is to stave off competition from online-only retailers, notably Amazon (AMZN). The Minneapolis-based company’s e-commerce  site has  been slow to keep up with Amazon’s innovation as it has sought to protect its big-box franchise. Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn said Best Buy’s success lies in embracing both sales formats. He has sought to add more choices on and to reduce the overall square footage of Best Buy’s stores. “My passionate belief is that neither physical nor digital will be enough,” he said Thursday. He also named Gillett to head digital strategy and marketing.

Gillett said Best Buy will marry digital and physical retailing in a “harmonious way” that will redefine the gold standard for both formats. “Kudos to Amazon for they’ve done,” said Gillett, who may be the only top Fortune 500 executive to brag about being a “guild master” in Activision Blizzard’s (ATVI) World of Warcraft online video game. “But if a coffee company can go through a technical renaissance, Best Buy can accomplish this e-commerce and physical combination.”

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