PROFILE

Ricardo Belmar

Sr Director, Retail Transformation Specialist, Infovista
As brands in the retail, CPG, and supply chain industries accelerate their digital transformation via collaborative, mobile, and cloud-based applications, the need to deliver the best user experience to all users and customers across all devices is ever increasing. Ricardo helps these organizations create business value from technology investments by optimizing their enterprise network and applications to deliver omnichannel customer experiences and drive digital revenue. As Senior Director for Global Enterprise Marketing and Retail Transformation Specialist at Infovista, Ricardo develops the marketing strategy for Infovista’s enterprise solutions, leveraging 20+ years of industry experience to help retail and supply chain enterprises protect digital revenue. Ricardo is a top industry influencer in retail, consumer goods, banking, payments, and restaurant industries on technology trends via Twitter and LinkedIn and is regularly a Top 10 social media influencer at the annual NRF show. He was named Social Media Mayor at the 2015 Retail Executive Summit, the 2015 ENGAGE Summit, the 2016 RetailTech Conference, and the 2018 Retail Experience Summit. He conducts frequent video interviews of senior executives from retail, banking, and restaurant brands and industry analysts and is frequently interviewed by retail publications and podcasts. Ricardo has been a director of the ICX Association and is a supporter of the RetailROI charity organization. For more information, visit: www.infovista.com/digital-transformation
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  • Posted on: 06/05/2020

    The face mask rule is now simply a suggestion at some H-E-B stores

    That's an interesting comparison, Gene. Especially since there appears to be little effort in areas that are re-opening to enabling reliable contact tracing should the numbers trend upward too much. If we had that kind of mandated tracing, the policies for re-opening could be more relaxed.
  • Posted on: 06/05/2020

    The face mask rule is now simply a suggestion at some H-E-B stores

    Last I checked, we're still in the middle, not at the end, of a pandemic. From a purely health and safety point of view, we continue to lack scientific proof that we've somehow overcome the crisis we started with in March. Sure, some places are showing decreases in cases and deaths from coronavirus, but others are still on the rise, and it's starting to look like the regions that opened up early are the ones showing the rise. Now isn't the time to ease up on the most basic, and let's face it, easiest, of restrictions. Wearing a mask is far easier to tolerate than asking a business that depends on traffic, say, a restaurant, to operate at 25 percent capacity. The wearing of masks has been made political by politicians who want to promote their own economic agenda with a total disregard for public health. Not by consumers. Consumers are just reacting to this. However, if you asked those consumers who refuse to wear a mask, would they be OK if the butcher at the grocery store didn't wear gloves or didn't wash their hands after they sneeze while cutting your meat- I bet they would be upset. So if the goal is to re-open stores, and allow more traffic to those stores so the economy can rebuild, why can't everyone accept minimal inconveniences to accomplish this? Isn't it better than keeping everything closed as the alternative? As to H-E-B, I believe they are reacting to the reality of asking the everyday store associate, who is likely barely earning a wage that keeps them financially going, to act as security and police force at the store entrance without any special training or support to do so. It's a potentially dangerous situation those associates are being put in, and there aren't any good answers to help them if local governments don't back them up with standard enforcement policies. If the Texas state government isn't willing to provide that backing, then how successfully can H-E-B expect those employees to enforce the policy? The real tragedy here is that the mask policy is really helping the store associates who work a full day in the store much more than the customers that walk in the door and leave an hour later. Perhaps the consumers who refuse to wear a mask should consider that point.
  • Posted on: 06/05/2020

    The face mask rule is now simply a suggestion at some H-E-B stores

    Excellent summary all around, Jason. Well said. I haven't heard anyone complain about it being their right to not wear shoes into a store. How is a mask somehow harder to accept? As I've said in previous RetailWire discussions if wearing a mask could save one life (either another customer or a store associate) why wouldn't you accept a minor inconvenience to do so?
  • Posted on: 06/05/2020

    Will the post-COVID-19 world be less global?

    Agility and diversity are the two supply chain lessons coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, not anti-globalization or localization to the extreme. Consumers today, whether realizing it or not, have been fully benefiting from globalization and global supply chains for years. Just ask any iPhone or other smartphone user. Expecting retailers and brands to suddenly shift away from globalization and restore all of their operations for shorter, local supply chains is unrealistic. We saw plenty of evidence of local supply chains being disrupted (look at the meat supply in supermarkets) during the pandemic to disprove that theory. The real lesson supply chain managers are learning is that they need to be more agile in adjusting their sourcing during a crisis, and they need built-in diversity in their supply chain so that if one source, say, China, is suddenly disrupted and shutdown, they can shift to another source around the world. Globalization in supply chains is about choice, and removing that choice would only make things worse in the long term. Will retailers look more carefully at their sourcing in the future? Yes, they will, it would be foolish not to, but the end goal will be more choices not fewer. Not to mention that during the pandemic the dramatically increased use of video-based communication tools (everyone knows what you mean now when you say "I have a Zoom call") has compensated to make the world feel closer rather than further away.
  • Posted on: 06/03/2020

    Can outdoor dining save restaurants?

    Outdoor dining areas are a partial solution. Yes it will appeal to consumers, but will it enable most restaurants to serve enough diners to make a profit? Probably not. It's a capacity game at the end of the day, Restaurants need the dining capacity to bring their sales up to a level that covers their costs. Much like stores carry a high cost for retailers when they can only provide curbside pickup and delivery, restaurants are equally challenged when their expensive space isn't used to provide the services and products they offer - in this case, food service. In a separate discussion, we talked about dark stores, and there has been much talk about dark kitchens in our futures where those kitchens do not serve a dining area but only a delivery/pickup service. Unfortunately, current restaurants aren't set up to work in that way. Outdoor dining will alleviate some of the pain restaurants are feeling, but I fear we will still lose many of them long-term.
  • Posted on: 06/03/2020

    Lowe’s ‘virtually’ goes on the job for home improvement pros

    Excellent solution by Lowe's! Supporting contractors has primarily been the domain of Home Depot and Lowe's needed a way to differentiate themselves in the eyes of those contractors/professionals. A great innovation and use of multiple technologies that really serves a need for both the pro and their customer and entices the pro to become a loyal Lowe's customer in return. This solution will be very welcome during these times of social distancing and other pandemic concerns, but will also serve those same pros well in the future and likely help them grow their business and customer loyalty as well!
  • Posted on: 06/03/2020

    Is the future of retailing going dark?

    Leveraging "dark stores," aka micro fulfillment centers, has entered the spotlight as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yes, this is a definitive trend that I expect more and more retailers to implement, however, there may be an unintended side effect to this of further expanding the bifurcation of retail. Why? Retailers on the high end (defined as those with strong sales) are more likely to have the necessary technology in place to handle this. Make no mistake, this isn't an easy task - it takes careful handling of customer data and inventory data to properly calculate what merchandise to stage at what location to fulfill customer expectations. Then you need the right tech infrastructure - order management systems, upgraded data networks, and so on to ensure accuracy. The last outcome a retailer needs in this scenario is to have to cancel an order or upset a customer because they didn't have the one item they wanted in stock out of a three-item order. Smaller retailers, independents, and retailers caught in the middle of the market (who likely are not enjoying strong sales right now) are less likely to have the capabilities needed to enable this approach. So what happens to those retailers? Perhaps they can take a page out of the DTC and DNVB playbook and look for third-party micro fulfillment services that are emerging to help them. Ultimately this is an area we could see many 3PLs develop offerings for and, to some degree, Amazon is doing this for their marketplace sellers, as is Shopify. Again, these services are meant to help the "little guys" and DTC brands, so the question of how retailer in the middle leverage this without the in-house expertise remains unless they find ways to leverage these new services. Lastly, I will say this isn't the ultimate end-game for most retailers. It's one option among many and the one key learning retailers should have coming out of the pandemic is that it's all about having options for the customer. Depending on what product categories you serve, those options will vary, but there will likely be a combination of micro-fulfillment with curbside pickup and delivery services in most retailers' futures.
  • Posted on: 06/02/2020

    Nordstrom crushes inventory optimization

    Kudos to Nordstrom for having the agility to best use all of their sales channels to effectively reduce inventory even if at the expense of margins. This puts them in a better position coming out of store lockdowns. Even more importantly, Nordstrom was able to enable new omnichannel capabilities by fulfilling more orders from their stores, where much of that extra inventory was located. In a way, this is right out of the Target playbook. These new fulfillment options at both Nordstrom and Rack stores will help them as stores re-open to encourage consumers to shop with them across channels. Other retailers, especially apparel retailers, should follow this playbook. Fulfilling from their stores in the near term is the only way they will be able to move inventory, however, as Nordstrom experienced, this carries a short-term price -- lower margins, which each organization will have to accept and account for in their planning.
  • Posted on: 06/02/2020

    Do retailers need to go beyond ‘reopening playbooks’?

    It's one thing to be very detailed and transparent about what your plan is to ensure people feel safe in your stores, but it's another to prove that you are following those procedures and ensure compliance at all levels. Yes, many retailers have done a great job telling customers what they will be doing, but now is the time, as stores are reopening, to be equally transparent about compliance with those guidelines in a visible way. Store ops need to place proper tracking mechanisms in place for stores to document all of the procedures are being followed as planned. This is both for the benefit of employees as much as customers.
  • Posted on: 06/02/2020

    Will dollar stores be the biggest post-COVID-19 winners?

    During difficult economic times, consumers look to maximize the value for their dollar - exactly the formula dollar stores deliver. Until we reach the other side of the pandemic crisis, many consumers will look for social distancing when they shop. An easy in and out access to the store, close to home locations, and smaller store footprints are all conducive to these needs. So long as people are insecure about their financial position both dollar store chains will be in a good position for growth. The key for these stores will be to maintain stocked shelves and prevent any perception that they cannot deliver the products consumers want.
  • Posted on: 05/28/2020

    Do retailers need ‘trickle up economics’ to beat COVID-19?

    I agree with Mark Cuban's key point -- consumer demand is what will drive the economy, Yes, one could argue that opening stores and businesses need to happen first for consumers to spend, but before that, consumers need two things: 1) To feel secure in their own financial situation. That includes "simple" things like rent, mortgage payments, food, all before they run off to buy expensive smartphones, cars, or jewelry. (To think that economic experts are shocked about this is more telling than anything else). 2) To feel safe that their own health and the health of others around them will not be compromised. And yes, if that means seeing people wearing masks, then that's what it will take. No amount of stimulus of any kind is going to change this sentiment. Without those two things, consumer demand won't be there. Expecting a trickle-down approach to work is foolishness -- it hasn't worked any time before it was tried, why should it now? The stimulus checks to consumers likely covered no more than a couple of weeks for most people. Giving big businesses free money to help them survive hasn't caused any of them to pass the dollars down to their employees, did it? As other have pointed out here, the New Deal is an example of the right kind of "stimulus." It's not easy, it's complicated, and it requires proper oversight and management, but it solves multiple problems -- gets the unemployed working for a decent wage, delivers contracts to businesses to keep them running (and the surrounding services businesses that will see new orders from those newly working employees), and could even fix aging infrastructure. Talk about a win-win-win. There just are no easy solutions to a very complex problem brought on by a once in a lifetime health crisis. To expect you can solve that crisis with a quick fix is just not going to happen.
  • Posted on: 05/28/2020

    Will Facebook Shops launch social commerce into the mainstream?

    It's becoming more and more difficult to predict what consumers will do in a post-pandemic world or even in a re-opening of retail world during the pandemic, but Facebook Shops could be a game-changer for smaller retailers and young DTC brands who have struggled to survive during the lockdown phase of this crisis. Shopify retailers would seem to be a no-brainer for this type of social commerce and I expect those retailers to jump on board quickly. How will this fare compared to Amazon's advertising marketplace is anyone's guess, but a big part of how successful Facebook will be with this is consumer sentiment towards the Facebook brand. They continue to see a lot of negative press lately, although in past instances that did not do much to dull consumer appetite for Facebook services. For larger retailers I see this as another sales channel they'll want to explore to see how their customers react to it, but I think it's more suitable to smaller retailers and could give them quite a sales lift in the future. Assuming Facebook's promise of making this easy for those retailers to integrate with their existing commerce platforms.
  • Posted on: 05/28/2020

    Retailers focus on making safe spaces for customers and associates

    Communication is the new engagement. Customers want and need to know and understand what retailers are doing to maintain health and safety of both their workers and customers before they shop in-store. It doesn't matter what your position is on masks vs no masks, or any of the other various issues -- if they are not communicated thoroughly and effectively to consumers, then retailers cannot expect to see customers flowing into their stores. Communication of course takes multiple forms. Yes, all the information around what you are doing to clean and sanitize your store needs to be on your website and posted very visibly at the entrance to your store. Yes, it should be emailed to your database. Yes, it should be posted to your social channels. Consumers want to see a minimum safety standard in your store. This would be easier with a universal standard defined by a health authority like the CDC and endorsed by the government, but, there's little hope we'll see this now. Plus, if you have stores in 48 states, it's very likely you'll have to have 50 variations of your policies because this is very much a local issue vs nationwide. The minimum in New York City or Los Angeles is not going to be the same as Little Rock or Des Moines. And in between those there will be even more variation. What should retailers consider as the best minimum option? Anything that visibly demonstrates in the store you are cleaning and sanitizing the environment. Masks, and possibly gloves, for store associates so you show that you are protecting them. Plexi shields to protect cashiers are another safe practice. Masks for customers may vary by geography. Realistically you should be suggesting them for customers at a minimum, but in more risky areas, you should be requiring them. There is no way to please everyone, but you have to err on the side of what is most safe for the broadest set of customers. This is still a health crisis after all, not a political one!
  • Posted on: 05/28/2020

    Retailers focus on making safe spaces for customers and associates

    You've summed it up quite nicely, Gene. One important point that can't be overstated -- a big part of the reason why you're trusting those major retailers is that they are over-communicating their plans. Kroger releasing their blueprint for business under this new normal is but one example. As I've started saying over and over to many people in retail -- communication is the new engagement. It's what consumers want, and that's regardless of their political position on these issues. Consumers want and need, to know exactly what a retailer plans to do and know that they are executing on that plan.
  • Posted on: 05/27/2020

    Bookstores could be in store for a post-lockdown boom

    Gene, I'd say an independent bookstore just oozes quirkiness, flair, and originality. Attribute it to human nature in that we all seek out uniqueness. Books by their nature seem to infuse people with a sense of uniqueness, intrigue, and mystery, coupled with knowledge. They invite exploration - and those stores are a reflection of this combined with the local culture overall. I'm not the least bit surprised by your habit!

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