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: 07/22/2020

    How can retailers cope with anxiety about the future?

    The most important advice here is to seek out new opportunities vs succumbing to fear. This is the time for retailers of any size to innovate, re-invent, and re-evaluate your customer experience. The moment you assume the outcome will be dreadful is the moment you have succumbed to the fear and lost all hope. Seek out those opportunities with your customer as the focus and hope will rise again. The point is, if you stand by and do nothing, or decide to "wait it out" then you won't be on the winning end of the outcome. Bob makes a number of excellent suggestions in this article!
  • Posted on: 07/22/2020

    Will Walmart, Target, Kroger and other chains fix America’s plastic bag problem?

    This is a step in the right direction. As an industry, retailers need to come together to solve the plastic problem -- no one else is going to do it for them. The more retailers that support this initiative the better the odds that the consortium will be able to find an alternative. In the meantime, perhaps more retailers need to consider the paper bag options available to them in place of plastic until a better option becomes available.
  • Posted on: 07/22/2020

    It is a different year. Walmart is closing on Thanksgiving.

    Walmart is on a streak of wise, amazing decisions that show how they care about their employees and customers. This is yet another example. The Black Friday/Thanksgiving madness pendulum is finally swinging back in the other direction -- back to promoting family, safety, and frankly, sanity. With 2020 proving to be the year of online shopping, this is a sign that expectations for this year's holiday shopping season will be different than past years. Doorbuster sales that encourage massive crowds at the entrance to a Walmart simply won't work this year, and Walmart is taking a double-win here by closing on Thanksgiving (and therefore automatically encouraging online sales) and rewarding store associates with a well-earned break to spend more time with their families. Contrast this with what we hear and see (or don't) from Amazon. Thanksgiving isn't supposed to be about wild shopping trips. It's for families to spend time together -- thank you to Walmart for recognizing that this year. I expect many other retailers will follow their lead this holiday season as shoppers favor online shopping vs store visits.
  • Posted on: 07/21/2020

    Can Trader Joe’s shake off its racist branding tag?

    Trader Joe's is making a good branding decision and is unlikely to see any damage from this, given their strong loyal customer following. If anything, this may bring the brand to the attention of shoppers who had yet to visit a Trader Joe's and now may do so.
  • Posted on: 07/21/2020

    Google breaks into mobile video shopping

    Video shopping, online, and in bite-size chunks -- unlike TV shopping networks -- has a tremendous opportunity ahead. Videos showing how you use a product and why you want it can go a long way to building desirability and loyalty. I expect we will see significant investment in this selling technique in the months and years to come. Social media selling gets an upgrade with a more structured approach to video with influencers and brands. Consumers are ready to embrace this as a natural extension to already growing online shopping habits as they continue to be nervous about visiting stores during a pandemic.
  • Posted on: 07/20/2020

    Why does it take a crisis for retailers to get innovative?

    Risk aversion leads to complacency, causing retailers to believe they can wait to innovate. They don't realize that they have to change their mindset to one of constant innovation. The pandemic accelerated many trends that already existed. Retailers that were already innovating around those trends are the ones surviving, while those that were still waiting for a reason to innovate are now finding ways to innovatively explain why they are filing for bankruptcy. Part of the reason for this is having so many retailer executives who have been in retail more years than they can remember and (back to that complacency issue) don't feel an urgent need to change their ways. They would rather find a way to innovate within the boundaries they are used to, rather than embrace new ways of doing things. Independent retailers tend to be much better at this as are DTCs. There is a reason we call those that disrupt retail "disruptors"!
  • Posted on: 07/17/2020

    Should workers accept pay cuts in exchange for working remotely?

    I find this argument only holds water when we're talking about one specific scenario - a worker currently living and working in a high cost of living region, say, San Francisco, becomes a remote worker and decides to move to a low cost of living region, say the middle of Nebraska. Most workers aren't likely to do this - they'll keep living in the same region as their office, so the math just doesn't support this. Plus, the employer is likely to benefit from reduced office expenses over time so if their costs are lower, why penalize the employee?
  • Posted on: 07/17/2020

    Is retail’s contactless future here now?

    Consumers have discovered how convenient contactless payments are during the pandemic and we can expect this to be one habit with strong lasting power. It's faster, secure, and exudes convenience in a world where convenience is still king for the consumer. The pandemic has simply accelerated adoption for this technology and it is here to stay. Although the science may be shifting away from surfaces driving infection of the coronavirus in this pandemic, consumers have become more health and germ conscious than ever before so touching surfaces in retail environments has a different connotation for most consumers now. Will this be the end of touchscreens in retail? In the near-term, yes, I see this issue remaining, but I expect surface treatments will convince consumers to start using them again. However that won't change how convenient consumers find contactless payments.
  • Posted on: 07/17/2020

    Struggling retailers lay off workers and pay millions in executive bonuses

    Your company is flailing and/or dying, you're laying off thousands of frontline workers, eliminating thousands of corporate jobs, so what's your brilliant action to turn around the business? Pay your top executives millions in bonuses? Talk about tone-deaf optics - it's just bad and there's no way to rationalize it. These acts really cause people to ask, where is the oversight from the boards? Sure these payouts are almost certainly coming from contractually bound terms arrived at when those execs were hired, but a little bit of common sense goes a long way. At a minimum, if you're filing Chapter 11, come up with a way to defer those bonuses until after the turnaround. Then optically, it would look like rewarding good leadership. Paying them out now is the opposite of good oversight and decision making. It's no wonder many of these retailers are talked about as having poor leadership when it comes to customer-facing aspects of their business when these are the sort of decisions being made in the boardroom.
  • Posted on: 07/15/2020

    Are subscriptions a winning strategy to get through the pandemic?

    Yes, no question subscription services should be considered by brands and retailers, but that doesn't make it a guaranteed winning solution. Success depends on how much value is perceived for the item(s) your customer is subscribing to. Ultimately this works because human beings don't perceive expenses over time very well, meaning they lose track of recurring subscriptions and end up paying for them without thinking about what they are getting. The classic example is gym memberships, where less than a quarter of paying members regularly use the facility (even pre-COVID-19!). However that assumes the consumer associates an intrinsic value to the items under subscription. This works exceptionally well for streaming media and intangible items (take gym memberships again). This means brands and retailers need to test this out. I'm most impressed with the news that meal kit services appear to be growing again as a result of the pandemic, although I do wonder if those are just consumers experimenting and trying them out - it remains to be seen if they stick around. And if you need an example of how this doesn't work well as a counterpoint, just look at Quibi in streaming media!
  • Posted on: 07/15/2020

    Did Amazon just put its Go technology in a shopping cart?

    I see this as another experiment by Amazon for an alternative to scaling the Just Walk Out technology from Go stores. It's interesting to see Amazon iterate on its checkout-free technology where each version allows for a larger basket size. Go stores were pure c-store and assumed the customer would just buy a few things and walk out - the ultimate in convenience. The Amazon Go grocery store we most recently saw was likely designed for a full grocery bag sized purchase. These Dash Carts are designed for two grocery bags. All of these versions imply consumers will regularly frequent the store to buy groceries vs. an approach many have adopted during the pandemic where they buy many bags of groceries to last them a week or two. Each iteration is a step forward to a full line grocery shopping experience and incrementally improves on their technology. I expect these are intentional in that Amazon's vision of that "big" grocery haul is for customers to rely on Amazon Fresh-type delivery every week or two for pantry and shelf-stable items, with fill-in visits to Go and Amazon grocery stores using Dash Carts to buy produce and fresh meats. That also implies some gaps in real estate that Amazon needs to fill to manage a high volume of fulfillment for those online orders. Anyone see a strategy forming where it might make sense to buy a department store like J.C. Penney for its real estate? Of course, we also don't have any info on deployment costs to compare each version of the technology and that would be an important factor for anyone to adopt this technology (and Amazon is certainly not the only game in town for smart carts as we saw during this year's NRF show).
  • Posted on: 07/14/2020

    Bed Bath & Beyond banks on private brands

    It's great to see BB&B management focusing on developing a real plan to turn the retailer around. They are stuck in a difficult place with competitors like Amazon, Target, Walmart, and others on one end making it easier to shop with them for commoditized items. Then on the other end of the spectrum, they have specialty stores like Williams Sonoma and Crate and Barrel competing for higher-end and specialty products where brand recognition matters more and customers have a different expectation of quality. BB&B needs to decide how they fit into their customers' lives compared to these other retailers. Should they be the go-to for the college-bound student outfitting their dorm room or apartment? Are they the default place couples go to set up a gift registry? Are they the value option to those specialty retailers on the high-end? Or a one-stop-shop for commoditized items that otherwise require multiple trips to Target or Walmart? Once BB&B can answer these questions they will be on a better path to success.
  • Posted on: 07/14/2020

    What will retail’s back-to-school season look like this year?

    While BTS will be a good bellwether for retail sales, it's going to be a hot mess, with a combination of last-minute shopping as many parents wait and see what their school systems and colleges end up doing for in-class vs. online vs. hybrid learning and retailers try to second-guess what mix of supplies, electronics, and everything else parents will want to buy. Overall, I expect sales to be flat compared to last year, but specific categories will outperform others. Electronics may be up, while apparel will likely be down. Typical school supplies are just as needed, no matter where learning happens, so those should be stable. What will be interesting are sales of dorm room items college-bound students typically need/want - will parents be as willing to spend on those items if they don't know what to expect? Especially for parents concerned about their financial stability this year. That may be the most exciting segment to watch.
  • Posted on: 07/13/2020

    Is Uber/Postmates a bigger deal for restaurant or grocery delivery?

    I am not sure how sustainable long-term these delivery services really are. Plus the costs for the restaurants (or grocery stores if we're talking grocery delivery options) are too high and therefore not sustainable as well. If the idea is to move into more a pure marketplace model, a la Amazon, then we would envision the restaurant equivalent of a buy button that commodities the food order itself, and forces restaurants to compete for customers on price rather than on the type and quality of their menu. Is that the model consumers want? Somehow I doubt it, but it seems to be headed that way.
  • Posted on: 07/13/2020

    Starbucks becomes latest retailer to make masks mandatory

    Smart move by Starbucks! This should never have been a debate or a political issue if there were proper leadership at the Federal level. The data shows that the worst countries in the world right now with increasing virus numbers are the ones with inconsistent mask mandates. As many of us have said here before, ultimately retail locations are private property. If the retailer chooses to have a policy of "no shirt, no shoes, no mask, no service" then so be it, as it appears corporate America must take the leadership role in trying to flatten the curve so we might all be able to go out one day without worrying about masks or no masks.

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