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Top 5 Hottest Retail Tech Trends (RTS #38)

Episode #: 128
Top 5 Hottest Retail Tech Trends (RTS #38)

Guest: Ricardo Belmar
Topics: Retail trends, tech


Chris Ressa 0:02
This is retail retold the story of how that store ended up in your neighborhood. I’m your host, Chris ReSSA. And I invite you to join my conversation with some of the retail industry’s biggest influencers. This podcast is brought to you by DLC management

Welcome to retail retold everyone. Today I’m joined by Ricardo, Belmar, Ricardo has been in the retail tech space for over 20 years. He is currently the senior partner marketing advisor at Microsoft. He owns his own consulting firm called retail razor where he consults, retailers and anyone who’s looking to explore the retail tech space. I’m excited to be joined by Ricardo. Welcome, Ricardo.

Ricardo Belmar 0:55
Thanks, Chris. Happy to be here.

Ressa 0:56
Well, Ricardo, why don’t you tell us a little bit more about who you are and what you do. I think what you do at Microsoft is interesting. And I think that would be interesting for people to hear.

Belmar 1:05
So I recently joined Microsoft earlier this year in the partner organization as a partner marketing advisor for retail. And what that means is, I work with the Microsoft Partner Network and try to activate partners with all the Microsoft field teams, and really try to help all these folks get in front of retailers with their solutions and solve business challenges. You know, whether it’s in supply chain, customer experience, ecommerce, whatever aspect of retail operations, that is, we have partners that have solutions in that space built on Microsoft tech, and and it’s my job to help kind of connect the dots there, market those solutions for retailers and make them visible. So really, it’s all about growing that part of the business. And prior to Microsoft, I used to do a lot of other retail tech organizations that I work with ranging from managed service providers, to technology providers, I did some fun things with network technology to help make application performance better in stores for things like point of sale, tablet devices, any kind of technology running in the store. And then I’ve also done a lot of things where I’ve been an advisor to retail tech startups kind of trying to get into the business, particularly ones coming in from Europe trying to get into the US market.

Ressa 2:29
Where are you today? Where’s home, Ricardo?

Belmar 2:32
So I’m in the Washington DC area, just north of there in Maryland. I think probably some parts that you’re you’re not probably familiar with. And the Frederick Maryland area.

Ressa 2:42
You got it. I am. Let’s move to the next part of show. Thanks for our show, we call clear the air. I’ve got three questions for you more personal about you. You ready?

Belmar 2:50
I’m ready. All right.

Ressa 2:52
Question one. When is the last time you tried something for the first time?

Belmar 2:56
That’s a good one.

Well, let’s see, you know, an interesting one that sounds kind of small, but I really like it. So recently on a family vacation, and we went hiking, we were in the White Mountains area in New Hampshire. And we got to the top of this peak where we were hiking and we pick wild blueberries. Which was an interesting thing for me. My kids really enjoyed that. And they kind of gave us a fun snack on the back down as we hiked our way back down the mountain. How long did it take you to hike up? It’s about a 30 minute hike up? I think we took a slightly longer path down something a little more than that. Maybe 40 minute hike down incredible place. So very cool. All right. Question two. What is one thing most people agree with but you do not so interesting one here I very much disagree with a median narrative and retail about the retail apocalypse. That’s like one of my biggest things I think you’d have probably talked about this before sure that I’m very much opposed to that narrative. I don’t think that just because we see store closings call it a retail Apocalypse I think it’s a natural correction in the industry that maybe weren’t was needed in some cases, but a lot of good things happen in that I think work against that narrative. Me too glad you said it. Last question. What is one skill you don’t possess but wish you did? Hmm. So I would say one thing I’ve always wanted to get better at but but haven’t accomplished it yet. Would be video editing which probably sounds like a crazy thing. You might say just for based on the kind of work I do but I’m always fascinated by the kind of magic you can work in production work around video and I’ve always wanted to have that kind of skill set. That is one I can do very basic stuff but real nice productions that are high quality. Not my cup of tea for sure gets outsourced. I want to take us to the hardest show. We have a cool topic today. The five hottest trends in retail tech, according to Ricardo, Belmar, here’s what I want to do.

Ressa 4:59
I want to start with the bottom started from the bottom now we’re here. So start from the bottom with going five to one. All right, what is the fifth one?

Belmar 5:10
Frontline staff enablement. In other words, using tech to enable your frontline retail staff to help do their job better. I put this one at number five, I think that the pandemic has really shone a light on this, and really put frontline staff front and center. It’s always kind of been a bit of a cliche, I think in retail to say that you know that those store associates that interact with your customers are always the face of your brand. But in past years, it’s always been true that while we hear a lot of talk about investing in that stuff, investing in technology, investing and training, it always seems to fizzle out. Once we get past the first quarter of the calendar year and other investments take priority, I really feel that this one now is becoming one of the priorities. And I’ve even recently done some studies in this. I’ll have one coming out soon. That’s going to talk about that. So I put that as my number five and frontline staff technology enablement is definitely front and center and coming. I

Ressa 6:11
think that’s great. give the audience an example of what might be one application. That’s frontline staff technology enablement.

Belmar 6:19
Sure. So one of my favorites is, it’s called different things. Some people call it clienteling. I think of it as just having basic access to customer data on say, a mobile device, you know, a phone tablet, so I’m gonna mobile device that’s readily accessible for that store associate. In a way, that means, you know, let’s say that you’re in a store and yours, the customer, you ask for help, right? You want to know something about product, you know, that device can give the associate, not just access to product information that if the customer is willing, and not in a kind of a creepy privacy way, in a way that’s agreed upon, you get gives the associate access to say browsing history that that customers had on their website or previous purchase history. I think most customers, you know, when surveyed say that they wish the retailer would remember things they bought before when they’re at the store, and they’re talking to someone, so give staff access to that information on a device they’re carrying around. So that, you know, they have the opportunity to not only be knowledgeable about what they’re selling, but knowledgeable about what the customer wants, which is really what this is all about. So that that’s my favorite example of that I could go into others. But I think that’s, for me is a priority one that I think every retailer should be working towards.

Ressa 7:33
That’s a good one. I think for the consumer that is a big one on the return side, because they’re like, Oh,

do you have a receipt? Do you have the car that you used when you made the purchase? And I’m like, I don’t know what card I used when I made the purchase?

Belmar 7:45
Right? You tell me I bought it from you. Right?

Ressa 7:49
I’ll tell you one that I think would be excellent. We’re working toward it. However, walking up to an associate and saying, Where is x? And it being? Where they say it is? Sometimes it’s not for if it’s not there? Do you have any in the back? And they say we have two targets getting really good at this where I target I want to associate they’re like No, but we have it at the store here. You want me to call over and hold it for you. I was like, Yeah, do that. That’s great. Because I was dressing like a turkey for Thanksgiving for my two kids. And they were selling Turkey costumes. And the one by beating habit. But they told me the one I was like, yeah, if you told me it was three hours away, I gotta go do this. So I went and I got this. So I think there are they’re making headway. But that’s what I think that if we can roll that up scale would be bad. Yeah, I

Belmar 8:43
agree. Yeah, having that kind of inventory data, and precise location right within the store. I think those are also big ones. And and all that can be done right. The technology exists. There are lots of applications out there that can help do that. It’s all available, it just has to get implemented and put in the hands of those associates.

Ressa 9:01
Yep. All right. That’s great. That’s number five. All right, that’s number

Belmar 9:04
five. So number four, fulfillment and delivery services. So what do I mean by that? I mean, all of these great local delivery service that probably both you and I have gotten really used to over the last 18 months, whether it’s, you know, from names that we know as consumers like Instacart, Uber Eats and DoorDash and those folks to other fulfillment technologies that are new, that are both helping to work with that delivery, but making it easier for retailers to get the products in the hands of customers where and when the customer wants, rather than having everything be so centralized and distribution centers. So you know, one term that gets thrown around a lot is micro fulfillment centers. Over the last year, we’ve been a lot of fun stories, I think, in the media about dark stores. Which by the way, I’m not a particularly big fan, because I think there’s got to be better ways to spend your money on retail real estate than on a dark store that you want to have customers coming into it. But I think this that new technology that’s allowing retailers to either carve out space across the store footprint they have for just fulfillment services. You know, I think target you mentioned some of the things targets doing well, and I think they’ve really mastered this. You know, when I read the data from their financials that they’ve got, like, what is it 95% of their online orders are being fulfilled from stores? That’s just insane. But wow, what an accomplishment. I think other retailers are really striving to get to that point, if they can any retailer with a large historically, right, it’s got to be asking themselves right now. And if they’re not, they need to be, you know, how can I use that store footprint to better fulfill orders from customers, not just when they’re standing in the store and buying something off the floor. But also when you’re ordering online, and they want to come and pick it up and store your byline pickup and store is immensely popular now, along with curbside pickup, so having that ability to move product to the store footprint is so important now, and there are different fulfillment technologies coming around now to do that, because just having your regular store staff do that picking and packaging and putting everything together. For most retailers, that’s the costliest way to do it. Because that that person could probably be doing something more productive at that point, than just finding these items. So anything you can do that makes it either easier for that person to find an item and spend less time on the picking part less time on packaging something, all the better it is for the store operations. And that’s where a lot of these micro fulfillment technologies are coming out allow you to do. And a lot of other effects, I see a lot of E commerce, suppliers are also getting into expanding their products with these local fulfillment capabilities make it easier for the retailer. Yeah, like

Ressa 11:47
auto store, there’s a bunch of these out there that bring automation to the fulfillment process. That is number four, what is number three hottest trend in retail technology.

Belmar 11:59
I call this one supply chain resilience. So one thing that I think has happened as we’ve all come through the pandemic is that everyone has become a supply chain expert. So true, isn’t that. So?

Ressa 12:15
You and I have been on like rooms on clubhouse, and people are coming on. And they people know about the shipping containers and on the West Coast and what’s happening. And we’ve all

Belmar 12:26
seen media reports, right, we’ve all seen the stories about delays in ports, you know, whether it’s not being able to unload containers or not being able to get trucks loaded. And then you know, we had a problem in the canal with all these things have happened over the past year plus, you know, let’s not forget about all the product shortages, to the point where just everybody now is suddenly a supply chain expert. So what does that mean for the retailer, right? It means that all the previous models you had that helped you optimize your supply chain and your forecasting, they all kind of got thrown out the window during the pandemic, because no model could have predicted what happened there just no, no amount of AI you could have thrown out it was going to predict that because the patterns didn’t exist that the AI training models didn’t exist before. Now they do. So now these systems are starting to get a little smarter, and vendors are becoming smarter and how they’re configuring these systems for retailers. And there’s just been a massive investment in supply chain technology and retail over the last 18 months. I think that that’s what my this is my number three, I think retailers aren’t finished investing in supply chain, because there’s still more things that can be done. Maybe more on the forecasting side. But the resilience comes in for certain product categories where retailers learn, they can’t just have a single source, right, you have to have multiple sources to get things and where that source is now really matters, we had kind of gotten to a point in global supply chains where you could maybe be a little bit concerned about how far away a product was being sourced, because that might impact its cost model. But you really weren’t as concerned from a timing perspective that that distance might mean you won’t have it in time. Now, I think everyone is much more aware of that, you know, we’re still experiencing shortages. Now we have these chip shortage problems in the supply chain. So all these things aren’t going away, which means retailers have to have more intelligent technology to help them manage that supply chain. It’s not you can’t just throw more people at this problem and solve it.

Ressa 14:26
I agree with that. You can’t just throw more people at the problem to solve it, I guess because I’m definitely not a supply chain expert. I’ll be I’ve tried to become more aware and learn more. And I think I have learned more about supply chain. Can you give an example of what a technology might be that is being worked on or has been worked on as it relates to supply chain? To me, it’s a little bit up in the air and I’m like Alright, so what type of application is going to help? Yeah,

Belmar 14:52
there are I mean, there’s supply chain management tools. Now all of these are benefiting from AI and machine learning technologies to help you know I think of it as being a little bit more predictive. Maybe it’s a what if scenario and in modeling. So the real goal now a retail has to have in this supply chain manager, I want to have models that tell me what if x happens in my supply chain, and I have to adjust. And I need to adjust not in three weeks, but I need to adjust in three days. And the model is now there are becoming available. And these tools allow a retailer to build out that model, and help them predict what they might need to do should this scenario arise. And they can have multiple scenarios predefined now to help them manage that. And that all speaks to being able to respond more quickly when these problems occur in their supply chain. So that’s one big area. I think another area that it’s really getting improving here is on the forecasting side. So if I look at my inventory burn right at the store online, you know, how quickly Am I running through product? How can I enhance my ability to forecast two weeks out four weeks out four months out what I’m going to need in various categories that’s improving, most of those models were the ones that broke during the pandemic, when, you know, we’d go to the grocery stores, and we’d see empty shelves and areas that we could never conceive of being empty before. And suddenly they were. And that’s because those models weren’t weren’t adapted yet. And now we’ve got tools that are. So forecasting is another area, I’d say there’s another area that relates to this as well is just in diversity in supply chain, there are now part of the management tools that allow you to keep track of where things are partly because more and more shipments are getting IoT sensors and other technologies that allow you to have true end to end tracking from the source all the way down to where you warehouse it where you deliver it to store. So now that your supply chain technology can know exactly where all the merchandise is, and at what point in time and where it’s supposed to be. You’ve got shippers like FedEx or adding a lot more technology around this, this space so that now if I’m relying on FedEx to do some of that, shipping, say from supplier to warehouse, I get a lot more data now available for them to know where it is, if there’s a delay, you’ll know why there’s a delay, and you can start to predict better now how long is that delay going to be, again, with these same predictive models that I was talking about. So those pieces all kind of work together now to give a retailer much tighter picture around what they can and can’t do in their supply chain. And if they’re doing this, right, that means that the next time you start to see up, there’s going to be a supply issue. And I can’t get that merchandise, I can see it a little bit earlier than I used to. So now I can start to figure out how am I going to adjust and find another source, rather than waiting until the shortage occurs and then have to scramble to find new sources.

Ressa 17:47
Interesting. I didn’t know a lot of that. So that’s interesting for me to hear. And I’m excited to see what that means. But what if model was profound to me, and I think that would be

Belmar 18:00
some of the most interesting things I’ve been seeing lately there is in the product tracking. So you know, let’s call that deeper in the supply chain. So some of the more behind the scenes things that happen. Getting things from supplier to warehousing to distribution, a lot of new technology happening there, just with the power of cloud technology, things like RFID, and IoT sensors, I’m really amazed with some of the things I’m seeing there, and how much data is being generated to just help keep track of things.

Ressa 18:27
Very cool. Okay, close to the top here. What is number two?

Belmar 18:31
Alright, so number two, and this is somewhat related a little bit to some of these other ones. So I call this customer data and analytics, you know, so we talked about the predictive analytics capability right in the in the supply chain space. But now, I kind of turn this around. And let’s look at customer data and what I can do with analytics there. So if you’re a retailer, you’ve invested a lot in your supply chain over, let’s say, over the last 1218 months now, you’re probably saying to yourself, you know, I have all this data about what all of my customers have bought from me, what can I learn from that, that might give me trends about what they might purchase in the future. So I can either feed that back into supply chain, but then also how I could better market the products I have, to those very same customers, maybe I can now figure out from this data, items that certain customer buys regularly, maybe there’s other related items, they’re not buying from me, and I need to start marketing those items, because I have them in my store. And for some reason that same customer doesn’t choose it. So let me come up with some new marketing ideas based on what this data is telling me. So here again, another great example where the AI tools are really coming into play now and they’re really taking shape. One of the really interesting things I’ve found here is that retailers don’t realize how often data that looks like maybe five different customers is actually the same person. And this kind of starts to get into how does a retailer identify you as a customer? Everybody I think now has concerns about privacy and personal data, right? it. And you don’t necessarily want to give away everything there is to know about you. But the fact is, you know, when you buy things from a store, they already know something about you because you made that purchase. But let’s say you buy something with one credit card in the store. And let’s say that store ask you for an email address and you give them one, then you’re on their website, but you use the different email address to put that order in. So on the surface to the retailer, that might look like two different people. But of course, it’s not right, it’s the same person, how retail has got to figure out whether one particular customer has five different email addresses, or let’s say they have two different addresses, or they’ve shopped in three different zip codes, but you still want to know that it’s the same person, not that it’s three different people. So that’s one area, I’m seeing a lot of work now. Thanks to AI,

Ressa 20:45
is that that big of a problem? Well, you

Belmar 20:47
know, what it means I’ve seen examples where retailers, customer database, you know, might have as much as 20 25% of it or more, it is essentially duplicate information about customers, which means they have you know, they’re off essentially by 20% as to how many customers they think they have.

Ressa 21:04
I see, I’m surprised the numbers that Hi,

Belmar 21:06
I was too. I was too I you know, more More recently, in recent months, they’ve gotten a little bit smarter about this particular area and working with some technology providers. And the data, the numbers on this, I think have been pretty, pretty interesting, just because the it’s a bigger problem than then you might think. And one of the reasons it’s a bigger problem is not just because of the you know, let’s call it the cleanliness of your customer database. But when you go create marketing campaigns to these customers, you you want to have a better way to segment that campaign to different customers. So that you know, if if, you know, let’s say you’re you know, somebody like a Starbucks and you really like lattes, but you hate cappuccinos, right? There’s no sense in Starbucks, trying to market a cappuccino to you. If that’s the new drink, if they know that you only ever buy lattes. So you can do that level of segmentation, if you’ve got the clean, proper customer database, and the right system on top of it to help you play that that what if scenario we can

Ressa 22:03
got it. Okay, that is an interesting one. I think we all have heard about data, data data, or the privacy around data. That is an interesting one. I had no idea it was that big of a problem, but interesting nonetheless. Okay. Were coming to the end here. We’re at the top spot. What is the number one retail technology trend?

Belmar 22:24
Alright, so my number one trend is what I call convenience technologies that reimagined retail so and what I start from that on that. A number one trend, I think from the shoppers perspective, over the last year, year and a half, is all about convenience. Some of this was kind of accelerated or forced on us because of store closings during the pandemic and things but I really see a lot of data that tells me you know, these are the things are going to stick with shoppers. So things like curbside pickup, you know, in some ways, it was a necessity for retailers, right, who had to close stores and still wanted to sell. But customers realize that it’s pretty darn convenient to just drive up somewhere and have someone hand you the product you bought and then drive off. We used to talk about convenience as a factor for the rise of E commerce, right. And then E commerce was all about convenience, because you had an easier way to buy things you already knew you were looking for. And you didn’t have to take the time to go to a physical store to buy it’s a great convenience of online ordering that shows up at your door. I often

Ressa 23:26
say yeah, okay, stop right there. I often say is that convenient or lazy? Because sometimes intertwines the two words. But to me, if I go, I don’t know, online on my TV, and I go through Amazon, and I see something and you know, I want it and it’s going to take three days. That was easy. I don’t know that that’s that convenient. If I could get the product in 15 minutes from the store, just getting out of my car, get off my couch and God. So I often say this isn’t laziness we’re solving for or convenience, because there are two different things, I think. Right? So anyway,

Belmar 24:04
yeah, no, actually, you’re right. I mean, the two are definitely related. Right? Sometimes convenience is laziness. Sometimes it’s not. You can take that same example, right? And if the shipping time is going to be three days, right, you can argue well, it was more about the laziness of not having to get up and go anywhere to make the purchase. But it might be more of a convenience if I could make that same purchase. But then the retailer tells me I can conveniently go pick it up within the hour at a store that’s you know, around the corner. That’s very convenient, right? Yeah, then it becomes a convenience rather than a laziness factor. So and that’s kind of what I mean by this trend. I think that even the traditional e commerce online purchase model is being upended a little bit. We used to all talk about how Amazon made two days shipping the standard on a for everybody else, but by just making it so easy, and then they’ve gone and made it one day, right and when they decided to invest in one day Right. Before the pandemic started, I would actually argue that a lot of the places now Amazon included that focus so much on this one and two day shipping as a convenience. Even they’re starting to falter a little bit, and you find more and more things when you’re shopping that don’t quite meet that one or two day requirement, right? And even if they do, you know, you put the order in, and then you find out that well, it’s not actually going to ship until tomorrow. So the timer doesn’t start exactly one day. And suddenly, it’s too

Ressa 25:27
that’s crazy. The time rates start. Yeah.

Belmar 25:31
Right. So was that really to your point, right? Was that convenience? Or was that just, you know, giving me a lazy factor. So and then there are other things I see in convenience, too. So let’s take an example where let’s say you are in the store, right? You You’re going on a shopping trip, you’re in a store, there are other convenience technologies coming there. We’ve mentioned a couple of them already. So things like, how do I find something? Right? So one option is I ask a store associate to tell me where it is. Now, they’re either No, or they’re going to take a device, a mobile device and look it up in an app. Now, maybe you have that same app on your mobile device. And when you walk in the store, you know, target does this really well in their app. And you just look up the item and in your phone, and it tells you exactly where it is. You Some stores have even fancier apps, and they’ll use Wayfinding, and actually show you the path on which aisle to go to in a big box store on how to get to that particular shelf. So those are convenience. Sure, those are great. I go even a step further. You know, there are interesting things happening in convenience with computer vision. So one extreme example is what Amazon calls just walk out technology, right? And what most everybody refers to as a cashier, less technology, but you as a consumer, with an app have the ability to walk into a store, pick up items off the shelf and just walk out without ever stopping. Right but and you still get charged correctly for what it is that you purchase. So that’s an I consider that an extreme convenience factor. And I don’t know if you’ve been in one of those stores I have it does this Yeah. If you have if you’re like me, I found that that really was an extremely convenient thing and just doing it once. Maybe you want to go back and do it again. Because it was so easy.

Ressa 27:03
The one I went to didn’t have enough carts for the amount of people it felt like it was more of a test than the every day but I’ve been in so here’s the convenience when I need are they working on this? I’m not that tall. Like five seven. Do we have a way for me to get the product off the top shelf yet? Without asking the store sells a forklift? Do we have a way? I need that one? I need that one. Yeah,

Belmar 27:32
like the motorized shelf?

Ressa 27:35
Yeah, I’m just kidding. Yep. All right. Well, this was great. Let’s go recap. The five of them. Were number five.

Belmar 27:43
Number five is frontline staff technology enablement. All right, frontline

Ressa 27:46
staff technology ambulate. What was the number four hottest trend retail tech,

Belmar 27:51
fulfillment and delivery services, fulfillment and delivery services. The third hottest trend in retail tech supply chain resilience, supply chain resilience. Number two, customer data and analytics, customer data and

Ressa 28:03
analytics and the top retail technology trend.

Belmar 28:06
Convenience technology is reimagining retail.

Ressa 28:09
I love it. All right, well have a nice social graphic that’ll have this Ricardo, Belmar and here you go. We’re gonna get to the last part of the show. I got three questions for you ready?

Belmar 28:19
I’m ready. All right, here

Ressa 28:20
we go. Question one. What extinct retailer Do you wish would come back from the dead?

Belmar 28:24
It’s a good one. I would have to go with toys r us because I grew up as a Toys R Us kid. So I gotta go back and say that. I wish that one would come back and come back. Right. The right way.

Ressa 28:37
I hear you. Okay, number two. What is the last item over $20 You purchased in the store?

Belmar 28:43
The last item over $20 That would be a Garmin. Running smartwatch for my son at a purchase at an REI store.

Ressa 28:53
All right, yeah. Okay. All right. That’s great story. Like no, yeah, yeah. Solid company they’re doing there’s really a treat.

Belmar 29:01
They really understand. Modern retail. Yeah,

Ressa 29:04
they’re good. Okay, last question. Ricardo. If you and I were shopping at Target, and I lost you would I would I find you and

Belmar 29:15
you would probably find me either in the electronics section. Or in the one of the grocery aisles looking at coffee.

Ressa 29:26
I appreciate it. Thank you so much. This was great. lightened to me. And forward to

Belmar 29:33
catching up soon. Thanks, Chris. Appreciate it.

Ressa 29:36
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