Ralph Jacobson

Global Retail & CPG Marketing, IBM

Ralph Jacobson is the Global Consumer Products Industry Marketing Executive for IBM. He is responsible for marketing IBM Consumer Products Industry Solutions to clients in areas including business strategy, operations and the consumer experience.

Ralph has worked in the CP and retail industries for more than thirty years. For more than a decade, Ralph has consulted to more than one-hundred clients around the globe, from Shanghai to Saudi Arabia.

Originally Ralph began his professional career at the largest supermarket company in Chicago, where he worked in store operations and marketing for seventeen years. He is married with two sons and resides north of Los Angeles, California.

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Building a Smarter Planet Blog

Only 40+ years in the Retail & CPG Industries. Let's talk about your business challenges sometime soon! Maybe I've seen them before somewhere in the world, like Shanghai, Saudi Arabia or Bangalore!
  • Posted on: 04/26/2017

    Can parking lots save the mall?

    Malls by their very nature are intended to be central draws for shoppers. If the retail tenants alone aren't enough to bring in the desired audience, they must create additional draws to bring in the business. I'd like to think that most events like those mentioned above also create impulse shopping opportunities for the mall tenants.
  • Posted on: 04/26/2017

    Will artificial intelligence replace CEOs?

    Knowing some CEOs today, I'd say a couple could be replaced by hand puppets, but that's another topic. The great ones are great in part because of their exceptional ability to craft intelligent, strategic decisions based upon available information that their staffs can execute upon. If you simply look at that capability, I could be convinced that AI might be able to pull that off, as the technologies could be "fed" more and more data and learn as it consumes. AI is already positively affecting retail as we speak around the world, with Abof in India and others leveraging the technologies like natural language processing for their e-commerce business.
  • Posted on: 04/21/2017

    What’s needed beyond KPIs?

    This is exactly where retail management needs to look for actionable performance insights today. All too often, the answers you need to make better decision are hiding in a very deep ocean of data. KPIs are still necessary and hold real value, however there needs to be much more information provided to make better decisions. Cognitive-powered solutions help you tap into the extraordinary capabilities to learn, understand and advise. New AI technologies can help you deliver harder working, better performing marketing campaigns, supply chain improvements and store operations execution. With capabilities like predictive customer analytics and others, you can identify and target the right audiences without going to a data analyst. The cognitive power helps you understand individual customer behaviors so you can create the ideal combination of interactions that drive conversion and build loyalty.
  • Posted on: 04/21/2017

    Are Millennials and Gen Z more about convenience or price when they shop?

    If you look at every age demographic, the interesting thing is that even Baby Boomers appreciate and show evidence of leveraging more convenient shopping journeys when they are available. This phenomenon isn't exclusive to the youngest people. Yes all shoppers want and are using simpler methods of shopping, either with aggregator/marketplace sites, apps or ubiquitous promotions that make getting the (implied) best deal easier to accomplish. I believe that all people have maxed out on individual retailer apps on their smartphones.
  • Posted on: 04/18/2017

    Are consumers’ AI fears rational?

    Honestly, as the article implies, consumers have no idea what AI actually is, nor are they aware of the benefits it can provide in their shopping journeys. Movies and the media, of course, build AI into something sinister. However as real AI continues to integrate into our lives, most shoppers won't even realize that they're dealing with AI. Retailers need not make a big deal about this. They don't even need to announce when AI is being employed. For example,'s GWYN shopping assistant fully leverages AI, yet the shopper is typically unaware of this capability.
  • Posted on: 04/18/2017

    Will image shopping jumpstart m-commerce?

    The world of m-commerce driven by images and eventually video will explode as AI takes hold in this realm. Intelligent "tagging" of images is now building a presence with innovative merchants. AI is also now helping to identify images that are relevant to particular shoppers which also assists real-time personalization. Further, intelligent image sequencing on websites can further promote products that the merchant prioritizes to highlight to shoppers via mobile. This is big and it will continue to grow.
  • Posted on: 04/17/2017

    How should retailers use social listening tools?

    All of the above and more! I think real-time personalization is another key focus that isn't being leveraged by very many retailers today. Social listening can drive product innovation. Increasingly, I see marketers becoming more savvy with using social listening platforms and recognizing that insights gleaned from social networks can help drive product innovation.Today, social listening is becoming an increasingly important part of product development decisions. For example, CPG brand and retailer executives are learning through social listening that the product feature they thought was most important is actually a secondary concern to shoppers. In addition, they’re learning that customers are using their product in ways that they never intended, opening up new possibilities for new features or even new products. There is no limit to the value of social listening.
  • Posted on: 04/17/2017

    Are outlet malls an outlier?

    Everyone loves a bargain. I'm not certain the trend has any more of a complex explanation than that. One challenge is the retailers poaching full-price purchases from their traditional stores. The high-end outlet mall by me here in SoCal is always overflowing with locals and even international tourists every day. That's not a scientific sampling, however, I can't believe it's an anomaly.
  • Posted on: 04/17/2017

    Should retail employees have board representation?

    Does the board need to know what's happening at the staff level of their organization? Absolutely. Are store-level people the best representatives for that perspective? No, not on an enterprise-wide basis. Views and potentially broad-based decisions may be skewed if the board hears only a couple points of view from only a couple stores. Anomalies will become the guideposts for policy. That's not the way to run the business. And that's coming from someone who worked in the stores for years.What the board needs to do is to challenge management to visit multiple stores every week (like some well-known retailers do already), and also solicit feedback from field management regularly.
  • Posted on: 04/14/2017

    What’s keeping shoppers away from the frozen aisle?

    This is as simple as "out-of-sight, out-of-mind." I agree that product that is hidden is at a disadvantage versus the rest of the product in the store. Has that 46 percent number increased in recent years? I would guess so, since the other critical factor is "fresh" food desires, even if they're guilt-driven desires.
  • Posted on: 04/14/2017

    Are retailers missing the social marketing boat if they’re not on YouTube?

    If you look at the history of advertising, you'd see that 100 years ago we primarily used plain text. That evolved into more artistic fonts, then drawn pictures, then photography. Video is the next logical step in that evolution, so, yes, be it YouTube or wherever, brands need to leverage video heavily to capture the six-second attention spans of shoppers today.
  • Posted on: 04/12/2017

    Will virtual reality transform in-store merchandising?

    There are some pretty cool VR demos out there right now for retail, however, I see it more as entertainment than a necessity at this point. I believe there is a real opportunity for VR to enhance the shopping experience in ways that are impossible in the physical world. The challenge is to make the technology convenient so a wider audience will be attracted to it. That way, retailers could leverage marketing, supply chain and other functional capabilities with VR to deliver an unprecedented consumer journey.
  • Posted on: 04/11/2017

    Are ‘Employee of the Month’ programs worth it?

    Staff recognition is definitely important. The effects on the individual, as well as the perceptions of the other employees need to be addressed, for both the positive and negative. "Employee of the Month" awards tend to be less genuine and lose their impact over time. More ad hoc recognition, based upon actual performance achievement creates far more buzz among the staff and seems to have lasting value for the individual.
  • Posted on: 04/10/2017

    Should the same-store sales metric be retired?

    Physical store performance metrics, like same store sales provide insights to specific operations of the retail business. Sure, you can bubble up cross-channel operations to look at how aspects of stores affect other parts of the business. However, same store sales shows a tangible, concise view of revenue growth of the store, while taking into account other channel factors that may or may not affect that part of the business. I say keep it.
  • Posted on: 04/07/2017

    Should stores charge customers extra to use disposable cups?

    I actually don't see the issue at the same level as plastic bags. What I have always thought about, though, is the fact that not only the cups, but also the water costs the operators money. I never understood why patrons expect a cup of water for free. In this case, just let the politicians screw it up, as usual. I'm certain they will solve all the world's pressing problems. (Am I sounding cynical, yet?)

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