Ricardo Belmar

Retail Transformation Thought Leader

As retailers, CPG brands, retail tech, 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 achieve business value from technology investments by optimizing their store infrastructure and unified commerce systems to deliver omnichannel customer experiences and drive digital revenue.

Ricardo also helps emerging retail tech organizations develop marketing strategies segmented and targeted to the best audience for their solutions, leveraging his 20+ years of industry experience, marketing expertise, and retail influence and relationships across media and analysts covering the industry.

A top industry influencer in retail, consumer goods, payments tech, and restaurant industries on technology trends, Ricardo can be actively found on Twitter and LinkedIn and is regularly a Top 10 social media influencer at the annual NRF Big Show. He was named Social Media Mayor at the 2015 Retail Executive Summit, the 2015 ENGAGE Summit, the 2016 RetailTech Conference, the 2018 Retail Experience Summit, and the “Chief Twit” for Twitter engagement at RetailROI’s Super Saturday 2015 and 2016 events. He conducts frequent video interviews of senior executives from retail, CPG, and restaurant brands and industry analysts while also frequently interviewed by retail publications and podcasts. Most recently, Ricardo was the Sr Director of Global Marketing and Communications for Infovista and an ICX Association director. He is also a strong supporter of the RetailROI charity organization.

As retailers and brands 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, both large and small, achieve business value from technology investments by optimizing their infrastructure from store systems to unified commerce and beyond to deliver omnichannel customer experiences and drive digital revenue. As a trusted advisor, Ricardo also works with emerging retail tech organizations, leveraging his 20+ years of industry experience, marketing expertise, retail influence, and relationships across media and analysts covering the industry to develop go-to-market strategies. A top technology influencer in retail, consumer goods, payments tech, and restaurant industries, Ricardo is a Top 10 social media influencer at the annual NRF Big Show and was named Social Media Mayor at four RIS News events from 2015 to 2018 as well as the “Chief Twit” for Twitter engagement at RetailROI’s Super Saturday 2015 and 2016 events. He regularly interviews senior executives from retail, CPG, restaurant brands, and industry analysts and speaks at retail industry conferences. Ricardo is a contributor to numerous retail publications and podcasts. He was most recently the Sr Director of Global Marketing and Communications for Infovista and an ICX Association director. He is currently a RETHINK Retail Advisory Council member and a strong supporter of the RetailROI charity organization.
  • Posted on: 03/05/2021

    Will Tonal shops help Nordstrom strengthen its fitness cred?

    It's an interesting move by Nordstrom. I'm not sure a Nordstrom athleisure shopper is expecting to find exercise equipment in the store, but maybe that's the point. Nordstrom may be doing this to alter their customer's perception of the brand as a source for all things athleisure, athletic, exercise, and wellness. It feels like a bit of a stretch for Nordstrom but, then again, I give them credit for trying something new and bold. This will be interesting to watch and see if they expand it to more stores or if it ends up fading away.
  • Posted on: 03/04/2021

    EQ is the special ingredient to feed entrepreneurial success

    There's an old sales adage that "people buy from people" -- in other words, even if you're led by IQ, you'll make the decision to buy based on EQ. For entrepreneurs, that couldn't be truer!
  • Posted on: 03/04/2021

    Are CTOs finally getting the respect they deserve?

    I suspect most retail CIOs/CTOs are looking back at 2020 as both the worst of times and the best of times. Worst, because of the huge lift it imposed on technology in retail and the need for IT departments to rise to the occasion and do things at a rate they've never encountered before. Best, because, well, the exact same reason! IT departments learned they CAN execute new things quickly and reliably when pushed to do so. In 2021, it's not surprising to see CEOs feel these executive leaders are critical to their success. 2020 proved how valuable well-executed technology can be to retailers. While technology isn't the answer on its own, it's a tool that requires good leadership to implement effectively. I don't think this is temporary. While the immediate focus is, the long-term implication is that retailers will become more dependent on technology not less so these leaders will continue to be an important part of the leadership team.
  • Posted on: 03/04/2021

    Is Texas messing with retailers?

    This is clearly a political decision, likely meant to distract from the recent weather-related disasters in Texas that unfortunately affected so many of the state's citizens. Ending a mask mandate now is the epitome of taking a victory lap around the stadium with 2 minutes left on the clock, and your opponent driving the ball downfield. Sure, conditions are improving and we've received great news about vaccine production. That doesn't mean you just walk off the field and declare an early victory. It's irresponsible, and it creates a dangerous situation for retailers and other businesses. This decision will make it more difficult for retailers to enforce mask use in their stores or any social distancing for that matter. We saw in the spring of last year how retail associates were forced to deal with unruly customers -- many times resulting in injury. I hope retailers will continue to do the right thing, follow the science, and enforce masks as best they can for everyone's benefit.
  • Posted on: 03/03/2021

    Will seniors trust CVS to keep them safe with in-home IoT?

    The target audience for this service and technology is partly used to smart technology already. Many already have smart speakers and smart TVs, so this may actually feel like a natural extension. However I am not so sure anyone in that audience would look to a pharmacy brand to deliver smart technology, and not likely CVS. If anything, CVS has a branding issue and marketing problem ahead of them. Many potential customers in this target audience rely on their children who are more used to technology like this, or at the very least look to them for advice. Those advisors are not going to believe CVS is a reliable and trusted source for IoT technology for health services. I'd expect such services to be more successful if coming from a more tech-savvy brand than CVS. After all, CVS is still generally known to everyone for its absurdly long receipts!
  • Posted on: 03/03/2021

    Will a third-party marketplace step up and give Amazon a run for its money?

    The secret to building a successful marketplace today is finding the white space where Amazon isn't seen as the category killer or go-to shopper destination. Otherwise, you're just trying to beat Amazon at their own game - being an everything store - and ultimately the only outcome for that is a battle over price when everyone sells the same products. And we all know (thanks to Seth Godin) the problem with competing on price - it turns into a race to the bottom, and you might end up winning, or worse, come in second. Much like being a retailer in the '90s was about trying to beat Walmart - you can't beat them on their own turf because it's too late to scale. You have to compete on something different. A bit like what Amazon did to Walmart with e-commerce. Best Buy and Target are doing the right thing - rather than opening up their marketplace to anyone, they're being selective to have the right product mix. Walmart is looking to Shopify and Big Commerce sellers to fill out their marketplace with smaller sellers that are more likely to carry unique products as well. If I were making predictions, I'd lookout for the e-commerce platform players (Shopify, Big Commerce, etc.) partnering with Instacart and/or other local delivery services, plus Etsy to build out and scale a distribution network that could power a marketplace of small, unique brands and products that even Amazon doesn't have available. If you're not one of those, then this isn't the model you should be pursuing.
  • Posted on: 03/03/2021

    Target CEO says record-setting 2020 was no ‘fluke’

    Target's greatest innovation was the serious investment in technology infrastructure to support their in-store customer experiences, supply chain, and fulfillment. In many ways, Target went beyond what other retailers did in the recent years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. This setup Target for massive success with the ways consumers changed their shopping habits during the pandemic, more so than nearly any other retailer apart from Amazon. I see Target as the biggest runaway success of 2020. Does that mean they can sustain this momentum in 2021 and beyond? The logic center in my brain wants to say that the shopping conditions of 2020 won't be repeated exactly in 2021 and therefore Target can't expect the same 600 percent growth in curbside pickup or other amazing growth rates. But can they expect the same level of success and sales? Quite possibly yes, because consumers have formed new habits and it's much harder for consumers to break a habit than to form one. If I look at my own household and how much more we shop at Target vs pre-pandemic as well as so many people I know who say the same thing, I'd say Target is making the right decision to increase those investments to $4 billion. There is still room for improvement, too, as evidenced by their partnering with Ulta, Apple, Levi's, and Disney. While Target has seen massive success with many billion-dollar private labels, they also realize they need to be a destination for brands consumers already have an interest in buying. They also recognize which departments could use a boost to become more appealing to customers - reference health and beauty with Ulta Beauty, and electronics with Apple. Target's commitment to a $15 minimum wage for hourly workers also helps boost their brand image with shoppers. I expect Target will continue to make improvements in their in-store experience for both shoppers and associates to keep raising the bar. Their biggest threat is that other retailers will catch up in these capabilities before consumers form a habit of shopping regularly with Target. Until then, Target is in a very strong position.
  • Posted on: 03/02/2021

    Macy’s leadership changes focus on digital ops and supply chain

    This is mostly musical chairs, and while they are showing a spark of life in bringing in fresh talent to challenge the lifelong Macy's way of executive thinking, you have to wonder if it's too little, too late. What I find curious is that in the face of these changes, we don't see any direct words about store associates, workforce training, or specific store investment. The fact is, Macy's suffers most from store-level execution. They continue to believe that if they introduce something new at Herald Square it will automatically translate into all Macy's. Just look at what happened when they rolled out STORY - a general disaster of what should have been an excellent opportunity. Macy's needs to redefine what its brand means to customers. Give them a reason to shop with Macy's - and then execute it flawlessly across all stores, not just Herald Square. Until that happens, shoppers will just pass them by - and that's such a sad story for such a great, long-standing brand name in retail!
  • Posted on: 03/02/2021

    Is off-mall where it’s at?

    “If someone is coming into an off-mall location, they almost certainly have already decided before they made the trip that they intend to make a purchase.” That statement says it all - it's about intent to buy vs shopping. Mall experiences were designed to foster shopping trips where the stores themselves generated instant intent to buy based on having products shoppers felt an urge to buy, or, they provided the convenience of having multiple stores consumers wanted to visit in one trip. While the pandemic accelerated the demise of both of those situations, the writing was on the wall for many years prior. No one issue is the cause of the demise of malls, except for maybe complacency on the part of both mall owners and mall anchors. Consumers are busy people these days and convenience is king. It's simply not convenient to visit an enclosed mall if you know what you want to buy. When you can visit an open-air shopping center, buy what you want from the stores you want, plus pick up some groceries or other essential items at places like Target, why wouldn't you? Not to mention those locations will have easier to use curbside pickup, parking, and allow for more "personal space." With many such centers mimicking the look and feel of urban-like areas, the appeal is quite clear to shoppers. Where does that leave the malls? Not in a good place, unfortunately!
  • Posted on: 03/02/2021

    Are short-term leases here to stay?

    "'...I’d rather negotiate two or three years from now' rather than have empty spaces." That just about sums up the situation for retail landlords. Retailers and landlords alike need to shift their mentality from an often adversarial one to one of partnership. Each one needs the other and that means there is room for negotiations and therefore shorter-term leases. This will continue after the pandemic is behind us because it breathes healthy competition into the commercial real estate market and causes retailers to better think about their location strategy. In the end, this will be a win for shoppers who will see more reasons for visiting the mall to see what might be new and undiscovered. There will always be risks, but holding out for long-term only leases will only result in higher vacancies for real estate owners. Both parties need to move beyond a "pay the rent" mentality to one where each party realizes what they can offer the other to make both businesses successful. Malls need customer traffic. Retailers need sales. Mall owners need rents to be paid. If both parties don't get creative, customers will not show up!
  • Posted on: 03/01/2021

    Will the post-pandemic era be America’s next Roaring ‘20s?

    Is there pent-up demand to do all the things we've been unable to do in the pandemic? Yes. Will there be an explosive reaction to partake (and spend) on all of those "long-lost" activities and "things"? Absolutely. The question is, how long will it last, and will it include everyone? For the first part of that question, it's very hard to say. We still don't know the long-term implications of changing habits from the pandemic as far as retail and shopping are concerned. It's easy to say ecommerce gains will remain, but how much of that was out of forced necessity rather than desire by shoppers? We can safely say travel and entertainment industries will once again prosper -- doesn't everyone want to go back to the movies? That said, so far we've seen a K-shaped recovery that is only amplifying the differences between the haves and have nots. Still too soon to see if that expected explosion of prosperity will either further amplify the divide or close the gap.
  • Posted on: 03/01/2021

    Do rivals need to follow Costco’s minimum wage lead right now?

    Completely agree, Mark. Furthermore, what businesses fail to take into account in their financial analysis is the impact a better paid employee can have on customer service. This is hard to quantify, but there have ben many studies showing that this results in customers spending more with your business, not less. That means better paid employees, higher sales. If you're getting higher sales, wouldn't that cover the cost of those employees and fuel growth overall? If not, it's back to your point about the business model being flawed.
  • Posted on: 03/01/2021

    Do rivals need to follow Costco’s minimum wage lead right now?

    Costco is not just recognizing a well-established fact (with study after study pointing this out) that a well-paid employee will work better and outperform one that is not. In the restaurant space, brands that have done this found their revenue went up. Why? Because better paid servers result in better customer service and happier customers. Happier customers who are willing to buy more, more often. In retail, you not only have the same effect, but let's also remember that in 2021 retailers are asking much more of their store associates than ever before. Just consider the level of technology expertise that is being thrust upon store associates and the amount of training required now. It's not only fair, but if we were talking about professional salaries in other industries, the discussion wouldn't be "is it too much," it would be "is it enough?" Costco sets a high bar for other retailers to follow, but I am not sure many will follow them. They will look at their costs in isolation, and decide based on that analysis rather than evaluating the long tail benefit happier employees may make to their sales figures.
  • Posted on: 03/01/2021

    Automated checkout ‘will be everywhere’ sooner rather than later

    While I do expect that adoption of "Just Walk Out" technologies and those like it will increase more and more over the next few years, this is really a story about where we will see it rather than how much of it we will see. This technology works well in locations that are relatively small, have fewer SKUs, and result in relatively small basket sizes. In other words, a great fit for convenience stores, airport shops, and smaller specialty stores. Another factor is foot traffic -- today, these systems work better if the store is less crowded, but customers move in and out of the store quickly, resulting in a high transaction rate with fewer items per customer. Size is also a factor. If a store has very small merchandise, it's harder for the computer vision systems to track the items, and could result in higher shrinkage rates. These factors will all improve year over year as the technology gets smarter and better over time. Initial installation costs and the risk of shrinkage (which depends on store type, foot traffic, merchandise types, etc.) are the main things holding back adoption today. But what about tomorrow? There are more vendors, both big and small than those listed in the article working on many variations of this technology, so I expect rapid improvement. Also, mobile scan and go technologies are already seeing significant adoption, and I expect these are more likely to be deployed in full-size grocery stores. Why? Because the tech hurdles are easier to overcome when someone is buying a hundred grocery items in an overstuffed shopping cart when you use scan and go than a smart cart or a Just Walk Out" variant. Scan and go is a good stop-gap solution for a checkout free experience today -- tomorrow may look very different!
  • Posted on: 02/26/2021

    Are retailers snoozing on the sleep-tech opportunity?

    The rising sleep economy is still largely untapped and, at the same time, no clear winners have emerged yet. There is certainly an opportunity for retailers and related product brands in this area although one issue I've not seen addressed or challenged yet is around data privacy. Like everything else these days, the magic output and benefit for consumers come from a deep analysis of sleep-related data points. That usually means sending your data into the cloud to be processed for those insights. Are consumers thinking about what companies can do with that data beyond the offered value on improving your sleep quality? It's yet one more aspect of data privacy to consider...

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