There has never been a time where the retail industry needed influencers more. As retail’s landscape and shoppers’ habits evolve at breakneck speed, adaption is impossible without innovative technology and knowledgeable leaders tirelessly working to guide the industry on a new path to the future.
RIS’ fourth annual “Influentials: Top Movers and Shakers in Retail” highlights the retail executives, analysts and solution providers who are shaping the retail landscape and developing and deploying cutting-edge technology.
The executives featured below were chosen for their contribution to the retail industry and their respective companies. From innovating technology to guiding the retail experience, these remarkable leaders are helping drive the future of the entire industry. To compile this list, RIS interviewed each executive to uncover the keys to their success and the tech innovations they've helped bring to the market.
Read on to find out what makes each leader a retail tech influencer and one of RIS’ Top Movers and Shakers.
Jim Barnes has spent the last 30 years of his career helping retail organizations solve supply chain, IT and omnichannel commerce challenges. As CEO of retail software solutions and consulting services firm enVista, he works with such retailers as Sephora, GNC and Urban Outfitters to optimize and unify their physical and digital commerce.
Within Barnes’ three decades of work, however, it’s the creation of enVista’s Unified Commerce platform and cloud-native order management solution (OMS) that he considers his biggest accomplishment.
“The agility of our OMS has made a direct impact on our clients’ ability to adapt, respond, survive and even thrive during this incredible retail chapter,” he says, “and that has been immensely gratifying.”
These days, Barnes has been busy building out the next-generation order orchestration and omnichannel inventory management service that leverages AI and predictive analytics to precisely identify optimal inventory levels and positioning for retailers.
“Retailers must move beyond today’s simple rules-based solvers to optimize inventory,” he notes.
When it comes to leading — especially during these challenging times — Barnes does so with transparency and positive energy as his priorities. He encourages people to focus on the big things that matter and on making an impact; as part of this, he also gives his team the permission to “fail fast and pivot as needed.”
“Positive energy creates positive action and momentum, and our associates see and consistently experience positive energy from me firsthand,” says Barnes. “As the CEO, I not only set the vision, but I am also very active in the day-to-day business of running the company and am hands-on at many client engagements.”
ONE THING YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW ABOUT JIM
He loves to kiteboard:
Founder and President, IHL Group
While Greg Buzek’s retail career spans 24 years with IHL and titles at Sensormatic and NCR, when asked about his biggest accomplishment the first thing that springs to mind is the Retail Orphan Initiative. Buzek co-founded RetailROI with Paul Singer and Marc Millstein, which since 2009 has helped over 270,000 orphaned and vulnerable children in 27 countries. RetailROI helps to provide these children a better future through clean water, computer labs, life skills and general care.
While this outstanding achievement is enough alone to dub Buzek a top influencer, he was also the product manager that brought WiFi to the retail industry.
“Up until that point we had wireless radio communications at lower speeds, but I was fortunate to be able to bring 1mbit/sec WiFi to market as a product manager,” Buzek says. “For those interested, it was pushed primarily because many department stores had asbestos in the ceilings and WiFi eliminated the need to pull new wired networks through those spaces.”
Prior to IHL, Buzek was a product development manager at Sensormatic for loss prevention deactivation technology and a product manager for POS terminals at NCR.
“My first position with NCR was in competitive intelligence,” Buzek explains. “This was very fortunate because it forced me to learn the entire market and all of the players, which really came in handy when we started IHL in 1996.”
Now, as an analyst, key things IHL is delving into include areas specific to edge computing, computer vision/RFID, frictionless stores and dark stores, as well as AI/ML as applied to challenges of inventory accuracy and visibility.
“That is the single greatest need for retail,” says Buzek. “Those retailers that fix their inventory accuracy issues and can deploy AI/ML to that data will own the next decade.”
ONE THING YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW ABOUT GREG
He used to sing in a Barbershop Chorus:
Global Head of Grocery Retail, dunnhumby
It’s an understatement to say David Ciancio is a customer experience expert. Ciancio brings 50 years of retail experience as an operator, marketer and strategist to dunnhumby and its clients. He created Kroger’s first-to-market KrogerPlus loyalty program after working in every role in a supermarket, proudly including 20 years in store management.
As corporate VP of customer loyalty for The Kroger Co., Ciancio brought the customer-science firm dunnhumby to the US and helped construct the transformative joint venture between dunnhumby and Kroger (now called 84.51° and wholly owned by Kroger).
“I was very privileged to lead some early industry innovations of technologies that simplified the customer experience of loyalty programs, around things like real-time reward redemption at till, and enabling customers to be in charge of how they identify themselves in loyalty programs, both in-stores and at fuel pumps,” Ciancio says. “But I think that I am most proud of helping organizations transform their strategies and practices to bring the customer to the board room. We call this ‘customer first.’”
Currently, Ciancio helps dunnhumby’s global clients grow their loyalty by creating better customer experiences and applying customer-led organizational change. He’s working on helping grocers anticipate changes in their merchandising, marketing, communications and forward planning — all based on consumer data.
When asked how he influences his team, Ciancio says before giving advice, he believes we must first start with a common language about shoppers, using shopper data.
“From this, my favorite bit of advice is around the paradox of decision making in grocery retail — you have to think small to win big,” he says. “This means that the big challenges in the industry can be resolved by small, incremental improvements to the customer experience, if we but understand the challenge through the lens of the customer — using the common language to describe shopper segments.”
ONE THING YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW ABOUT DAVID
He’s a musician:
vice president of eCommerce Operations,
During her 14 years with grocer Giant Eagle, Valery Ciarimboli has held various positions in strategic planning, finance and real estate. Throughout them all she has tried to influence her team by example.
“I try to live by working hard, demanding excellence in all that I do, but having fun,” the vice president of e-commerce operations says. “I have had some great mentors in my career and their influence on me has helped me achieve success. I am still a work-in-progress!”
When she moved into her current role around three years ago, Giant Eagle was just beginning to test the omnichannel fulfillment waters. Since then, Ciarimboli and her team have delivered tremendous growth in Giant Eagle’s curbside pickup and delivery business; they built and executed a plan to expand the operations from 20 stores to over 100 in a very short period of time. Having its own online grocery pickup and delivery business has helped Giant Eagle offer a contactless shopping experience, while not relying on third parties like Instacart to fulfill orders has meant the grocer retains direct control over the customer experience, which differentiates the chain.
“It’s been challenging but rewarding, and I’ve learned so much,” she says.
Ciarimboli and her team are also responsible for Giant Eagle’s “Scan, Pay & Go” cashierless mobile shopping program. She says shoppers have embraced the ability to scan and bag their products as they shop using a mobile app, allowing them to skip the checkout line.
Looking ahead, Ciarimboli says she believes that e-commerce penetration at 10-12% will continue for the supermarket industry.
“Now that customers were introduced to [e-commerce grocery shopping], and if we have earned their trust, they will continue to shop that way for the convenience.”
ONE THING YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW ABOUT VALERY
She started off her college years as a Political Science major:
Executive Vice President, Nielsen Connect
Since joining Nielsen in 2014, Jay Dennis has held numerous executive positions within the organization, but as EVP at Nielsen Connect, he’s responsible for the strategy, execution and growth of partnerships with more than 2,000 retail organizations in the U.S. Prior to leading the company’s U.S. retail division, Dennis also served as the SVP and managing partner for Nielsen Connect’s Walmart and Sam’s Club business unit and held roles in consulting, supply chain, technology and consumer insights at companies such as Gartner, IBM and Accenture.
One of his biggest accomplishments to date came when his team at Nielsen Connect observed that there was a significant amount of wasted effort in the flow of data among retailers and their trading partners. The key to unlocking this opportunity was applying the latest advances in data analytics and tech, and significant changes to the culture of data used to make decisions.
“Our work in supporting the adoption of new practices and solutions across hundreds of companies to build a new way of collaborating is easily my team’s proudest accomplishment,” he says.
When asked how he influences his team, Dennis says asking teams to transform — to change and adapt to new market conditions and customer needs — can be uncomfortable.
“For me, influencing a team for big transformations requires that the leaders deliver two essential elements: A clear vision of the change — why it is necessary, what it means for the company, and how it creates opportunity; and the necessary freedoms, resources, coaching and systems to achieve the desired change.”
Today, he says he’s undergoing fascinating work in the area of personalization.
“The personalization capabilities yielded from our acquisition of Precima are incredibly exciting, and I cannot wait to see how our teams work to adapt these capabilities to new uses.”
ONE THING YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW ABOUT JAY
He also co-founded CrossFleet, a geo-location based, mobile app start-up business:
President & founder, SageBerry Consulting
As retail has undergone its profound disruption, SageBerry Consulting president Steve Dennis has been helping companies manage change through his consulting services and writing. The former Neiman Marcus Group and Sears exec founded SageBerry in 2009, and he’s been a Forbes contributor since 2017. Dennis’s new book, Remarkable Retail: How to Win & Keep Customers in the Age of Digital Disruption, was published in April.
As part of this, Dennis has been writing and speaking (mostly virtually, naturally) on how digital disruption continues to change the competitive landscape and how brands need to respond and become more remarkable. Given that most retail segments will experience contraction overall for the foreseeable future — and there will be an acceleration of digitally enabled shopping — technology that effectively facilities "harmonized" shopping will be at a premium, he says.
Dennis is also advising some early-stage companies on scaling their solutions to help drive improved conversion and basket size.
“My global advice to clients and followers of my work is generally two-fold,” he says. “First, to realize that even very good is not good enough anymore. To win, grow and keep customers in a world of abundant consumer choice to be the signal amid the noise we have to be remarkable.”
“Second, there is no normal anymore,” he adds. “There is only constant change and disruption. The waves will keep coming. We have to learn how to surf.”
ONE THING YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW ABOUT STEVE
He also has another writing hobby, beyond books:
Chief Digital Officer, Boot Barn
John Hazen joined Boot Barn as its chief digital officer in March 2018 and boasts 20 years of experience in the apparel and footwear industry at companies including Kellwood, Nike and Fox Racing, and with Ring as the SVP of commerce and subscriptions. But it was during his time at True Religion as the SVP of direct to consumer where he completed one of proudest achievements: the rollout of clienteling and endless aisle at True Religion.
“Store associates could view inventory in real time on their Apple watch and ‘throw’ images to large screens in the store to break the ice with customers,” he explains. “Using beacons and an app, associates could also view the customer’s entire history, emails, lifetime purchases, last purchase, virtual closet — all as the customer walked into the store. Apple actually sent a team down to do a piece on the technology, which was pretty humbling.”
These days, Hazen is working on using IoT tech to drive buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS) at Boot Barn.
“We try and run the e-commerce team as if we were at a startup and have done some pretty damn cool things,” he notes.
Hazen’s team started a skunkworks-like project that ended with developing Boot Barn’s own software and manufacturing 250 3D-printed IoT devices with LEDs that notify stores when BOPIS orders have arrived.
“We named the devices Annie; there is one in every store now,” he divulges. “Those Annie devices combined with the touchscreens from Elo in every store have created a BOPIS experience that I believe could stand tall against any of the big players out there.”
ONE THING YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW ABOUT JOHN
He grew up in Montreal with a passion for skateboarding:
president and CEO, Mercatus Technologies Inc.
Sylvain Perrier is president and CEO of digital commerce solutions provider Mercatus Technologies Inc., a company’s he has been with since 2004. He was previously vice president of technology for In-Touch Survey Systems Inc., and is also listed as the lead inventor on more than 75 granted intellectual property patents in over 15 different legal jurisdictions for more than 10 distinct inventions.
But it’s building a high-performing team at Mercatus that he considers his biggest accomplishment — he describes them proudly as the heart of the company’s products and victories — especially as they’ve become integral to helping grocery retailers extend their brand’s online presence, offer personalized experiences to shoppers, and sell essential items online.
“My source of inspiration and my continued drive comes from every single individual in the organization,” says Perrier. “Watching them learn, make mistakes, grow, and solve complex issues is very rewarding.”
After all, online grocery is here to stay and retailers recognize the importance of having strong online fulfillment capabilities. In leading his team to help serve Mercatus customers, Perrier seeks to build an environment and company culture that empowers great minds to come together and innovate on initiatives that will continue to revolutionize retail.
“I give my team flexibility and full autonomy to create a schedule that works, fueling teamwork and trust,” he says. “We want employees to be able to focus on all important aspects of their life experience and pursue a healthy lifestyle.”
It’s also important to recognize victories and accomplishments, he notes, as well as to lend support.
Perhaps most importantly? Having fun together.
“It’s part of what makes us look forward to coming to work each day.”
ONE THING YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW ABOUT SYLVAIN
Director of Retail Operations – Systems, Copy & Print, and Coworking, Office Depot
With two decades of retail industry experience, Jonas Stillman first honed his leadership skills as an executive team leader at Target, where learned the ins and outs of general merchandise retailer operations. Now at Office Depot, Stillman is leading a team that’s reinventing retail by leveraging technology to automate and streamline store processes.
His most significant accomplishment thus far includes the rollout of Zebra TC-51 devices and migrating all legacy processes to the company’s digital mobile platform on the Zebras. By going fully digital, Stillman has helped halved the amount of time it takes to complete store tasks.
But when it comes to influencing his teams — and those around him — Stillman’s empathetic approach is anything but mechanical.
“There are ways to influence my direct reports, but there are also ways to influence others across the organization. I coach my team to always put themselves in the shoes of the other person,” he says. “My teams work cross-functionally every day with IT, e-commerce, merchants, legal, marketing and other departments, so it is important to understand what our cross-functional partners are managing through before we ask them to help us execute on anything.”
Putting a face to a name and asking someone for their thoughts are the keys to building trust in working relationships, he adds.
Stillman’s latest challenge includes running a Wi-Fi Analytics test with ShopperTrak to elevate the company’s traffic counting initiatives, as well as exploring the evolving benefits of RFID. The Wi-Fi Analytics platform will help gauge everything from customer dwell time to customer journey mapping in the store.
“The data we have already collected from our test has proved both eye opening and actionable for our businesses,” says Stillman.
ONE THING YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW ABOUT JONAS
He loves to bake:
VP, Retail & Consumer, Google Cloud
While Carrie Tharp just joined Google Cloud in July 2019, she has a history of influencing retail. She held the EVP, chief digital & marketing officer title at Neiman Marcus Group for nearly three years prior and was the SVP of e-commerce and CMO at Fossil Group, Inc.
At Neiman Marcus, Tharp spearheaded the company’s personalization strategy, creating the “personalization agile team,” dedicated to finding new ways to deliver personalized experiences across all channels. This effort has led to not only increased sales, but stronger customer relationships.
“It was unique because it broke organizational boundaries,” Tharp says, explaining that the cross-functional team from IT and marketing to e-commerce and stores rapidly delivers on new experiences and engagement approaches.
“From a technology perspective, it was a rapid deployment of performance marketing tools, CDP (customer data platform) capabilities, custom AI/ML models and digital platform upgrades,” she says. “The team was able to work with a combination of legacy technology and newly built capabilities to begin driving value in the P&L within a quarter of program kick-off.”
Now, in addition to chasing around her high energy two-year-old, Tharp is focused on how Google Cloud can make it easier for retailers to make sense of disparate data sources and unlock value from the intersection of their customer, product and supply chain data.
“Having a real-time, unified source of truth has been a critical need and pain point for retailers,” she notes.
In addition, Tharp says they’ve deployed a new Rapid Response Virtual Agent. The solution helps retailers stand up new chatbot-based service offerings within two weeks, offloading the amount of contacts going to agents so they can focus on more complex service needs.
ONE THING YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW ABOUT CARRIE
Favorite piece of advice: