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Bill Inzeo Of Zebra Technologies On The Future Of Retail

An Interview With David Liu

As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bill Inzeo.

Bill Inzeo, Global Retail Technology Strategist.

Bill Inzeo is the Global Retail Technology Strategist for Zebra Technologies, responsible for identifying the most impactful technology solutions that align with the top challenges facing Zebra’s retail customers today, and in the future.

Prior to joining Zebra, Bill was the Senior Director of Strategic Analytics, Systems and Support for Walgreens Asset Protection Solutions. In his role at Walgreens, he was responsible for maximizing the profitability of 9,000+ retail locations and was one of the company’s Subject Matter Experts for Total Retail Loss, leveraging technology and analytics to optimize Walgreens inventory performance, enable the Walgreens associate team and deliver a differentiating customer experience.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Thank you for having me! Happy to share more about my previous experiences, and where I’ve been that’s led me to Zebra. I was a retailer for 15 years leading corporate teams largely focused on Loss Prevention. The teams I led were focused on capabilities like leveraging analytics and technology, building proactive programs to deploy to the retail stores and really pushing the envelope on how to think about retail. We challenge ourselves to think about where efficiencies and incremental profitability and loss reduction could be achieved and how we could streamline the operations while we were at it. Often, we leveraged software solutions in the Zebra portfolio, in addition to Zebra hardware. Which made the transition to my time here at Zebra even more fitting. When the opportunity to join Zebra and oversee the global retail technology strategy came up, it seemed like the right next move for me to implement what we were doing at Walgreens, but for all of Zebra’s current customers looking to solve for current and future challenges.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I think the most interesting story and achievement has been how the team has redefined how work was done in Loss Prevention. In a relatively short amount of time, we completely reimagined how our field team was organized and shifted our resource to deployment to be data driven, putting the resources where the greatest loss prevention needs were, not just based on where stores are located. From there, we evangelized our broader company to adopt the Total Retail Loss framework (a framework and report commissioned by the Retail Industry Leader’s Association (RILA) that expanded the scope of opportunity within our group to not be singularly focused on inventory loss and theft, but also the operational breakdowns that happen every day in retail and cause unintended losses. This really empowered our company to take a closer look at where there could be opportunities for improvement, completely within our control, and more widespread because they were non-malicious in nature.

With that framework in place, we then were able to implement a software platform that allowed us to push alerts when we identified breakdowns in the operation and more traditional loss, so our operational approach was action oriented and not focused on reviewing reports and dashboards. This was a massive force multiplier for us as we demonstrated the effectiveness of this approach within the Loss Prevention division and subsequently working with the operations team to adopt the platform as well, taking the user base from hundreds of people to thousands.

Are you working on any new exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

We’re very focused on the increase in adoption of online ordering in retail with options like Buy Online, Pickup in Store (BOPIS) or Buy Online, Pickup at Curb (BOPAC). As customers gravitated to these options at unprecedented rates, driven by the pandemic, it introduced a significant amount of cost and complexity into retailers’ operations. All of those orders being picked in a store are being “shopped” by an employee instead of the customer. That introduces an incremental need for labor that didn’t exist previously and adds to the workload of associates in the store. Couple that with the challenge of labor availability, our customers are also seeking technology to help them optimize and automate how they utilize their labor and how they manage their other major investment, inventory. This brought up questions like, “How can technology help improve inventory accuracy? How can technology help make sure the right products are in the right place at the right time, and dynamically adjust as things change? How can technology help ensure that the work being done, by the associates whose time is already so precious, is the highest value work?” We’ve been building a portfolio of hardware and software solutions that help answer these exact questions and needs identified by our customers and teams. That is something we’re very passionate about at Zebra!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful, who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I have been fortunate to have both leaders and peers that have been very supportive over the years. While I won’t point out a singular person, and the list I’m grateful for is longer than your readers probably want to read, what I’ll share is this. What always drove success for our collective teams, for us as a leadership team, and for how we collaborated more broadly across the organization, was focusing how we worked, cross-functionally, on “The Three Cs”:

  • Communication — be clear and transparent with one another)
  • Collaboration — we’re all in this together so when we can help each other, we should…and did
  • Consistency — let a set of guiding principles lead how you show up…then, everyone always knows where you stand and what to expect from their interactions with you

That is how we built trust, coalitions, and ultimately truly strong partnerships within our leadership team, and across the broader organization.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I’ve been fortunate to get the opportunity to lead teams that built tools and solutions for hundreds of thousands of retail store associates, at any given point, and millions of them over my 15 years in retail. All of our solutions were always focused on the same thing — how can we make our store team members’ jobs easier so they can best take care of our customers? When you think about it, that’s a pretty profound impact you can have on a massive group of people over the years. The solutions our teams were building and deploying would have a direct impact on the store associates day-to-day. That impacted how their day went, which impacts how they talk to their families at the dinner table that night when they ask, “how was your day?” and impacts how their customers’ experience went while they were in our stores. We were keenly aware of the reach, and impact, we could have with a successful deployment of a solution, and equally important, had a high level of focus and respect for what happened when we didn’t get it right so we could learn from that.

So, when it comes to bringing goodness to the world, I think our success allowed us to do that the way we did most things — bring goodness to our team members and they will spread that goodness to their customers in their interactions as they care for their needs. That’s a reach that could impact 100+ million people over the years!

Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share a few examples of different ideas that large retail outlets are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?

I touched on this a little earlier. It’s all about optimization and automation right now. How can I automate my inventory management tasks? How can I leverage software to automate the oversight of my operations levering the data I already have? What role can RFID and computer vision play in delivering real-time inventory visibility to support the online customer demand, especially when orders need to be fulfilled in a store and not a distribution center (DC) or fulfillment center? Where are there opportunities for me to drive digital optimization and automation leveraging capabilities like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML)? How can I better handle the higher volume of returns coming back from the increase in online shopping? On average 30% of online orders are returned, compared to 7% of brick-and-mortar purchases. That’s another new level, and type, of complexity. What’s the future of checkout going to look like? We’re already seeing unprecedented levels of adoption for self-checkout (both on the parts of retailers and their customers). What will the next evolution(s) look like?

Retailers are asking all of these questions and looking at these areas to find ways to optimize their operation while still meeting the ever-evolving expectations of their customers for more value and faster turnaround times, while providing a safe shopping experience.

The supply chain crisis is another outgrowth of the pandemic. Can you share a few examples of what retailers are doing to pivot because of the bottlenecks caused by the supply chain crisis?

Retailers have really broadened how they think about their supply chain network, and the power of the visibility across that network to most profitably meet customer demand, while managing through challenges like Supply Chain bottlenecks. Because, at the end of the day, if you can’t get new inventory into your own network of “nodes” (DCs, Fulfillment Centers, Stores) you have to maximize how you leverage what you already have in your network. We’re seeing retailers really focus on optimizing functions like their merchandise planning so they can do more short-term planning, and decisioning, to allocate and reallocate the inventory they do have to best satisfy customers online and, in the brick-and-mortar stores. They are looking to solutions with capabilities like AI/ML to augment what they have in place today, or sometimes replace what they have.

How do you think we should reimagine our supply chain to prevent this from happening again in the future?

I don’t know that it’s a reimagining as much as an accelerated evolution toward where we are headed. Bringing next levels of visibility across the supply chains, from the boat, to the port, to the truck, to the dock door, to the other truck, into the back of the store and on the shelf for the customers. Each of those steps is an opportunity for visibility of that inventory which can be used to help deliver what will ultimately be needed to absorb future supply chain disruptions; and that is the ability to pivot and adjust, quickly, to the environment and make better decisions, faster, to meet the demand.

In your opinion, will retail stores or malls continue to exist? How would you articulate the role of physical retail spaces at a time when online commerce platforms like Amazon Prime or Instacart can deliver the same day or the next day?

Absolutely. Brick-and-mortar retail stores are here to stay. Online offerings will continue to be highly relevant to customers as well. That said, retail customers continue to express that they intend to continue to shop in stores, in addition to online. The majority of shoppers prefer a blended shopping experience of online and in-store.

The so-called “Retail Apocalypse” has been going on for about a decade. While many retailers are struggling, some retailers, like Lululemon, Kroger, and Costco are quite profitable. Can you share a few lessons that other retailers can learn from the success of profitable retailers?

Retailers that are having success, and will continue to have success, are first and foremost customer led. They have a strong connection with their customers, have clear line of sight to their needs, and can react when those needs and expectations change or evolve. They’re also dedicated to innovation and constantly open to challenging the status-quo. Doing something because it’s how it’s always been done is the worst reason to avoid change. The winning retailers have embraced that notion and are looking to technology to help them evolve with their customers, as the environment around them changes daily. In fact, 73% of respondents in Zebra’s 14th Annual Global Shopper Study indicated that they expect the latest technology in stores. Dynamic, agile, and focused on continuously innovating for their customers is the recipe for success.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a fantastic retail experience that keeps bringing customers back for more? Please share a story or an example for each.

  • Customer First, Always — Know what they want, what they care about and that those things will continually change, so be prepared to proactively adjust when those needs start to shift.
  • Retail is People — No matter what decision you’re making, or solution you’re building, the people (associates and customers) are the priority. If you’re laser-focused on doing best for them, and listening to their feedback intently, you will succeed.
  • Challenge the Status-Quo, Constantly — Retail looks so different today than it did 50 years ago, even 20 years ago. Pharmacies have drive-thrus, checkouts can be self-service, kitchens are being designed with virtual reality and augmented reality. All of those evolutions came from people willing to ask ‘why?’ And, importantly, continue to ask ‘why.’
  • Retail is the Ultimate Team Sport — There are so many interdependencies in retail, and handoffs across the organizations from Supply Chain, to Merchandising, to Marketing, to IT to Operations, to Loss Prevention. The retailers that find ways to truly collaborate, cross-functionally, for the greater good are delivering next level change and customer experiences.
  • Focus on the Positive and Deal with the Negative — There are always problems to solve and issues to fix in retail. That will never change. Being solution obsessed will position you to deal with the inevitable challenges. While you’re doing that, celebrate the wins and focus the teams on what’s working! It’s so much more impactful to teach what great looks like, and celebrate it, than to just focus on what’s not working. You can, and should, do both.

Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. Here is our final ‘meaty’ question. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I can’t claim this to be the start of a movement, but more of a build of one that’s out there. Be kind to one another. There’s no shortage of challenges in retail, and let’s face it, life in general. We were always better when we took challenges on together, and we did that because we trusted one another. That trust was earned, and it starts with kindness.

How can our readers further follow your work?

You can find me on LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/billinzeo

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

You’re quite welcome. Thank you for taking the time to chat with me.

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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David Liu

David is the founder and CEO of Deltapath, a unified communications company that liberates organizations from the barriers of effective communication