The recent advancements in technology not only allow companies to digitize their paper based processes but also make better business decisions.
While there are plenty of options these days for organizations looking to upgrade their operations, not every company is eager to adopt innovative technology, despite its benefits. Because of fears of disruption or additional costs, some companies still refuse to let go of their old ways of doing business.
To discuss how innovation can reduce costs and enhance operations in the retail industry, we invited Paulo Fernandes Garcia Neto, the Founder and CEO of InfoPrice – a platform providing retailers with the latest market insights.
Tell us about your journey throughout the years. How did the idea of InfoPrice come about?
We studied engineering at Universidade de São Paulo (University of Sao Paulo), one of the best in Brazil. One day, I was talking to a friend that recently started working at a big 4 company, we were having lunch and he started complaining about his job. He said he had to "lie" a lot. I was kind of shocked by the statement, but he explained it in sequence. The point was that they were creating models for a specific project and there was no data from the brick-and-mortar world to test it, so he felt like a liar. Back in 2013, when we had this conversation, Brazil was having an inflationary problem, with specific highlights for one particular product, tomatoes. That became the running joke on the Internet at the time, people were talking about buying houses in exchange for tomatoes. Well, I believe both things crossed my mind at the same time and out of the blue I asked the restaurant's owner a question: "Would you buy information about where to buy ingredients cheaper?” He answered promptly: “Of course!".
This conversation made me think for days about creating a brick-and-mortar prices search engine for consumers, and that made us start what became later InfoPrice. We pivoted quickly from b2c to b2b once we understood that if we managed to develop a technology to gather this information, we would have a better start as a company addressing b2b already existing issues.
Can you introduce us to what you do? What are the main issues you help solve?
We're the largest price data hub for Brick & Mortar retail in LATAM. We democratize technologies previously exclusive to big corps to a huge mid-market. Our SaaS platform helps retailers reach their full revenue potential by monitoring competitors and optimizing prices.
Overall, we have two lines of solutions. The ISA (InfoPrice Survey Analytics) – InfoPanel and POS Monitoring, which cover the lack of data on the competitive landscape and prices charged by industries, wholesalers, and retailers. It also covers the lack of granular and reliable data to act quickly on competitive movements (dynamic market with intensive use of promotional prices) X Competitors price monitoring through a simple and intuitive general price panel, with the possibility to hire POS Monitoring that provides information on prices and assortment in an agile, precise and personalized way for your needs.
And IPA (Intelligent Price Action) – Pricing Software, that solves the difficulties in managing, controlling, and maintaining the pricing strategy, respecting the particularities of each store/region, product architecture, price sensitivity, and profit margins, as well as identifying the best price for each product through various analyzes X Platform that ensures efficiency and governance to the pricing strategy through the use of automatic rules, security limits, price rounding (psychological price), product architecture and BI & IA tools.
In your opinion, what are some of the most difficult challenges new business owners face nowadays?
As the saying goes, "Brazil is not for amateurs". We have a pretty hostile environment for entrepreneurs, and things don't seem to change. We have government bureaucracy, a lot of taxes, and a VC ecosystem in development. On top of that, you can add a hiring blackout for tech people, increased by the pandemic and home office lifestyle, which allowed foreign companies to hire Brazilians with a tremendous financial advantage due to our currency disparity to the US dollar.
How did the recent global events affect your field of work? Were there any new challenges you had to adapt to?
The pandemic impacted our company a lot because, at the time it started, our main product was the POS Monitoring, which demands that a field researchers go to the supermarkets in order to collect the price data, and the social distancing protocols forbade us to do that research for our clients.
To overcome that, we created a prices dashboard of the main products from the supermarkets, filled with all the collected data that we have from our digital partners. Our clients like it so much that we transformed it into a real product, the ISA – InfoPanel, which became our main product today, with more than 500 million price data points from all over the country.
So, what started as a huge crisis, ended really well for us.
What are the best security practices do you think companies of all sizes should adopt nowadays to maintain smooth and secure remote operations?
In terms of applications and technologies, it is certain that those who don’t host their services in a highly robust and scalable cloud are on borrowed days. Aligned with a good infrastructure architecture, it is necessary to perform risk management of all its services, implementing more rigid strategies in the services of high criticality.
Some of the most important actions are the real-time monitoring of suspicious activities, verification of best practices in the use of cloud tools, and finally, guaranteeing backups.
At the internal level of the employees, it is necessary to have a good understanding of the software used, ensuring that specific access levels are given to their respective groups of users, especially when talking about sensitive data. Security policy enforcement, VPN access, and 2FA are some examples of the best security practices.
Despite all the solutions available today, some companies still refuse to upgrade their operations with new and innovative measures. Why do you think that is the case?
Here in Brazil, it always takes some time before new technologies become accessible for everyone, whether it is because of the high prices when they arrive here or the lack of skilled professionals that would be able to implement those innovative measures.
This problem is a huge challenge for us. The retail market is still learning about new ways to improve business with technology, especially because the majority of people from this market don't understand why changing the ways they run their business could improve their profit and operation. So we need to educate them, in order to show how innovation and data can make them more competitive and, as a result, increase their market share and profits.
What other company processes do you hope to see enhanced or automated by technology in the next few years?
Talking about the retail market, the pricing journey starts with the strategies, followed by POS monitoring and pricing automation. But there are parts of the operation that still need to upgrade its technology, one of the cases is changing prices.
Changing prices is currently very manual. After defining the pricing rules, the worker needs to put price labels on the product shelf and expose this to the customers.
I'm sure a lot of human mistakes are made along the way, so that’s why having some technology to make this process more automated would definitely increase the profits and reduce the operational work, which would give more time to the retailers to focus on the strategies.
So, e-tags! You might say, alright, no news here. And yes, as a matter of fact, e-tags are available for decades now. But what's our point here, have you ever wondered why those did not become widespread? Simple answer, huge investment, little return. E-tags are the end of a pricing circle, it's not a profitable stand-alone solution. So the key here, the main challenge is about connecting the dots.
How do you think the retail sector is going to evolve in the near future?
In our area of expertise, we see a move toward Artificial Intelligence and dynamic prices. Basically, it is capable of predicting the right price for the customers of that store. An example of this is Alibaba’s retail, Fresh Hippo. They change prices about 3 times a day.
Another thing that is gaining momentum in the retail industry is the grocery stores with no cashiers. Amazon just opened a few stores in the US with smart shopping carts that automatically register the products put inside the cart.
Tell us, what’s next for InfoPrice?
The next step is to keep growing the company along with our customers. This year we are investing in the improvement of our SaaS solutions ISA – InfoPanel and IPA – Pricing Software, in order to democratize even more the access to data in Brazil, which gives us great possibilities. The future of IPA is side by side with AI. We are working and creating algorithms to provide suggestions of price. Then we will focus on adding online retail data to our ISA, creating an omni-platform, in order to reach more customers and bring more information to the retail market.