Using AI to Change How We Sell
Have you ever sought to fill the gaps in your style only to return from a seemingly successful shopping trip to realize that you duplicated items you already own?
That’s what happened to Laura Khoury, Shoptelligence CEO and founder, in the middle of a career change that required a wardrobe overhaul. That’s when she cracked the code to part one of her professional future.
Shoptelligence is an artificial intelligence-based style discovery platform that has style reasoning built in. This AI tool understands consumer preferences and product uses to help retailers increase their ticket size and customer experience. It’s an unbiased, personal stylist that helps customers find their style and add the final touches to their design projects.
While you’re reading this month’s WithIt Member Spotlight, you’ll learn about:
* The idea that sparked this AI tool for the home furnishings industry
* The toughest part of founding a tech-based company in our industry
* What omnichannel really means for you
* The advice Laura has for professionals pursuing balance
WithIt: How did you get here? You studied Chemistry and Law, right? How did you find yourself at the Shoptelligence helm?
I was a frustrated consumer. I went shopping when I was switching careers from consulting to law … I ended up buying all the same [clothes] I already had and came home still saying I have nothing to wear.
“Wouldn’t it be cool if when I went shopping, I could walk into a store and have everything that wasn’t relevant to my size, my preference, or occasion, just go away,” I thought. “Then I would be able to see items that are relevant and scan them and see how I could use ’em with other items I already had.” But that didn’t exist. That’s where I came up with the concept for Shoptelligence, [which originally started in apparel].
As we were getting into market apparel, I met with a furniture retailer, and I said, “Here’s what we’ve got for apparel, but I think it’ll work for furniture too.” And they agreed. So, we did our first test for the home furnishings application.
WithIt: What would you say has been the toughest part about founding this company from scratch?
The toughest part is the rate of change or the adaptability within the industry. I think even those that are in the home furnishings industry would tell you, it’s a pretty conservative industry. It doesn’t adapt change quickly. Anyone you talk to — conceptually they get it. Right?
They understand the friction point of trying to get sales associates to add on those final details and how great it would be if they had a tool that would make this process easier. This is just one technology-based battle we fight in the industry. There have been others, right? “Why do I need a website?” “Why do I need to put prices on my website?” “Why do I need e-commerce if it competes with the store?”
But I would say change management is probably the biggest hurdle. Next is the shift toward omnichannel selling to mix the digital and brick-and-mortar experience.
WithIt: Can you tell me about the term “omnichannel”?
You know, everybody’s got their own definition, and it’s totally a buzzword … In my mind, omnichannel and customer experience are inextricably linked.
Omnichannel is all about meeting the shopper where they are for any type of interaction. [It’s about] making every point of contact in every interaction, seamless and designed to adapt to how that the individual consumer wants to be interacted with.
Most people research before they go to the store. Okay, great, but not everybody who walks into the store is ready to purchase. It used to be that the store was the endpoint. That’s the only place you can transact. And so that’s the Terminus, right?
Now, some people might want to go to the store because they want a little more inspiration. Some people may want to go to the store because they just want to get a couple of questions answered and then go home and transact.
It’s about adjusting and recognizing every channel’s role in the consumer’s process and making it such that the consumer receives the experience they want.
WithIt: What is it about your work that keeps you motivated or inspired?
What keeps me excited is the journey and the series of technology changes, process changes and the training that will happen to ultimately get there.
I think the industry and, frankly, retail in general needs to adapt to omnichannel experiences and this concept of an intelligent assistant.
I mean, if you think about the user experience or the customer experience that I had while founding [Shoptelligence], I wasn’t looking for some big data solution to guess what I want. I was looking for something to personally assist me in achieving a goal. And I know that’s not there yet.
WithIt: As a CEO & human, what are you most proud of?
What am I most proud of? I would say being able to have this idea and make it a reality. You know, it’s not been an easy time to launch a tech company, and this is not an easy industry. I’m proud of the team I built and the company being able to demonstrate quantifiably the amount of incremental revenue and better customer experience that we’re delivering for our clients.
WithIt: What do you do purely for fun or rest?
Well, I love home décor, so I do a lot of home projects and a lot of art. And then I also like driving, so I drive and go to the racetrack just to drive. I also like cooking.
WithIt: Have you read or listened to anything good recently?
“Good to Great” by Jim Collins. That’s an oldie, but goodie. I think my favorite one lately has been “Get a Grip” by Gino Wickman and Mike Paton, which is all about the entrepreneurial operating system (EOS).
WithIt: What advice would you give women who want to continue to learn & grow in their field?
I’ve worked in the automotive and furniture industries and studied chemistry, which is a male-dominated discipline. I never paid attention to the fact that I was a woman and because I didn’t make anything of it, nobody else seemed to care.
So, when you ask for advice for women, it’s the same no matter the gender. It shouldn’t matter.
I will say there are some very real things (aspects of being a woman in the workplace).
I have an 11-year-old son, and I happened to be with a big company when I had my son, and they were a great company to work with during this time.
For anyone who’s planning to have a family, there’s no such thing as work-life balance. There’s only work-life integration. You’re never going to get to 50/50, but what you can get to is “work-life integration.”
This or That In a final burst of quick-fire questions, we asked Laura about her design and work/life preferences. Here’s what she said:
Dress up or down
Urban or Rural
Digital or Analogue
Call or Text
Mountains or Sea
We hope Laura’s words encourage you to pursue the career you want, fix problems you see and support the women around you.
If you’re considering WithIt membership for your professional journey, find out more about our mission here, and make the decision to join today.