Making It Work: Shopbox helps turn browsers into customers

The AI platform provides recommendations only while a customer is using a client’s website, so invasive ads won’t follow the visitor across the internet

Alan Gormley and Tariq Zaki founded Shopbox, the AI platform designed to turn online browsers into paying customers with in-store personalised recommendations. Picture: City Headshots Dublin

When they founded Shopbox, the AI platform designed to turn online browsers into paying customers, Alan Gormley and Tariq Zaki had a simple plan.

“We found that there was a gap between the way customers were treated when they walked into a store versus when they were online,” Gormley, a 25-year veteran of the technology industry, explained. “So we wanted to use technology to bring the in-store experience online.”

Shopbox now counts major companies such as Schuh, Easons and McMahons Builders among its clients. Its technology can give hyper-personalised recommendations to visitors on these clients’ websites that Shopbox claims are proven to improve conversion rates.

Essentially, Gormley said, Shopbox has built intelligent online shop assistants, which guide customers as they browse a store’s website. They help if items are out of stock and remember what products a consumer looked at previously to show them items of relevance.

Clients of Shopbox typically find that visitors to their sites consider five times as many products as they did before they started using the software.

“They also usually get a three-times increase in conversion rates for those customers,” Gormley said.

“Within one click, a customer you have never seen before – they’re completely anonymous – will start to get recommendations that are completely relevant to what they’re looking for. That sets us apart from most online stores, where you just see products very randomly.”

The Enterprise Ireland-backed company also has strong principles when it comes to the ethics of data collection and will only use the recommendations while a would-be customer is using their client’s website. This means you won’t be followed around the web by invasive ads trying to tempt you back to buy shoes or other products.

“Being bombarded with ads is a terrible experience for consumers,” Gormley said. “There’s a lot of research that says it doesn’t work, because people find it creepy to see products on a different site which they’ve viewed on a retailer’s website. We stay completely ‘in-store’, as it were, and we protect everyone’s data.”

Gormley and Zaki, who previously worked together at a different AI vendor for a number of years, decided to set up Shopbox after realising that the type of tools used by the biggest companies were simply not available for smaller firms.

“We noticed that there were too many barriers for most companies, and that type of technology wasn’t really trickling down. Even today, there’s Amazon and then there’s a huge gap before it trickles down. So we decided we would work with retailers of every size – big and small – to democratise this thing.”

Last June, Shopbox raised €765,000 in seed funding in an oversubscribed investment round, and the firm is confident about its future growth. It is planning another funding round in 2022 and aims to make significant inroads into the European market this year.

“We know consumers are constantly changing,” Gormley said, “and we know retailers can’t keep up unless they’re doing it in real time. So our goals are around bringing more and more innovation to how people shop online”.