Interview with Antoine Azar from Thirdshelf: Enhancing customer retention through data


As one of our previous speakers, Antoine Azar from Thirdshelf accepted to give us, two years after his conference, an update about his work, his business, and ecommerce.

1.    What does your everyday life at work look like?

Startups are awesome for the particular reason that there’s not really an “everyday”. Every day tends to be different, because things come at you from every angle, you have the freedom to steer in any direction. You’re dealing with organized chaos, and for some people (like me), it’s a thrill. In my role as CTO, my expected tasks will be composed of syncing with our dev team regarding our progress, review our roadmap and its priorities, meet with my cofounders to review progress on our most important initiatives, work on PR and business development (which means meeting a lot of new and fascinating people), and of course, actual software development.


2.    What are Thirdshelf’s objectives?

Thirdshelf is a marketing automation platform with A.I. at its core. We use artificial intelligence to crunch through a retailer’s POS and ecommerce data to extract patterns and insights. These insights are then fed to our marketing automation engine, to intelligently re-engage the customers and grow sales. When a retailer turns Thirdshelf on, they basically get a world-class marketing department in a box, that is able to tailor-make a loyalty program and ongoing marketing campaigns for their business.


3.    What kind of data does Thirdshelf need in order to analyse data and optimize campaigns?

We connect to transactional systems such as point of sale systems and eCommerce platforms. From there, we’re able to extract transactional data down to the SKU-level. So we don’t just know that a customer made a purchase at a certain date for a certain amount, but we actually know what it is they bought. Based on this data, we can derive a lot of interesting insights.


4.    Concretely, how does it process data to enhance customer retention?

We have some very interesting technology working behind the scenes to understand customer behavior and optimize retention. The most basic level is called RFM analysis. We’ll build a profile on each customer based on the recency (R) of their last purchase, the frequency (F) of their purchases and the monetary (M) amount they’ve paid to date. Where it gets more interesting is in the sku-level machine learning algorithms of the platform. These algorithms’ role is to predict what a customer will buy in the future, at what date, and why, based on a timeline of past purchases. This is a very challenging problem in machine learning that we’re tackling, and we’ve received a R&D grant from the National Research Council of Canada to develop this technology.


5.    Could you tell more about the principles of machine learning?

Machine learning differs from traditional programming based on the fact that the developer is not hardcoding conditions and outcomes in the code, because he doesn’t know what they are, and there’s just too many of them. Instead, we ask the machine to look at data, and based on a mathematical model, to try and make sense of this data – finding correlations, deducing causations, posing a certain action, and then measuring the impact of that action to assess the quality of its understanding. Because it’s a closed loop, the machine is able to learn from its actions and keep improving as it collects more data points. It’s truly fascinating technology.


6.    Focusing on the customers, how does Thirdshelf build a high-value relationship with them?

The big buzzword in the industry is “omnichannel retail” (offering a smooth experience regardless of the channel customers use to interact with a retailer). Our vision for retail goes beyond the nuts and bolts of channels. We call it “relational retail”. We believe high-value relationships are built when a retailer offers exceptional customer service, regardless of the number of channels. Let’s stop obsessing about multiplying the channels, and let’s make sure we focus on a customer’s individuality and personalize our offering, even if it’s only through one channel. This resonates highly with independent retailers, for who 90-95% of their business is in-store, and investing online only has a tiny impact on their bottom-line.

This relational retail is based on values of trust, relevancy and respect.

Trust: Customers tend to have a lot of trust towards independent retailers, and for that reason we’re completely white-label. We don’t come between retailers and their customers (like many of our competitors do) because we want to preserve that relationship of trust.

Relevancy: We live in an incredibly noisy world, and what separates signal from noise is relevancy. Marketing is too full of irrelevant messages, promotions of products we don’t want, or sent at the wrong moment. We focus on personalized offers for the right products, sent at the right time to the right person.

Respect: The reason of an artificially intelligent marketing platform is to avoid blasting entire customer lists with generic messages. At its core, this comes down to respecting the customer’s individual needs, respecting their time and their attention. Customers appreciate this and reward those merchants accordingly.


7.    How does personalization take shape?

Personalization takes very different shapes. At the core, we personalize the content of the message and its timing. If you buy a mountain bike today, you might be interested in an offer to upgrade. But you don’t want to get it right away – you’ll want it in (say) 12 months. So both message and timing are critical. Secondly, with the multiplication of communication methods, the medium becomes very important. Some customers want to communicate via email, others via SMS, and others via a social network like Facebook Messenger. We adapt to each customer’s preference.


8.    Is it simple for a small business to incorporate this strategy?

It used to be impossible – technology was simply not available to small retailers, and the big retailers spend millions with big-corp suppliers like SAP, IBM and Oracle. With a platform like Thirdshelf, a retailer can turn it on in a few minutes, and start seeing the revenue boost in a matter of days. Because we’re connected to the transactional platforms, we’re able to measure in real-time the hard dollars we bring in. Retailers get very excited to watch their Thirdshelf dashboard and see the revenue grow based on each campaign we automate!


9.    Now that we understand better the process of customers’ reactivation, what about maintaining current customers loyalty?

Our platform’s first step is to segment the customer base according to their stage in the “shopper journey” – from first-time customer, to churned. Of course, our goal is to bring customers to the middle, most profitable segment of loyal repeat customers. A customer in this segment gets highly rewarded for their loyalty, and our platform works hard to keep them there.


10.  What’s next for Thirdshelf?

We’re working very hard on our cutting-edge machine learning technology alongside AI researchers (there’s some great ones in Montreal!). In parallel, we’re very excited about some of the joint initiatives we’re working on with our POS and eCommerce partners to bring this technology to many more retailers. As our customer base grows, the intelligence of the collective network of Thirdshelf retailers grows with it, and we’re able to keep increasing the value we provide to our retailers. Our goal is to become the reference for customer behavior in the SMB retail industry.

Interview with Alexandre Vanier from Poches & Fils: Marketing innovation through stunts


On the occasion of the #31 Conference of MTL + ECOMMERCE, we asked some questions on the brand’s ecommerce techniques to Alexandre Vanier (on the left), one of the three creators of the enterprise Poches & Fils

The creators participated at the beginning of the year to the TV show Dragon’s Den, from which they received a funding of $100,000. The concept is simple: choose the model, the pocket design, and the size. With more than 4,000 possible combinations, the website updates a new pocket a week. How does the brand handle these variations and its sudden expansion?


1.    How did the idea behind Poches & Fils of adding a personalised pocket on a shirt come into life?

The idea behind our business came from our CEO Anthony Vendrame. Back when he was still attending HEC Montreal, one of his friends came to school with a burger pocket shirt. Anthony found the shirt to be funny and wanted one for himself. Turns out that the shirt were custom made by his friend’s mother, so he asked her to make a few for himself. Few days later, Anthony had already received dozens of comments on the pocket and made a few sales to other friends. After seeing the hype around his new shirt, he took the opportunity and started selling them under the “Poches & Fils” name.


2.   What would you say were the biggest challenges and threats when you started your business?

The main challenges/threats when the company was founded were:

  • To quickly find a way to differentiate ourselves from all the other apparel companies before somebody else beat us to the pocket shirt race. At that time there was almost no barrier of entry to make shirts and compete with us.  
  • To compete in the e-commerce industry with a limited budget and no knowledge at all in this field.

Poches & Fils addressed these issues pretty quickly, by using a humoristic approach for the brand and making as much noise as we could to promote Poches & Fils. For the e-commerce part, it took around a month or two before they fixed this by taking on a third co-founder to act as their CTO / E-commerce director (me!).


3.   In which way did participating in Dragon’s Den changed your work vision?

We received quite a lot of good advice from our Dragons and were lucky to live the adventure, but for us Dragon’s Den was mostly a boost in sales for a few weeks and a good marketing/PR stunt. After the show and some further negotiation, we ended up turning down the deal and went our separate ways. I can’t really say that it changed our work vision, but it surely gave us a lot of new contacts, a good visibility and a taste of the founding game.


4.   How would you explain Poches & Fils success’?

If I had to pick one thing I would say that our original marketing campaigns are the biggest reason of success for us. We invest a lot in marketing innovation through stunts and new ways to catch the attention both online and in the real world.

Add to that a fun and simple product with a good quality that can be bought by almost everybody, a highly converting website and a killer customer service and you have a good recipe for success!


5.   I believe your main target is people from Montreal. How do you promote your brand in this local business?

We never really planned to target Montreal specifically. I think it became our main market pretty naturally because of proximity. We started doing stunts and marketing efforts there because this is where we work and live. After that we made a few partnerships with local shops, associations, comedians and humorists from the city and that was it. Everybody started to talk about us one after another.

Recently we made the #MTLenpoche campaign that is indeed targeting people from Montreal but we are doing this mostly because we love the city and we wanted to give back.


6.  How are you planning on selling outside of Quebec?

We already sell around 5% of our t-shirts outside of Quebec. It’s a first step in this direction. We sell mostly in Ontario for the moment but we are slowly expanding our reach.

Our strategy will be to adapt our humoristic tone to the English universe and use a hyper local targeting in our communications to concentrate our efforts at the same place. For example, we are starting with specific neighborhoods of Toronto and Ottawa with different messages. Conquer one city at the time ! Other than that, we will keep using key influencers and medias that fit with our business like we did in Quebec.


7.   Your community is very strong on social media, and especially on Facebook. Have you placed a Facebook Pixel onto your page? If yes, how do you use it?

Yes, we have a Facebook pixel installed on our website. We started using it around 6 months ago. At first we mostly used it to gather data on the people visiting our website since we were not using Facebook Ads. For the past month we started using it to build relevant custom audience for our Facebook ads tests and of course to track our conversions. It’s a must for anyone running a business Facebook page.


8.   Your business model is based on ecommerce. How are you planning on expending in retail stores?

This plan is already in action, we opened a wholesale division a couple of months ago and are already selling in all the Simons stores in Canada as well as a few Sport Experts and other smaller stores. In order to expend more quickly we also hired a sales rep agency. We are currently closing a few big names for 2017 and we will use this sale channel to enter the other provinces.

If you want to learn more about how they communicated as a startup, and now are expanding, do not hesitate to read the Wink Stratégies blog article.


You can also read a more recent interview of Alexandre Vanier from Poches & Fils here!

Conference summary report: MTL+ECOMMERCE #31


Magento is an open-source e-commerce platform written in PHP created in 2007. They were the main guests of our 31 edition of MTL+ECOMMERCE.

Magento is the most used e-commerce platform in the world. Their first version was sold from 2008 to 2016, when they decided it was about time to roll out Magento 2, an enhanced version. It’s a better looking, more fun version of the ecommerce platform. Not less than 32,000 enterprise clients are already processing to move on to Magento 2.


Why use Magento 2?

Each e-commerce platform has its uses. Basically, Magento tries to provide a tailored experience, and therefore the best customer experience possible. With new tools and new extensions, people can now make their website look like what they want it to look like, do whatever they need it to.

More specifically, Magento creators have a roadmap going 3 to 4 years down the road, releasing new components their clients are expecting.


With Magento 2.1, two main new features were rolled out:

  • Content staging and preview. Christmas, Boxing Day, Black Friday, New Year, … Update your site with content ready to go in precise months. Install it, then forget it. Periods, promotions, homepage, banners, product pricings, everything will be done the day the manager wants it to. There is no rush when the time comes.


  • Improved management interfaces. It makes it easier and faster to search for information in the Admin.


This year, Magento is also releasing Magento B2B as an official product, including basic features designed for these businesses. It can be frustrating when you go to an ecommerce platform, and something very basic isn’t available, such as responsive design (5 years ago, you didn’t need responsive design!).

It also enhanced a streamlined checkout experience, integrated product videos, and responsive reference themes to increase engagement, conversion rates and sales. If there’s something unique that Magento’s customers need, their developers can create it.


Case Study (by François-Xavier Degroot, Le Site)

Magento Enterprise Edition 2.1 has a catalogue of over 1,000 categories, with construction fasteners and tools.

There was the example of a B2B site similar to Home Depot. It uses Mailchimp, Tier pricing, Rule-based free shipping, with connexions to Fedex and Paypal.

Magento 2 has really improved the way it deals with API. Each entity is linked in Magento (as product, customer, order, invoice…) are linked to an API, making them accessible from the outside in order to sync them with accounting systems for instance. It has become really easy to implement your own API (such as a blog).


Developers from Le Site are managing everything straight from SAP Business One using Middleman application, completely based on Magento APIs. It’s doing real-time updates, and is secured by an Access Control List (ACL). It’s important to understand the power of this connector. Clients want to be able to modify their catalogues completely, and to check their coming orders.


With Magento 1, Le Site developed its own Mailchimp module in order to connect directly with Mailchimp to send newsletters and emails. It took them 30 hours to develop it, whereas to do so in Magento 2, it took them only 8 hours.

A bit more technically, it uses the REST API of Mailchimp in order to send newsletter to subscribers. The newsletter system is completely externalized. Magento, out of the box, can therefore send subscription emails, while checking in real time the customer’s status.


Elasticsearch is a really powerful search engine. It’s based on Apache Lucene, and it gives you the opportunity to index any kind of document: blog posts, CMS pages, etc. The search behavior is also fully customizable, for example with keywords or some products at the top. It also provides a suggestion engine, doing autocompletion (it is to say suggestion when searching for something, as on Google) and spell-check. Also, when the search engine finds no results, it can show a “did you mean” note, or a search that you could be interested in.
Magento is therefore a go-to ecommerce platform, highly customizable and to be improved by professionals.

Interview with Corinne Lalonde from m0851: improving the user experience everyday

Corinne Lalonde

m0851 product image

With the MTL+Ecommerce #30 Anniversary Edition approaching, we decided to give our readers a foretaste of the event by interviewing Corinne Lalonde, e-commerce manager at m0851 and speaker at the upcoming event. This well-known company designs and makes in Montreal a wide range of leather bags, accessories and outerwears. Established in 1987, m0851 will soon celebrate its 30th anniversary. What caused this company to get on a such successful path? Corinne Lalonde’s expertise will certainly provide us a first clue before the event.

Hi Corinne,

1- Could you tell me more about your role within that company?


I am the e-commerce manager at m0851 and my objective is to make the e-business grow. I am in charge of everything that touches the web from digital advertising, back-end management to social media and customer service. We work a lot in team so i am not by myself.

2- What makes m0851’s e-shop successful?


There are a lot of things involved. m0851 is a life project, a family company where mutual help is important. Every actor can flourish in the enterprise and bring his own touch. Teamwork really contributes to m0851 success. We also work hard with partners wich are experts in their field that support and challenge our ideas. Finally, it is our diversification strategy that makes our success.    

3- How does m0851 improve user experience everyday?


We stand behind our products and this is why we offer a one year warranty on every product; afterwards we offer a repair service through our stores. Since the web has risen, m0851 uses all the touch points with its customer which means that we are everywhere the customers wants us to be to help and advise them. We can answer those questions quickly. Online, we are working on the user experience. That is my next mission.

4- What is the role of the e-shop compared to physical stores for m0851? Are they two different things or do they follow the same path?


We, in facts, have three different models: the corporate shops, the franchises and the e-shop. The last one is a complement because it is often an entrance for people to the brand. They come to get information on the products, to learn about our manufacturing process or our history. This will convince them to come in the store and purchase. This is a complete cycle for the consumer.

5- The fashion industry is very competitive, how does m0851 manage to stand out?


m0851 had a strong brand image for a while and we respect it in everything that we do. The image stayed authentic. All products are locally built and respect a long process so we end up with quality products. This is what people are looking for. This is what differentiates us from our competitors and the retailers that do similar things. We are not afraid to take risks and do things differently. Innovation through experimentation helps us differentiate.   

6- The customers are more and more demanding and their expectations keep changing. How does m0851 adapt to this trend?


As I said earlier, we’ve been giving our customers what they are looking for for 30 years: authentic, high quality and Canada-made products. That’s why we are always able to get new customers.

7- Which companies are you inspired by?


We really like what Everlane, a California-based enterprise that creates clothes in a totally transparent way, does. They let the customers know why they are paying that price. Personally, in terms of design, i really like Mango and Zara. In terms of experience, i like Asos. They have a ton of different products, but the buying process is clear and direct, and that speaks to me. I really enjoy Bespoke for men. They developed a brand image that is on point, that the customer can identify to.   

8- Do you see new opportunities and possible developments in the e-commerce industry? What about m0851’s e-shop?   


At the moment, we are talking a lot about big data analysis, which we use to optimize websites and personalize the customer experience. It is a step in the right direction, but we still think that user experience is linear while we know that a website is everything but linear. The web is not only a book that you go through, it is multidimensional and you can do whatever you want of it. Each and everybody has his own universe on a website. So customization is good, but it is wide and we do not create interactive experiences on a website. So that is an opportunity that is yet to be developed.

The fact that we do not use our 5 senses on the web is also a problem. How do i make a person feel or smell the leather? Leather is very emotional and we can work on that. There are a lot of good opportunities to take. At m0851, we will try to give a new web experience that will be introduced on Thursday.   

9- To conclude, would you have any advices for a company that wants to start its own e-shop?


Being accompanied is really important. Having a trustful partner with certification, and mostly not be afraid to ask for help and experience to other e-commerce company, especially in Montreal where the community is small, is the key before you start your e-commerce. Once you have somebody to help you, don’t be scared to try new things.  

Thank you to the second speaker of the event Corinne Lalonde for allowing us to learn more about m0851 and for sharing her experience about e-commerce. We appreciate her time and we are looking forward to listening to her presentation on Thursday.