By CHARLOTTE EMSLIE
BOSTON—Corporate holiday gifting: It’s an art form, but one that many companies unfortunately miss the mark on. Sending personal gifts that clients truly enjoy requires the proper research, and the truth is, many company agents simply don’t have the time. Thus, come December, it’s a never-ending stream of fruit baskets.
With the holidays on fast-forward soon, the scramble nearly is on. The challenge, though, is that the person in charge of buying gifts for clients often doesn’t know them or their interests well enough to select gifts they’ll genuinely like.
This season, there’s Alyce, an AI-powered corporate gifting platform that harnesses publicly available social data to narrow in on the best gift ideas for either a company or an individual. The process is streamlined and user-friendly: Plug in the recipient’s information and budget, and Alyce taps into its marketplace of more than 15,000 options from more than 2,000 brands to select the top suggestions it thinks a particular client will like. Just pick the recipient, date and add a personalized message. The platform handles ordering, shipping and reporting. Shopping: DONE. Alyce also allows recipients to exchange or donate the gifts they receive.
Founder Greg Segall, an early ecommerce driver who grew his agency, One Pica, to acquisition in 2012, explains how the platform is the perfect intersection of creativity and efficiency. “People want to send more personalized gifts, and they do come up with some semi-creative ideas,” he says. “But this way, you don’t have to do it all, Alyce can do it and find something really special.”
Launched in 2015, Alyce isn’t a newcomer to the Boston scene. But the team has grown to include six people and has taken on such big-time clients as Verizon and JLL. They’ve also gained significant exposure and accolades in the tech community, winning Boston’s Big IDEA 2016.
What makes the practice of corporate gift giving such an important focus is that it forges ties on a personal level, Segall says. Companies work hard to retain and nurture ongoing client relationships—especially the ones that have the budgets to do so. Nurturing those relationships requires going beyond generic, faceless gifts. A person is going to be touched by a personalized gesture—one that they can tell a lot of thought was put into, Segall says.
Firsthand experience with less-than-perfect gift giving is what inspired him to create the platform. When he first started envisaging Alyce, he was still working in the corporate world—and constantly receiving gifts insensitive to his interests. “They all knew I was a health nut, and I’m also Jewish. But every single holiday, I’d get a bunch of Moosemunch, and chocolate, Merry Christmas,” he says, laughing. “I’m like, ‘Guys, we’ve known each other for seven years. Take a second to personalize this.’ ”
The explosion of social media data has made that kind of customer information a hundred times more accessible. Segall explains how the increase in everyone’s online presence has made a service like Alyce possible. “This couldn’t have happened four or five years ago. But now everyone has a footprint online, whether it’s a bio or a Pinterest or even a LinkedIn account. All that information is available.”
It’s available, and Alyce is utilizing it. “Ninety-five percent of the time we find what we’re looking for.”
Alyce also has built a robust revenue model, which Segall says breaks down into “three main doors”: human resources, companies that gift year-round and sales prospects. “HR has the budget for customer gifts,” he says. “With prospects especially, there’s a lot of different possibilities for standing out if you get your foot in the door.”
The platform was in private beta until recently, and in anticipation of a big season, now it’s fully public. “This is a marketplace that doesn’t exist anywhere else,” Segall says. Merchants sign up to be shown on the platform in exchange for free brand impressions. Customers directly pay the cost of the gift, no more. And, if someone does buy, the merchant pays a transaction fee to Alyce.
Segall says he knew he was onto something last holiday season when one out of every two Alyce gift recipients became customers themselves. “All of a sudden, it just took off. The holidays just go up to scale,” he says.
The unique quality of the chosen gifts can actually save companies money, he says. “So when Snapchat is doing their corporate gifting, one of these guys has this bunny that he takes 500 pictures of,” Segall says. “Alyce showed me: Here’s a custom ink drawing of anyone’s pet for $35. That’s going to go so much further (with a client) than if I spent $100 on a gift basket.”
It’s all in the personalization. Segall points to the client who moved his company from Chicago to San Francisco, so Alyce sent him four-deep dish pizzas. “That’s the key behind the whole thing, you have to know someone to send a meaningful gift,” he says.
Giving back to the community—particularly during the holiday season—is one of Alyce’s top priorities. Partnering with Toys for Tots, a Marine Corps Reserve toy distribution charity, they’ve constructed a program that builds on their existing mission to donate 1 percent of their annual revenue to charity. “Our goal is donate 2,500 gifts this season to Toys For Tots,” donating one to a child in need for every toy bought,” says Andres Alayza, Alyce marketing lead.
He explains the Toys for Tots choice: “Toys for Tots isn’t a charity that needs a million-dollar donation from a company to make a drastic impact. It creates a message of hope that will assist (the kids receiving the toys) in becoming responsible, productive, patriotic citizens.
“In the same way, Alyce’s mission is to deliver a moment of true happiness, every time.”