“If you ask any retailer, 80 percent of their profitable revenue comes from the top 20 percent of of your customer base,” says MaryLiz Lehman, CEO and co-founder of concierge retail technology platform Pixavo.


“What are you doing to differentiate –– personalize, retain, inspire, engage with them? I think that’s where the downfall has been in retail.”


MaryLiz Lehman, CEO & co-founder of Pixavo (John Rosin/Technori)

Lately it seems that the retail landscape is littered with spectacular collapses: Sears, Toys ‘R’ Us – even Gap is set to close hundreds of its stores. Yet brick-and-mortar retail still dominates the market, with e-commerce making up only about 10 to 15 percent of overall sales. (Crazy, right?) Even digital-first behemoths like Amazon see value in opening physical locations.


High-profile Chapter 11 filings in the retail sector are largely a failure of imagination in the age of e-commerce. We’re overwhelmed with choice, hyper-aware of price, and pressed for time. The companies that succeed, says MaryLiz, are the ones who make our lives easier.


“I can probably buy anything I want, anywhere, at any given time –– and probably at a discount. So the way to break through all of that clutter is through personalized service.”


MaryLiz’s brainchild Pixavo is a way to digitize client-centric retail. “We are a mobile commerce platform that enables relationship and consultative sellers,” she explains. Its clients include luxury fashion brands Akris and Worth Collection, furniture retailer Boston Interiors, and Chicago’s own wedding apparel startup Brideside.


Retail employees and direct sales consultants can use Pixavo’s SaaS toolkit to engage their clients with personalized visuals and transaction-enabled messaging.


“We’re helping salespeople monetize their expertise, providing a technology where they can very easily make personal recommendations and inspire sales through context,” says MaryLiz. “For example, creating outfits or putting together mood boards for a living room.”


Pixavo can be customized with a company’s branding and integrated with their existing CRM, POS, and e-commerce tools. Fundamentally, it enables sales teams to gather and capitalize on customer data.


For MaryLiz, data is a way of understanding customers intimately. “I can use data to see what’s in your closet or your living room. I can make a recommendation to you based on what I know about you,” she says. “There’s tons of opportunities there.”


As a veteran of the tech consulting, payments, and retail apparel sectors, MaryLiz is uniquely positioned to innovate sales tools. After grad school at Kellogg (go Cats!) and a stint at VISA, she opened a chain of luxury women’s boutiques in Chicago called Perchance. Her seven years in that high-touch retail environment taught her the value of long-term relationships with clients.


“I knew which customers didn’t like the color yellow, who didn’t like her upper arms, and who just had breast cancer surgery and wanted to cover that up,” she says. “Knowing that kind of data empowers people to save time, both on the sales side, as well as on the customer side, and gives the customer a great experience.”


For her next act, MaryLiz knew she wanted to create technology that could solve some of the problems she faced in retail, she says. “Also, I was looking at where the industry was going, where I thought I could differentiate. So I learned how to code at 1871.”


MaryLiz was one of the first graduates of 1871’s Actualize Coding Bootcamp in 2014. She then met her CTO and cofounder, Ross Bell, who helped build the tech behind Trunk Club. The partners founded Pixavo in 2016.


Though consumer data underpins every aspect of the business, MaryLiz sees Pixavo chiefly as a vehicle for personal, meaningful connections.


“It’s an art and a science,” she says. “The data’s not going to capture everything.”


Pixavo’s niche is really in using “conversational commerce” to deliver personalized service, “enabling humans to use their network,” MaryLiz says, “and appreciating the lifetime value of a customer.


“A lot of brands and retailers –– most companies, I guess –– focus on acquisition, but we’re centered on understanding retention and continuing to earn loyalty. Whether you want to check out from your couch or you want an in-person experience, you should still have the same service.”