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Up Close: In Conversation with SmartGift CEO Monika Kochhar

Up Close is Sourcing Journal’s regular check-in with industry executives to get their take on topics ranging from personal style to their company’s latest moves. In this Q&A, Monika Kochhar, CEO and co-founder of gift-based e-commerce and data platform SmartGift, shares why payments are a customer experience “gamechanger” and how retailers can elevate e-commerce shopping.

Monika Kochhar SmartGift
Monika Kochhar, CEO and co-founder of SmartGift Courtesy

Name: Monika Kochhar

Title: CEO and co-founder

Company: SmartGift

Which other industry has the best handle on the retail experience? What can apparel learn?

Fintech. The way payments have revolutionized the customer experience of shopping journeys is a gamechanger. Going from the end of a transaction to facilitating one by giving new choices and specialized experiences is key. Apparel or any other industry can learn from this. To go from something that was extremely commoditized to radically specialized.

How would you describe yourself as a consumer?

I am a pure online consumer. Physical retail for me is a moment of walking past a shop inspiration or an experience that is bigger than the products at the store—something that I look forward to as more of a sensory engagement.

As a consumer, what does it take to win your loyalty?

The quality of the products and the depth of service. I love uniqueness and value beyond the immediate use in things that I own. Also stories—compelling and purpose-driven missions excite me.

What’s your typical uniform?

I like to keep my outfits buttoned up, but casual, so they can seamlessly go from a video call with a client to a meditation session or running errands with my daughter. I’m a big fan of neutral colors and my go-to outfit for this season is a comfy, black knit sweater paired with light denim skinny jeans and my favorite pair of sneakers.

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Which fashion era is your favorite?

I pull inspiration from all eras and love the transmutation within genres. As long as the fashion expresses a sense of myself, I embrace it!

Who’s your style icon?

Pierre Cardin and Jason Wu are two of my favorite designers and I love radical fashion and pushing the envelope of what is expected. I am also very inspired by Jason Wu’s story and how he has dressed some of the most influential women in the world.

What’s the best decision your company has made in the last year?

We’ve launched some of the most influential and exciting brands and expanded internationally. Also, our suite of products on the platform now completely addresses the entirety of the gifting lifecycle.

How would you describe your corporate culture?

SmartGift’s corporate culture is one global family as we are a startup with team members located all over the world. With offices in both Istanbul and New York, we all are always communicating and catching up on what is going on in our part of the world. We have weekly meetings and celebrate momentous occasions over Slack and Google Meets and we have really embraced the work from home lifestyle.

What can companies learn from Covid-19?

I think the biggest thing companies can learn from Covid-19 is how to pivot and look for alternative solutions to traditional retail problems and how to embrace new, innovative technology. In the last six months, SmartGift saw a steep increase in demo requests and we began onboarding new clients in a mad dash before the holiday season, in order to improve the e-commerce experience and bring our gifting expertise into one of the biggest shopping periods of the year. Especially since we will be seeing the lasting effects of the Covid-19 pandemic in the economy and in consumer behavior, it is now more important than ever to examine how e-commerce can be elevated and improved and how businesses can react to consumers’ immediate needs.

What should be the apparel industry’s top priority now?

How to digitally and motivationally transform most effectively and not let race to the bottom spell the end of some iconic brands.

What keeps you up at night?

When I am reading seriously good fiction, I basically can’t stop reading and seriously cut into my night sleep time. “Circe” [by Madeline Miller] is doing that to me right now!

What makes you most optimistic?

Genuine human connections and the power of collaboration to change, invent and move the world forward.

Tell us about your company’s latest product introduction/service:

SmartGift and our partner, 1-800 Flowers, have teamed up to created a dedicated corporate gifting site that provides an elevated user experience, expanded catalog of gift offerings, and customization features—all designed to help small, medium, and large organizations engage with employees, clients, and other individuals important to their business. This new platform will help engage remote workers seamlessly and corporate clients, whether self-service or white glove, can take advantage of a customized gifting experience with a curated selection of products tailored to their specific needs.