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Retailers Say Returns, Consumer Data and Competition Are 2024’s Top Challenges

Bolt, a leading checkout technology company, recently released its “2024 E-commerce Priorities and Predictions” report looking at the retail landscape for 2024. The company surveyed more than 100 decision-makers at U.S.-based e-commerce brands with revenues exceeding $100 million.

Looking back at the 2023 holiday season, the report’s authors found that Cyber Monday broke single-day sales records of $11 billion spent online. Other holiday sale days with the highest volume include Black Friday, Nov. 26, Nov. 25, Dec. 11, Thanksgiving, Dec. 4 and Dec. 18 — with Monday being half of the top days.

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Going into the work week, Bolt’s data found consumers continuously spent money on Mondays, which outperformed all other days by total transaction volume and consumer spending for the holiday season. Beyond the Cyber Five (which the report classifies as the five days from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday), Thursdays to Sundays were peak times for higher average order value and higher ticket items during the holiday season.

Throughout 2023, flexible payment options became a major preference amid the year’s economic uncertainty. Apple Pay was the breakout star, with a 72 percent increase in adoption year-over-year — making it the largest growth out of all the alternative payment methods. The report’s authors also found that mobile purchases continue to take a foothold across varying categories; home goods and furniture saw a 7 percent increase in smartphone checkouts.

When surveying retailers about what’s coming for the e-commerce space, 20 percent believe that artificial intelligence-driven personalization and omnichannel e-commerce will have the biggest impact. Furthermore, 15 percent said checkout and payment innovations such as passwordless and biometric logins will be key as retailers are looking to gain loyalty through convenience.

“Customer expectations are sky-high. More than ever, consumers want simplicity and speed,” Maju Kuruvilla, chief executive officer at Bolt told WWD. “They want to be able to buy at the point of inspiration — whether that’s social media, or a retailer’s site — and they want to be able to finish the entire transaction in seconds. And they want to do it all without having to pull out their wallets or remember passwords.”

As for the major issues retailers anticipate for 2024? Consumer data collection, returns and competition remain at the top of mind. Sixteen percent said customer data and insights were crucial to optimize internal operations, supply chain management, personalized experiences and more.

Managing returns and the associated costs with doing so concern 14 percent of decisionmakers, while 13 percent of people reported competition against massive retailers remains a potential problem.

To reduce return volume, the report’s authors found that 42 percent of retailers plan to leverage artificial intelligence and augmented reality to help customers try on and visualize products. Moreover, 25 percent of retailers said they were planning on “offering enhanced product education like reviews and sizing guides to get the right fit the first time.”

“When more retailers know their customers and can simplify checkout, cart abandonment goes down,” Kuruvilla said. “The virtue of the Bolt Universal Shopper Network is that retailers benefit from all shoppers on the network — not just their own. Every shopper in the Bolt network is someone that can be quickly identified when they visit another site in the network.”

In line with previous WWD reports, Kuruvilla similarly sees social commerce gain momentum within the direct-to-consumer e-commerce space as a way to give consumers a more personalized experience.

“Social commerce is poised to become far more dynamic and personalized,” Kuruvilla explains. “Instead of a video being a single piece of content broadcast to many people, it’s been specifically designed for you. It addresses your interests; it talks about things you might need right now. Social commerce is going to become even more personalized than retailer websites, because there’s so much data on consumers and their activities and their interests, which builds a layer of identity and personalization that is unsurpassed.”

Looking ahead into 2024, Bolt predicts that retailers will collect more first-party data, personalize at scale through AI, look to reduce returns with AI, diversify through distributed commerce and return within the physical retail space.

For More WWD Business News:

Gen Z Women Seeking Work-life Balance Lean Into the Quiet Shopping Trend

Consumers Remain Skeptical of Shopping on Social Media

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