AI, Social Commerce, and Omnichannel: Key Takeaways From Shoptalk Spring 2024

Kait Spong
Kait Spong

Shoptalk Spring was this week, and Las Vegas is buzzing with over 10,000 people in the ecommerce space, from retailers and brands to tech vendors. While there was the usual bustle up and down the corridors of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, the energy felt supercharged with all the talk about AI adoption, the importance of brand building, and the increasingly paradoxical modern customer. 

Shoptalk Recap 2024

Here’s what the Bloomreach team took away from one of the biggest retail and technology conferences in 2024.  

The AI Chatter Hasn’t Died Down — and With Good Reason

Nearly a year and a half after the release of ChatGPT, retailers and brands are now exploring how to continue integrating AI solutions into their workflows, being mindful of their specific use cases and how they craft their tech stack to meet their unique requirements. Ultimately, AI needs to be trained on a business’s data and deeply embedded in the foundation of one’s tech stack to accommodate the ecommerce industry to the fullest extent. These recent requirements demonstrate that AI is continuing to mature, as the industry moves from its foundational understanding of AI to leveraging it for sophisticated, nuanced applications.

Since AI is now redefining interaction and engagement, customer acquisition, product search and recommendations, and loyalty programs can work to build deeper relationships and more meaningful engagement with shoppers. This evolution underscores a broader industry trend toward utilizing AI not only as a tool for internal process optimization but also as a pivotal element in crafting engaging, personalized, and cohesive brand experiences across all customer touchpoints — with the number of use cases only growing.

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The Obsession About the Endless Aisle Is Real

There was a lot of chatter both on Shoptalk’s panels and in the exhibit hall about another growing trend among technology exhibitors, retailers, and brands: blending the convenience of online shopping with the tangibility and intimacy of physical store experiences. This approach, often referred to as the “endless aisle,” is all about merging online and in-store shopping experiences, offering customers a vast selection of products beyond what’s physically available in store, and committing to customer service to broaden sales opportunities for retailers and brands.

In attending one of Shopify’s excellent workshops on the showroom floor, we got to see how one of our technology partners is leveraging the vast array of options available to customers in how they purchase and receive their goods. More and more customers want flexible pick-up and payment options, such as the ability to buy online and pick up in-store (BOPIS) or buy now, pay later (BNPL), which cater to the demand for more convenience, speed, and financial flexibility. These innovations are reshaping the retail landscape, providing consumers with an unprecedented level of choice and accessibility, while helping commerce companies improve inventory management and increase sales opportunities. The importance of these options will become clearer when we get into customer complexity later on.

Social Commerce Is Having Its Moment 

While social commerce initially encountered some speed bumps (e.g., Facebook’s Live Shopping feature was scrapped in 2022, and Meta removed Instagram’s shopping tab in 2023), it’s now stronger than ever. Social platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok — which had an incredible booth in the middle of the exhibit floor; kudos to their marketing team! — have become pivotal in the consumer journey, particularly for Millennials and Gen-Z. Their preferences mark a significant shift toward democratizing the commerce landscape. 

TikTok x Bloomreach Integration

These social media platforms enable brands to launch and promote products directly to consumers, with options to buy everywhere they look. Plus, influencer marketing now eclipsing traditional social ad spending in effectiveness. TikTok, particularly notable for its vast user base of active buyers, exemplifies the power of leveraging FOMO and trend-driven content to stimulate demand for products that consumers may not have previously considered. In fact, Jasmine Enberg, Principal Analyst, Social Media at EMARKETER, confirmed what many of us were already thinking: TikTok will continue to creep into Amazon’s territory. The era where shopping opportunities are ubiquitous is upon us, and creator partnerships will drive relevancy, merchandising, and sales

Omnichannel Isn’t Going Anywhere

The omnipresence of omnichannel strategies in ecommerce underscores a significant shift in consumer behavior. According to McKinsey and Company’s exclusive research released during the conference, shoppers are now using an average of three different channels during their purchasing journey. However, the general advice from ecommerce thought leaders at Shoptalk was to not view these channels in isolation or as competitors. Rather, they must embrace an integrated approach to succeed in today’s crowded marketplace. 

Traditionally, ecommerce would silo itself from in-store. Now, it’s critical to connect online and offline experiences, from your website and social media presence to your brick-and-mortar store. Even if you don’t have a physical presence, more online brands are partnering with companies to create a physical store experience (e.g., Toys “R” Us with Macy’s). Regardless of the channel a customer chooses, this cohesion between all your channels ensures that the brand’s message, products, and service quality remain consistent. In offering convenience, choice, and a unified brand experience, commerce companies will resonate with shoppers’ modern expectations to meet them where they are.

Customers Are More Complex Than Ever 

Understanding the consumer has become more challenging — and more critical — than ever. Simply put, there’s a paradox occurring between economic growth and social dynamics. Thanks again to McKinsey’s new research, we got a glimpse at just how conflicting consumer behavior can be. Despite a 3.3% increase in real GDP growth, a market infused with an additional $3.6 trillion in cash, and 2.6 million excess job openings, consumer sentiment is still trying to recover from the economic turmoil that followed COVID-19 in 2022. 

Young Woman Feeling Frustrated By Shopping Experience

McKinsey’s Senior Partner, Kelsey Robinson, described this current period of commerce as an era of  “ands,” where consumers navigate their financial decisions in a way that balances cutbacks with indulgences. This complex behavior signifies the need for brands to delve deeper into understanding the multifaceted nature of consumer desires, particularly as digital advancements continue to influence purchasing behaviors. In particular, brands must cultivate a profound knowledge of their consumers, pay close attention to subcategory nuances, and strategically position themselves by leveraging their unique offerings against competitors. It’s paramount for ecommerce companies to refine their strategies to harmonize the contrasting forces of economic optimism and consumer caution.

After an electrifying week at Shoptalk, it’s clear the ecommerce industry is surging forward, powered by AI, social commerce, omnichannel strategies, and more. As these trends redefine how brands connect with consumers, staying updated is absolutely crucial — you can stay on top of industry trends and insights with The Edge, our newsletter that explores AI and ecommerce.

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Kait Spong

Senior Content Marketing Manager at Bloomreach

Kait is a Content Marketing Manager at Bloomreach and is passionate about delving into the technology solutions that improve a business’ end goals. Once earning their BA and MA in English, the seasoned writer delved into the world of content marketing, branding, search engine optimization, and social media marketing and has helped numerous companies across all industries with their content and thought leadership strategies. Read more from Kait here.

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