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Salesforce: Generative AI will help drive holiday sales

online holiday shopper
Salesforce sees AI as major digital holiday sales influencer.

Holiday shopping won’t start for a few months, but Salesforce has released five seasonal shopping predictions.

Generative and predictive artificial intelligence (AI), returns, buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS), social advertising and resale will all have a significant impact on 2023 holiday shopping results, according to Salesforce.  

Generative and predictive AI will influence digital sales

According to Salesforce research, 17% of consumers have used the GPT generative AI model for product research and inspiration, and 10% will likely use it to help build their holiday shopping lists. Based on machine learning (ML), generative AI can create new content and ideas, including conversations, stories, images, videos, and music

Retailers have used predictive AI-generated product recommendations for years. But with the rise of generative AI, Salesforce expects retailers to further personalize the shopping experience during the holiday season, with AI influencing $194 billion in global online holiday shopping spend. The areas with the greatest impacts are expected to be: 

  • Marketing: Automating marketing campaigns and drafting content for emails, landing pages, text messages, social media, and apps.
  • Commerce: Offering conversational site search for a more “human” and natural way to find a holiday purchase across digital touchpoints.
  • Service: Creating more nuanced – and human – chatbot responses that can deeply understand, anticipate, and respond to questions.

Poor returns experiences will cost sales

During the 2022 holiday shopping season, Salesforce observed a significant 12% increase in returns. As a result, brands and retailers looked to tighten returns policies. 

But so far, Salesforce says their efforts have largely focused on restrictions rather than creating an experience that balances customer satisfaction with operational efficiency. This decreased returns only by 1% in the first quarter of 2023, according to Salesforce data. Salesforce predicts that poor returns experiences will put 21% of online holiday orders at risk.

Salesforce research suggests effective returns must be:

  • Clear: 93% of surveyed consumers research a brand or retailer’s return policy before making a purchase.
  • Easy: 81% of surveyed consumers have stopped buying from a brand or retailer after one bad return experience.
  • Reasonable: 78% of surveyed consumers have abandoned a shopping cart if free returns weren’t available. And 30% said getting a refund instead of store credit influenced where and when they purchased. 


BOPIS will drive incremental store purchases

Salesforce research shows that buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS) influences consumers to consider a particular retailer, with 39% of surveyed shoppers seeking out retailers who offer it.

And four in 10 (41%) surveyed shoppers are more likely than a year ago to buy after they browse online for inventory available in physical locations. During the 2022 holiday shopping season, Salesforce data indicates that one in five online orders were fulfilled via BOPIS, surging to over one in three after the holiday shipping cutoff dates. 

As a result, Salesforce predicts that BOPIS will drive $28 billion in incremental global holiday store sales.

Social media ads will deliver the best ROI


In the first quarter of 2023, traffic referrals from social media platforms grew 27% year over year, according to Salesforce, even as the shopping journey became fragmented across an average of nine channels. In the past three months, more than half of surveyed consumers said they went to a physical store to see or buy products they discovered on their social feeds. 

Salesforce research shows shoppers are nearly twice as likely to buy a product if it was advertised in their social feeds than if they saw an influencer promote it.  In addition, 50% of surveyed shoppers are more likely to visit a brand or retailer’s website after seeing a social media ad. Social media advertising will drive 10 times more online holiday shopping visits than traditional marketing., according to Salesforce projections


Consumers will embrace the resale market

Over one in three surveyed consumers say they’ll buy a used item for someone else in the next six months. Salesforce predicts 17% of holiday purchases will be a resold item, saving 32 billion pounds of additional waste in landfills.

“Customer retention comes down to knowing your customers,” Caila Schwartz, director of consumer insights and strategy, retail & consumer goods at Salesforce, said in a blog post. Understanding their needs, preferences, profile, and history is the first step in building a successful holiday strategy. Begin with what you have – your customer data – and use tools like AI and automation to meet your customers at the right moment. That’s how you create customer experiences that keep shoppers loyal at peak holiday moments and throughout the retail year.

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