Although the pandemic saw many stores shutting down, it wasn’t bad news all over as many retailers successfully leveraged the increasing number of shoppers drifting online. However, ramping up ecommerce strategies hasn’t been easy for retailers.
Digital stores’ reliance on individual tech stacks, third-party ecommerce platforms, and checkout plugins, and the lack of ease when it comes to integrating with multiple payment methods, have resulted in a less than enjoyable experience for shoppers. Retailers also carry the added pressure of giving shoppers an Amazon-like experience with features such as one-click checkout.
To counter this, Bolt, an innovative fintech start-up, has created a unified ecosystem with its checkout experience platform. Bolt’s solution aims to simplify the online buying experience and eliminate some of the roadblocks that retailers face in growing and retaining their online customer base.
To discuss how Bolt is going about this, I talked to Maju Kuruvilla, CTO of Bolt. Maju was previously a Vice President at Amazon. He rose the ranks at Amazon as one of the company’s fastest-rising engineering stars, eventually leading Amazon’s Global Logistics business unit. Maju shares his thoughts on how Bolt is making a difference in the retail and technology landscape.
Gary Drenik: Tell me a little bit about your background and what made you leave Amazon to join a start-up like Bolt? You don’t see a move like that happen very often.
Maju Kuruvilla: Before Bolt, I worked in Amazon, focusing on challenges such as scaling Prime fulfillment and rethinking global logistics during a global pandemic. I’ve always been attracted to complex problems, and how to use technology to simplify and improve the world around me.
When Ryan Breslow, co-founder, and CEO of Bolt, shared with me his vision for democratizing ecommerce by leveling the playing field for merchants, enabling them to continue engaging with their customers, it got me thinking. The idea of solving what I think is one of the most difficult problems in ecommerce—a disparate and disjointed checkout experience for shoppers at each retailer, and the struggle with conversions and account creation for retailers—is exciting.
I knew early on that Bolt was onto something just by looking at the remarkable customers and partners it has been able to attract. After getting to know the Bolt team, what really blew me away was the caliber of the technical talent. I’m super excited about our opportunities ahead and working with everyone to improve how customers buy online.
Drenik: What makes Bolt different from other companies in the checkout space? There seem to be more creeping up.
Kuruvilla: Well, yes, new checkout plugins are sprouting up every day, promising quick bumps in conversions. But plugin buttons have their issues. For instance, at the critical moment of checkout, shoppers have to step out to register for a new, third-party account before returning to complete the purchase.
Many shopping cart platforms also come with a default checkout that’s built for compatibility but not necessarily for conversions. Building your own checkout that is more optimized can be a huge undertaking—you need to make sure your checkout works effectively with multiple integrations (there are upwards of 40 unique tools like tax, shipping, promotions, payments, etc.)
Bolt focuses on the customer experience and impact. We provide the rails for merchants to connect with the fast-moving and innovative world of ecommerce and payment. Bolt’s end-to-end checkout experience platform provides an integrated, friction-free checkout and post-purchase experience that focuses on acquisition, conversion, and retention of online customers. Our one-click, secure checkout converts customers in record time with no passwords, redirects, or long forms to fill. In fact, we’ve found this approach to result in 63% higher conversion rates for online stores.
Also, our Bolt Network spans across ecommerce platforms, payment processors, and shopper payment methods. The first time a shopper makes a purchase on any merchant’s site within the network, they save their details and enter the Bolt Network. The next time they want to buy, it’s just a one-click checkout.
We now have 5.5M shoppers on our network. 2.5M accounts have been added in the past six months alone, with 300K new accounts added every month. 93% of our online retailers have benefitted from cross-network purchases, which goes to show the effect of the Bolt Network.
Drenik: What is Bolt specifically doing to help retailers offer such personalized, customized experiences?
Kuruvilla: According to a report by Accenture, 91% of consumers are found to be more likely to shop with brands who recognize, remember, and provide relevant offers and recommendations.
With the Bolt Network, we aim to convert all online shopping guest experiences into personalized, logged-in experiences. Our identity-powered commerce helps track shopper journeys across multiple merchants and payment methods. With the ability to recognize the shopper at almost all purchasing points, retailers don’t lose out on any crucial behavioral data and can therefore offer personalized experiences both at pre- and post-purchase.
Bolt delivers retailers real-time analytics and powerful visualizations on a dashboard, helping them achieve more customer conversions. This is why customers with Bolt Accounts make repeat purchases at a 51% higher rate than guest shoppers.
Drenik: What have you been focused on since joining Bolt from a product and engineering perspective?
Kuruvilla: I’ve been focused on building a world-class product and engineering organization at Bolt to drive technology and innovation forward in the checkout space. This is to set the foundation for Bolt to achieve our goal of bringing personalized, logged-in experiences to all independent retailers.
We’re building an ecommerce accounts and identity platform that can work across retailers regardless of their tech stack to power registration, payment tokenization, login, and single-click checkout. Unlike existing global wallets and alternate payment methods, Bolt’s identity platform will be embedded in each retailer’s ecommerce experience and will always put the retailer’s brand first. This will enable us to partner with retailers to convert more guest shoppers into logged-in shoppers who are checking out via Bolt One Click.
Drenik: Where do you see the future of retail headed? What should retailers be paying attention to in 2021 and beyond in order to keep up?
Kuruvilla: According to a recent Prosper Insights & Analytics Survey, shopper behavior has changed considerably in the past year. While in March 2020, nearly 18% of shoppers were gravitating towards online shopping, by March 2021, that number saw a steep jump to nearly 45%.
The question is: are retailers ready to cater to the growing online customer base? The retailers that emerge as winners will be those that cater to this new-age shopper—one that has grown accustomed to one-click checkout and two-day shipping.
The future of retail is also headed towards buy-online and pickup-in-store (BOPIS) and buy-online and return-in-store (BORIS) options upon checkout. Retailers are turning their physical stores into micro-fulfillment centers, satisfying shoppers’ need for speed and convenience. As more brick-and-mortar retailers address customer needs throughout the shopping, checkout, and fulfillment stages, they will emerge stronger than before.
Drenik: Thank you, Maju, for your insights on the changing dynamics in the online shopping world and how retailers need to prepare themselves to tackle these challenges. It’s interesting to note the work that Bolt is doing in this space, helping retailers compete with giants like Amazon.