3 Takeaways from SXSW Interactive Festival

SXSW gets a lot of attention for its music and entertainment, but there are also some great events and panels for brands to learn about technology and consumer behavior. I had the opportunity to attend the SXSW Interactive Festival and learn from brands like Away, Foursquare, and Neiman Marcus on what digital transformation looks like for retailers in the “Retail Revolution: Brick-and-Mortar Bounceback” panel.

Here are three takeaways from the panel that every retail marketer should keep in mind:

Digital Channels and Brick-and-Mortar Work Better Together

Retailers are understanding more that digital and physical retail complement, not threaten, each other. Will Williams, Director of Store Operations & Retail Experience at luggage retailer Away, talked about how retailers must evolve the way they are available to their customers as consumer expectations change.

Williams shared how originally Away’s only sales channel was direct-to-consumer through their website, but they started experimenting with retail locations and found that consumers generally browse online first, and then went into the store. Brick and mortar became an extension of what they do online, and the two work together in harmony.  

Technology Is Becoming More Intimate

During most of the panels I attended at SXSW, more people in the audience were on their phones either taking notes or scrolling the SWSW Go app for their next free drink. It was a perfect microcosm of Gayle Fuguitt’s, Chief of Customer Insight and Innovation at Foursquare, point that consumers always have their phones within reach. “Customers are inviting brands to connect with them through affinities on the device,” giving retailers a huge opportunity to use their data to make personalize their marketing.

AR/VR Launches Result in Great Publicity, but ROI Still in Question

Despite multiple booths promoting “the next big thing in AR” at the tradeshow, marketers are skeptical about the ROI. Among those skeptics is Scott Emmons, founder of Neiman Marcus’ Innovation Lab. Emmons helped roll out the AR enhanced Memory Mirrors at Neiman Marcus. While the PR surrounding the release was impactful, he questions whether they truly brought value to shoppers or the brand. Lauren Thomas, who covers retail for CNBC also shared that a few brands are piloting VR experiences for shoppers, but she’s not convinced shoppers want to put on a headset while shopping.

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