This year’s SXSW was quite an experience. From the innovative technologies showcased in the interactive track, to the up and coming musicians and producers moving their audiences in the music and film tracks, SXSW attracts attendees from around the world with it’s extensive repertoire.
A theme that echoed throughout the week and one that I resonated with is that experience drives action. With the rise of e-commerce and external pressures on brick and mortar retail, driving in-store traffic and brand engagement is obtained through providing a unique experience. I saw this strategy discussed on panels, created in pop-up retail, and executed in brick and mortar establishments during my time at SXSW.
At RetailLoco, Charlie Larkin at GameStop (RevTech Ventures mentor), John Harmon at Fung Global, Alex Hurd at Walmart, and Asif Khan at LBMA were panelists discussing the gamification of proximity. When covering brand loyalty as it relates to ‘value’, it became apparent that cost savings alone isn’t enough to drive loyalty. Instead, a focus on an integrated experience that transcends from home to store is the future. Walmart’s examples were a busy mom with kids in the car can have groceries brought out to the car, or that prescriptions can be paid for in their app and save you time waiting in line.
On a SXSW panel, Fender’s Chief Product Officer, Ethan Kaplan, discussed how bespoke is the new mass production. Fender is giving customers the ability to customize their dream guitar from not only an aesthetic standpoint but also all the inner workings and technical components. The only limitation is that the final product needs to be representative of the brand.
Levi’s hosted an event at SXSW called Levi’s Outpost. As soon as you walked in you were encouraged to play with the innovative technology they are currently developing like electrically conductive textiles that can serve as digital turntables or the wearables they’re integrating into their jean jackets with Jacquard by Google. The backyard was set up to host panels of fashion and technology experts and there was also a small gift shop where you could buy Levi’s. They had tailors on hand to customize the denim products to your liking. This was a great example of a pop-up retail experience where the brand takes you on a journey while personalizing it for each customer.
Yeti Coolers opened their flagship store in Austin last month. Their approach was to create a brand museum to engage and activate customers while building a long-term relationship. After getting a drink at the bar and a Franklin BBQ sandwich, I walked around the store and learned about the history and story of the brand. They also had a live band on a stage, which was built with their coolers. Not to mention the lack of bar stools, because the audience was seated on their coolers. While the space was in fact a store, the primary goal was to activate customers and have them buy into the brand which they hope will lead to a sale.
Yeti Flagship Store
Brick and mortar isn’t going to disappear. However, the ways in which physical traffic is engaged and utilized by brands will change. One such way is tailoring experiences to individual consumers through the use of mobile and analytics to create a seamless experience from either online or offline commerce. Other trends I saw emphasized were automation, AI, analytics, mobile and social engagement, new retail models such as Turnstyle NYC, and the search for AR/VR’s place in either in-store or online.
SXSW provided a front row seat to some of the trends in retail innovation. I look forward to returning next year! Did you see anything cool retail exhibits while at SXSW? Tell us all about it in the comments!