We Discuss the Future of Retail at SXSW 2012


In mid-March, tens of thousands of music lovers, film fanatics and tech junkies descended on Austin, Texas for the annual SXSW festival. This year, we were honored by being invited to come and participate on a panel discussing technology and the future of the in-store experience (official panel info). It was an exciting opportunity that we hope to be asked to repeat in the future years of this prestigious festival.

Its been amazing to watch the festival’s success and attendance sky rocket during the last decade, and the expansion into the interactive industry has been a huge factor in that growth. To say attendance was high is almost laughable – the city was brimming with people, all ravenously seeking out and consuming inspiration for their passions in the forms of discussions, installations and shows. It was really a highlight in our history to be part of that momentum.

There were a lot of very engaging discussions – from Foursquare CEO, Dennis Crowley’s, keynote discussion on how their platform continues to evolve and stay relevant, to the “new buzz” around passive-location app rookies such as Highlight and even some really amazing (and fairly alarming) thoughts from Ray Kurzweil on the democratization of technology…and our imminent replacement by cyborgs. (YAY future!)

The speakers I had the pleasure of joining on the panel were Carrie Chitsey, Founder & CEO of 3Seventy, Tim Austin, CCO of TPN, and Chris Harrison, panel moderator and COO of DMX Inc. The panel focused primarily on the current landscape of retail – both in-store platforms and exterior experiences such as web and mobile/tablet. A lot of discussion was around the tech that is in the market today – QR, mobile, RFID, Augmented Reality, Multitouch – and what we saw on the horizon – NFC, 3D Video Projection, furthered AR and, most importantly, the convergence of these experiences into a connected, holistic platform.

We’ve seen amazing examples of Augmented Reality and Video Projection as jaw-dropping attraction mediums and fun, environmental experiences (think Nike’s Melo Event or RockStar), but how can we utilize this tech to drive purchasing decisions in-store or from a shopper’s living room. One of the larger advancements we saw at CES this year was in the Virtual Dressing room category and how augmented experiences like Body Metrics are impacting shoppers’ decisions while reducing return rates for online retailers at the same time.

However, while this solves ‘online’ shopping pain points for both retailers and consumers, it alsocreates potential potholes in the path to in-store traffic since the online experience is that much better. This then puts the heat back on brands (and us as marketers) to elevate the in-store component of our model to provide meaningful, inspiring experiences for shoppers so they actually visit the store in the first place. So what does this mean for the marketplace?

It means connecting with customers’ senses of individuality and personal connection with brands. It means empowering the sales staff with tools and theatrical platforms to engage in a higher level of customer service with shoppers. And most importantly, it means ensuring that these offerings weave together to form a cohesive story across all the touch points that form the overall journey from storefront to shopping cart. Our team recently developed a platform, code-named 5D, that connects shoppers with devices and one-of-a-kind experiences like never before.

Lastly, we also discussed the responsibilities we have as agencies, brand ambassadors and shepherds of our clients’ interests to make sure we are not just pushing tech for tech’s sake. There have been far too many failed retail experiences due to the fact that they were simply off-target from the business goals of the retailer, inappropriate for the store’s customer, fledgling technology that needed to be incubated a bit longer or all of the above. QR, for example, is so easy to implement, that every able marketer over-saturated their materials with a QR extension, delivering a poor user-end experience once the consumer actually went through the hoops of snapping the code. This has really eroded the effectiveness of QR as a connection medium and left a sour taste in most peoples’ mouths when they think of QR. Now, at a time when QR’s potential is really peaking through its ability to quickly connect platforms and personal devices, we are finding ourselves having to resell the tech all over again since it wasn’t used appropriately by so many marketers the first time. As an agency, we must always envision our experiences with attention to core business strategies, while at the same time designing consumer services that support the shopper. It is definitely our job to disrupt the marketplace with ideas, but ideas that are tactful and meaningful for brands and shoppers alike.

At the end of the day, or the panel rather, we all agreed that the point is this: products support the experiences we create. Therefore, these experiences should always support our consumers’ lifestyles as well as the business goals of our clients. They must be meaningful and magical to impact a cluttered landscape that’s piled high with shallow executions and disparate messages. Emerging technology is a powerful medium to break through all of this noise and tell compelling stories, but only if it adds value on both sides of the fence. The consumer story is the brand story these days – period -and personal devices + emerging technology is at the center of it all. We must strive to utilize new opportunities with new technology to educate and inspire the people that fuel this trillion dollar industry, but not squander business dollars and consumer energy in the process.

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