South by Southwest (SXSW) is one of my favorite digital events of the year. Bringing together thousands, if not tens of thousands, of creatives and technology professionals from over 75 countries, SXSW fills Austin TX with the electric buzz of innovation. This year at SXSW, I explored as many retail and eCommerce focused events as possible, and saw energy around 3 innovation themes I wanted to share.
1) The Pop Up Store
We're seeing the convergence of brick-and-mortar retail and pure-play eCommerce, and the intersection is well-reflected by the pop-up store.
Ecommerce businesses are waking up to the reality that their brick-and-mortar competitors are increasingly showing up online, and the technology gap is closing. What a pure-play eCommerce business gains in efficiencies and focus from being technology-centric is in many cases turning out to be a competitive disadvantage, as they lack a physical presence in the brick-and-mortar landscape. Some businesses are addressing this marketing gap by building pop-up stores - whether short-lived, temporary facilities to create a buzz, or one-time "events" with VIP exposure to hot, new inventory - these physical displays of wares create branded, experiential moments for consumers.
More and more traditional brick-and-mortar retailers are looked to extend their market by expanding their eCommerce presence, and experimenting with the new concept of a pop-up store to experiment with being nimble, "small", and agile. Other businesses are using self-serve kiosks at airports, in malls, or at events to extend their visibility in high-traffic environments.
2) The Endless Shelf
Other businesses are experimenting with mini-stores to create physical touch-points with customers. Bonobos CFO, Bryan Wolff, talked about his NY-based fashion retailer's new "Guideshops", as a way to "extend our reach and give shoppers the ability to try on our product line, then place their order on-screen, in the store. It's brick-and-mortar meets eCommerce, with the best of both." Bonobos guideshops offer a one-on-one experience with a Guide who will go through the product line with a shopper. The inventory is limited, but includes every size, along with a showcase of every color. Once the shopper finds the right size, they pick the colors and place an order online, in the store.
This limited selection actually provides all the size combinations a shopper would need to find their fit, and samples of the various colors and styles. Combined with the ability to instantly order the exact combination of size, style and color through an in-store touch screen, the effect is that of an "endless shelf" within a small and cost-effective retail space.
3) The Data Collection Engine
The retailers who are winning in the marketplace of 2014 are recognizing that their business must operate as a data collection engine. When taken as a strategic orientation which underpins the design of every business function, this approach is helping retailers maximize touch-points with shoppers, insights into trends and opportunities, and gain advantages over competitors who do not have a "full-spectrum" approach to data.
A retailer who has a great data collection engine is taking in the following data:
- traffic source
- on-site search and browse
- email subscription
- social activity
- customer profile
- purchase history
- communication preferences
- shipping & returns
- customer service
- in-store visits
- reward & loyalty programs
And likely many more data-sources. The next critical element of being a data-centric company is to ensure that these disparate data-sets are integrated, and actionable. Loren McDonald, Email/Marketing Automation Evangelist at Silverpop, spoke at eTail West this year and argued that a retailer's primary marketing software should also be their centralized marketing database - meaning, for the data engine to run effectively, it needs to pump actionable data into the marketer's primary tool. I couldn't agree more.