The annual South by Southwest Interactive (SXSW) conference took place in Austin, Texas, March 7–11, showcasing cutting-edge technology and gadgetry from around the world. CNN reports that there is “no new Twitter,” the social network SXSW helped launch in a big way in 2007. But there are several tech developments bubbling up that have the potential to impact retailers in the near and distant future.
Privacy Gets New Champions
As apps like Foursquare and Uber (and a bazillion others) work diligently to figure out where you are and what you’re doing/looking at every minute of the day, a host of new-ish companies are working to create solutions that block data gathering—particularly from wired-up retail stores who like to push notifications to shoppers’ phones while they’re browsing in store. SmartStorePrivacy.org, a site where consumers can opt out of having their phones tracked while visiting stores, recently became available to consumers, courtesy of the Future of Privacy Forum (backed by New York Senator Charles Schumer). And several companies are offering consumers ways to see who is tracking them online.
Trying out Ring, the new smartring, at SXSW (courtesy of Ring)
Wearable Devices Are the Future
The wearable movement (devices worn on your person) is in full swing and is only picking up steam. Your tech-savvy customers are already wearing a Jawbone bracelet or a Nike FuelBand, which track your activity and sleep. At SXSW, attendees could try out the Ring— a smartring funded in large part by a Kickstarter campaign—that lets you write emails and texts in the air using your finger, track your sleeping and activity habits, and more.
A 3-D printer from MakerBot (courtesy of digitaltrends.com)
3-D Printing Evolves
We know that 3-D printing has been used in jewelry and other industries for years to make quick, cheap molds. But as lower-priced printers hit the market and consumers get a taste for making something out of (almost) nothing, we can expect the technology to alter the demand chain of many product categories forever, jewelry included. Clothing, dishes, eyeglass frames—they will all be at-home creations one day. Not soon, but one day.
Customer Data: Useful Only When It Can Be Used
The blanket acceptance of consumer data collection always being a good thing is being rethought. My colleague at McMurry/TMG (JCK’s publisher), Ashley Simpson, wrote that “vanity data [reams of collected consumer info] may be useful to brands, but it’s useless in helping to improve customer user experience at an individual level.” Todd Yellin, Netflix’s VP of product innovation told a crowd at the conference that Netflix recently dropped age and gender from its sign-up form. “The company realized there are much more interesting questions to help better customer experience,” wrote Simpson. Takeaway: You don’t have to know everything about your clients—only the things that will improve their shopping experience.
A screenshot from a map on Slate.com showing Kigali in Rwanda and Konza Technology City in Nairobi, Kenya—two emerging tech hubs (courtesy of Slate)
The Next Silicon Valley Could Be in Oklahoma—or Nairobi
All reports from the tech conference mentioned how global the tech industry is becoming, with major players in gadgetry and online hailing from countries all over the world. Individuals from 74 countries attended the conference and “it was impossible to grab a bite or a beer in downtown Austin this week without hearing animated conversations in languages other than English,” reported CNN. Check out Slate.com’s world map of tech-forward cities.