New and old school retailers alike come together at SXSW

          Laura Heller

A lot has changed in the two decades since I began reporting on the retail industry in 1995. The shoppers, the products and the retailers themselves have all shifted quite a bit. But nothing has changed more than the technology now used to sell, support and reach shoppers.

Back then, a visit to a trade show meant navigating an expo hall full of consumer products and display materials. Back then, cardboard shippers, hang tabs and clamshells were considered new or innovative.

How quaint it all seems now.

SXSW kicks off on Friday and this will be my first trip. As a big music lover, I've always wanted to attend the festival, but it's the Interactive component to the two-week-long festival that has me finally headed to Austin, Texas.

I'll be moderating a panel titled "Mobile Tech and the Retail Revolution." I think it's safe to say I've come a long way from corrugated countertop displays.

Technology is now the central component of any retailer's operation and the key to its growth strategy. Be it software that helps guide ordering and inventory decisions—the platforms now powering websites, direct selling and social media marketing—or the technology being deployed in stores, technology and retail now go hand in hand.

Beacons will be hot at SXSW and I'm expecting to hear a lot about how they are helping retailers and brands to push notifications to shoppers. There will certainly be quite of few informational sessions intended to help brands better reach millennials, and of course Big Data will be a big topic as everyone seeks to harvest useful and actionable information from all the digital crumbs consumers drop throughout their day.

There will be companies in Austin touting these technologies in all of their many forms. There will be large and established technology providers alongside a good many startups. That's what makes SXSW so exciting. Elder statesman vendors will be sitting next to 20-something pitchmen on panels.

I'm looking forward to talking about mobile—and anyone in Austin next week is invited to the session on Monday, March 16 at 11 a.m. -Laura