sxsw ecommerce tips

SXSW Survival Guide for eCommerce Pros

Every March, Austin is flooded with filmmakers and musicians, techies, journalists, and business people of all stripes for the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference and festival. It began in 1987 as a music festival and has since grown to incorporate film, technology, business, education, and environmental issues. If you want to be on the vanguard of the newest ideas and technology, learn from the best and brightest, and meet peers from all over the world, SXSW is for you, regardless of your industry. Brand, category, and eCommerce managers are no exception, and in 2017 (March 10-19) there is a lot of programming for our tribe.

Know Before You Go: SXSW Basic Survival Tips

SXSW is an immersive experience, and it’s easy to burn out if you try to do too much too fast. It won’t be humanly possible to attend every session, meetup, and activity you are interested in. Make sure you review the schedule ahead of time and pick out the few sessions you are most interested in attending and prioritize those events.  

[Click to Tweet] Pro Tip: For your must-attend events (especially keynotes), arrive at least 30 minutes early. These events often fill up to capacity and it’s possible to get shut out.

The best way to manage your schedule is to download the SXSW Go app. With the app, you can research events to attend, create a personalized schedule, and get session and conference details. When creating your schedule, make sure you take location into account. Though the Austin Convention Center is the main location of the conference, events can take place all over Austin. Your best bet is to minimize venue-hopping and choose a specific location for the day.

[Click to Tweet] Pro Tip: You’ll be doing a lot of walking; comfortable shoes are an absolute must!

Getting Around Austin

Just like the event venues, your hotel (or Airbnb) can be anywhere in the Austin area. Plan on leaving your lodgings in the morning and being out and about for the whole day. After attending sessions all day, plan to have some downtime back at your hotel in the late afternoon so that you can freshen up (or catch a quick nap) before heading out to networking events, dinner, or other activities in the evening.

sxsw ecommerce austin map

[Click to Tweet] Pro Tip: pick a small, portable bag or backpack that you can wear comfortably all day, as well as a battery pack or charger for your phone–you’ll be using it a lot. And don’t forget to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Stations to fill up your water bottle are common.

There’s a lot of different ways to get around Austin, but often the most convenient way is by foot. But if it’s just too far to walk (or if you’re exhausted) you have a few different options. Most hotels have free shuttles that will drop you off and pick you up at a central location in downtown Austin. These shuttles typically run on a 20 or 30 minute cycle.

Used to taking Uber or Lyft? You’re out of luck in Austin where those services have been banned. However, Fasten is the official rideshare company of SXSW. Download the Fasten app and get $5 off your first ride with the promo code RIDEON. There are also local rideshare companies GetMe and RideAustin.

If you’re into more sustainable modes of transportation, pedicabs are a-plenty in Austin. They can be pricey, but you can get a guided tour by a local and enjoy some sunshine and the wind in your hair (if the weather cooperates, of course). Or you might be inclined to jump on a bike yourself.

[Click to Tweet]  Pro Tip: You can try to hail a traditional cab, but good luck. It’s a contact sport at SXSW!

Recommended SXSW Sessions for eCommerce and Retail Pros

The sessions—the reason you’re able to expense SXSW as a business trip. If you are attending with a team, don’t attend every session together. Make sure you split up so that you’re not duplicating experiences, and you can cover as much of the conference as possible. Just make sure you share what you’ve learned later.

Twitter is the communication platform of choice at SXSW and each individual session has its own, unique hashtag. Make sure you follow the conversation in the room as well as online—it’s a great opportunity to network and to build your industry profile.

Community Comes First: The New Retail Norm

Especially for millennials, community experiences drive brand experiences. Brands can tap into this emotional empowerment to drive engagement.

Future of Retail: The On-Demand, Peer Economy

Learn about the sharing economy, technology-driven retail, and why millennials crave access over ownership.

IoT & the Shoppertainment Era

Brick and mortar retail is bringing the Internet in-store. Can the IoT accelerate retail–and make it more fun?

Retail Innovation: Reshaping Customer Experience

What is your data telling you about your customers? Reading your data’s tea leaves will help you more deeply understand their tastes and interests.

Retail’s Future: Community = Commerce

Despite our collective addiction to our devices, consumers crave human connectivity and community more than ever. Brands can create experiences that are truly interactive that resonate.

Shop Shifting: How Tech is Changing Commerce

Technology is changing the way we shop–and raising consumers’ expectations in the process.

Shopping & Sacred Social Space

How brands can authentically engage with consumers on social media without making savvy audiences skittish.

The Hundred Thousand Dollar Snap(chat)

How brand marketers and eCommerce teams can optimize social media and activate user-generated content that turns followers into buyers.

Why eCommerce is Finally Ready for Big Spenders

How do consumers make purchasing decisions for luxury goods or big-ticket items online?

Other Things to Do at SXSW

Aside from the eCommerce or retail-specific sessions, make sure you get out of your comfort zone and attend a session that’s outside of your area of expertise. SXSW draws major personalities; this year Van Jones, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and even de-cluttering guru Marie Kondo are just a few of the featured speakers. There are thousands of really smart people from a variety of disciplines all in one spot. Take advantage of the collective brain trust.

Networking is a major component of your SXSW experience and there are both formal and informal ways to scatter your business cards. Two meetups that should interest the eCommerce set are the Future of eCommerce and Connected Retail: Clicks and Mortar. Many meetups and informal events tend to pop up as we get closer to the opening day (March 10) so be sure to check the schedule regularly.

When people think of Austin, music maybe the first thing that comes to mind, but the local food scene is a close second. The barbecue and Mexican cuisine are not to be missed, but you can find just about anything, including a death metal and pizza restaurant (yes, really!) that’s been an Austin institution for more than 20 years.  

sxsw franklin bbq


[Click to Tweet] Pro Tip: Planning on hitting up the famous Franklin’s BBQ? It’s only open for lunch (11am- “sold out”) and lines can be long, so get there early!

The area around Sixth St. and Congress is close to the convention center and where many of the dining and music venues are. But don’t be afraid to head across the bridge to the South Congress neighborhood. It will be less crowded than the downtown area and it’s popular with locals for its restaurants and unique charm.

Are you headed to SXSW? Let us know and tweet us updates!

Danny Silverman

Danny Silverman

Danny Silverman is CMO at Clavis Insight. He is an established industry thought leader with over 14 years of experience helping CPG/FMCG brands grow online presence and sales. Prior to joining Clavis Insight, he led the Sales Strategy & Support practice at Catapult eCommerce. Before that he spent eight years at Johnson & Johnson where he was responsible for spearheading J&J’s eCommerce strategy and capability.