Technology retailer b8ta was founded in 2015 to create spaces where shoppers could try the latest products out-of-the-box. Here, RLI speaks with Vibhu Norby, Co-Founder & CEO of b8ta to delve deeper and learn more about how the company operates and what exactly sets it apart from your more traditional retail platforms.
The b8ta company believes the next generation of retail is all about discovery and the business was started to build the infrastructure and tools to power it. From its award-winning experiential stores in cities across the US and its soon-to-open first international location in Dubai, to its powerful software & analytics platform used by retailers across the globe, they are quickly becoming the company shaping the future of shopping in person. Founded by Vibhu Norby and a handful of other people from within the electronics industry, b8ta was designed to be a company that was completely focused on delivering experiences instead of delivering a box on a shelf experience.
Its flagship b8ta brand now operates over 20 retail locations in the US after opening its first store in Palo Alto in California at the end of 2015. The most recent store openings were at the Mall of America in Minneapolis, the biggest mall in the country, with other openings taking place in Boston, Las Vegas. Its first international location will open in Dubai at the Dubai Mall this month, with further international locations being discussed. The company has also just launched Forum in Los Angeles, its fashion and lifestyle concept and they have announced a joint venture with Tru Kids Brands, owners of Toys ‘R’ Us to bring their expertise in experiential retail to the iconic children’s toy store.
“What all of our retail concepts share is Ark Marketplace, which is our underlying software platform and business model that powers all of our stores,” explains Vibhu Norby, Co-Founder & CEO of b8ta. “What it does is it helps brands launch physical experiences around their product. So our brands pay for space in the store rather than selling the inventory to us and in return we give them the execution of the space, as well as the software tools and data tools to help them understand what’s going on in-store.”
The company is focused on innovation and innovation through technology. A lot of products on display in b8ta stores are electronics, whilst Forum is reserved for apparel for men and women, accessories, jewellery and some skincare products and Toys ‘R’ Us is the place for all things kids. The business model is more like that of a marketplace than your typical store environment.
Products are introduced into this marketplace on the first of every month in all the stores and on a typical month ten per cent of the entire store will change. So over the course of a year, there is essentially a complete replacement of all the items in store. This is the speed b8ta feel they must operate at in order to keep up with the increasing volume of product launches across the world.
Speaking about the Ark software that underlies everything, Norby says it was derived from what they learnt about brands who did not want to put their products into big box stores. This was essentially because companies were not happy with their experience and the fundamental toolset to interact with retail partners was a combination of email, fax machines and phone calls. So when they came to design the Ark software, they knew they had to create modern and software-based interfaces that allowed brands to control each part of their store experience without having to talk to their buyer or merchant.
Norby describes b8ta as relentlessly contrarian and outside-of-the-box thinkers and believes that many people see them as a single purpose technology retailer that sells electronics, but they are continuously challenging that narrative with their work and the new spaces in which they are pushing the company forward into.
“We have a view on retail that is very different from most of the industry; we are convinced that the future of retail is not about sales or the supply chain or efficiency. Instead we feel it is about marketing and storytelling,” Norby explains. This unique view on retailing means that when customers walk into a b8ta store, they are not confronted with staff members who just want to sell and nothing more. ‘As much as we are a technology company, we are a people company and we believe we have an amazing set of team members who ensure that every customer leaves a b8ta store with not only with experiences with new gadgets, but remembers the helpful, informative and relaxed staff who are excited about explaining the products in front of them.”
With one eye on the future, Norby concludes the interview by explaining he feels that experiential retail is going to have the same level of impact on the retail world as e-commerce did and how the store of the future will look very different to what it is today.
“As for the biggest challenge, I feel that as a technology company, we exist in a time where the physical world is still a lot slower than anything online, and we are trying to navigate a medium that is not yet up-to-speed with things that move fast, this is what we hope to change in the coming years with b8ta,” Norby concludes.