• Retail Dive

What b8ta has figured out about retail

The startup says it's unearthed a new purpose for brick and mortar. Its Macy's partnership provides a chance to scale but could test the limits of the concept.

The internet hasn't been entirely kind to retail. The dot-com bubble burst of the early 21st Century offered some lessons about wild speculation and misplaced expectations, but that hasn't saved retailers the ongoing expense of tight margins, supply chain upgrades, IT development and meeting customer expectations on all channels.

Or solved the troubling question of what to do about their stores.

E-commerce growth is outpacing overall retail sales, yet customers still depend on stores for the vast bulk of their shopping. That's boggling some of the best minds in retail, but one startup says it has the answer.

"We figured something out about retail that no one else has," said Vibhu Norby, a co-founder and the CEO of "store-as-a-service" platform b8ta, which recently picked up $19 million in funding from a group of investors led by none other than department store juggernaut Macy's. "If you shop in one of our stores, you will feel different because we have gone to such a great length to remove the idea of your visit being about buying a product."

The concept

B8ta leverages good store design and data to showcase goods, many from little-known makers, in its own stores and in other retailers' shop-in-shop spaces. In April, the company unveiled "Built by b8ta," a store-as-a-service platform that allows brands that traditionally haven’t operated stores to quickly set up new physical operations.

The software includes checkout, inventory, point of sale, inventory management, staff scheduling services and other capabilities. It was demonstrated earlier this year at the TED2018 conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, with the creation of a pop-up store featuring demonstrations of products, like the Jibo social home robot and the 16-lens Light L16 camera.

And if those products don't sound familiar, that's kind of the point. B8ta began as way for emerging products in a new category of consumer technology, the Internet of Things, to communicate their usefulness to the public. The company allows brands to tweak approaches to display, marketing, customer service and even the product themselves. B8ta sells no merchandise itself, instead charging "subscriptions" that brands pay to use their spaces and their Built by b8ta platform, for short or longer terms.

"At RetailNext, we call it 'interior analytics,' and a great many retailers use it to A:B test displays and fixtures," said Ray Hartjen,​ marketing director at in-store analytics firm RetailNext, whose platform b8ta itself uses. "What works best in test stores is then rolled out throughout the chain."

And a growing list of retailers are tapping into b8ta's capabilities. Lowe's partnered with b8ta in 2016 to roll out a series of SmartSpot shops inside the home improvement retailer's stores and earlier this month, Macy's announced a plan to scale its new pop-up concept, The Market @ Macy's, testing format spaces powered by b8ta's technology. Macy's also led a round of financing that ultimately netted $19 million.

Macy's will be testing various concepts before rolling out programs chain-wide.