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Shopping At b8ta, The World’s First Smart Home Retail Store

b8ta is a retail store that offers what can only be described as product trends that haven't caught on yet. They curate cutting-edge tech products and present them in an environment where people can easily try them out before purchasing them.

What Is The b8ta Store?

b8ta – and yes, that is how it’s spelled – is a new retail store that is quickly gaining traction throughout the US. The first b8ta store opened in California in 2015 and has since grown to 17 locations. Chances are that if you live in a major US city (like Houston, Austin, New York, Chicago, or Seattle) you have one of these stores within driving distance.

So What Makes b8ta Special?

True to the name, b8ta offers what can only be described as product trends that haven’t caught on yet – devices that are still in their “beta” phase.

The first thing that struck me about the b8ta store was that it did not feel like a store. Instead, it feels much more like stepping into a gallery or museum.

Their products range from electric bicycles, modular furniture, and wearable smart assistants.

It’s important to note that none of these products are made by b8ta. Instead, they’re curating of-the-moment tech products and presenting them in an environment where people can easily try them out and purchase them.

Entering The Store: First Impressions

The first thing that struck me about the b8ta store was that it did not feel like a store. Instead, it feels much more like stepping into a gallery or museum. The products are set out on long tables with only one of each product set out – so if someone is checking out the really cool smart glasses, you’re going to have to pretend to be interested in an AI candle until they finish.

Beside each product is an interactive tablet that gives you a better idea of the product you’re looking at, what it’s for, who made it, and how you might use it in your everyday life. While a cool idea, this was probably something the store could improve on – the product descriptions and videos on these tablets were a little on the overwhelming side with information. 

On the bright side, you have the product sitting right in front of you, which means you can experience it for yourself. Keeping with the gallery theme, I found myself starting at the first product in the store and steadily working my way down each row of devices until I reached the end.

The Types Of Products b8ta Offers

The vast majority of the products were smart or electric versions of products that already exist. Smart wallets, electric bicycles, smart glasses, electric skateboards, smart speakers, electric toothbrushes – the list goes on. I would also describe these products as the “safe” products since most of these have already caught on.

The rest of the products were a mix of tech and lifestyle products, and they definitely felt more out-of-the-box. This category includes things like weighted blankets, bidets, interactive AR devices, touch-sensitive light switches, and so on.

It’s tough to pin down what kind of products you can expect at the store because there is such a broad variety in such a small space. This meant that every few feet was something completely different from everything else you had already seen in the store.

Some Products Are More “b8ta” Than Others

There were times when I would try out a device and say to myself, “This will be in everyone’s home in the next few years,” and then there were other times where it felt like I was looking at a prop from Jimmy Neutron’s bedroom. These were the kinds of products that the earliest of adopters would surely get a kick out of, while the rest of us would be content with just playing with it in the store.

My favorite example of this – and a product I might buy on a holiday – was the Puppy Cube. It’s a miniature “throw” project, meaning it sits on your countertop and displays a small, interactive projection on your countertop. The device runs Android, so you can download apps to the projects and interact with them by touching the projection – essentially turning any flat surface into an impromptu smart device.

I had a blast playing with it, but as soon as you try something like typing on a keyboard or playing a game, the “beta” status of the product starts to show. There were several products like this, where I could tell they would be great in a few years, but weren’t quite ready yet – which, I suppose, is the entire point of the store.

Is “Retail As A Service” The Future?

It’s important to mention that b8ta is trying to be more than just a novelty store. Their goal is to bring this interactive style of retail – which they’ve dubbed “retail as a service,” (RAAS) – to different markets. They’ve already acquired the recently bankrupt Toys-R-Us in the hopes of reinvigorating the brand with their style of retail.

Are all stores going to eventually be RAAS stores?

My opinion is a firm “no,” – I don’t think anyone wants to watch a powerpoint presentation while they’re trying to buy apples and paper towels. However, interactive retail already has a place in niche markets. If you’ve been to a Google or Apple store in recent years, you’ve already experienced this kind of shopping environment.

b8ta’s savvy in this area is bringing this style of shopping to other markets. Yes, b8ta is primarily a tech store, but they also offer several products that are surprisingly low-tech – though still on the cutting edge of trends. It will certainly be exciting to see which retail markets adopt the RAAS concept as we move into an increasingly “smart” age.

Photo courtesy of kennejima on flickr.

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