For the average consumer, the Internet of Things is just another one of those long-promised tech advances that never seemed to get its act together. That doesn’t mean things haven’t been going on behind the scenes, and a group of startup vets is ready to unveil its progress in a way that cuts through the white noise that has plagued other IoT announcements.
That’s the mission of the quirkily named b8ta that is opening up its first brick-and-mortar location in Palo Alto, TechCrunch reported. However, instead of selling traditional B&M products, b8ta is instead stocking its shelves with IoT-enabled products so customers can get hands-on trials with these often low-visibility products and see why they’ve been hyped so much for so long. Vibhu Norby, CEO of b8ta, told TechCrunch that just because the core of its business is a software product, that doesn’t mean that modern customers can’t appreciate a physical experience to supplement their purchasing decisions.
“What would it take to make selling in a retail store as easy as it is to set up your own shop online? That was the hypothesis that drove us to create the store,” Norby told TechCrunch.“We created a software product, as well as a store, that works the way we think retail should work.”
While there is something to be said for expanding a physical footprint in a digital retail landscape, there are different pressures that many tech-centric startups face when trying to hawk their goods in a brick-and-mortar storefront. Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, told Los Angeles Times that recognizing the way consumers approach emerging tech gadgets is key to measuring demand before expanding into the physical side of retail.
“If you’re just selling a bunch of disparate technology, there’s not necessarily a built-in model for, ‘I want to buy a pound of technology this week,’ or ‘I need to pick up two boxes of technology because we’re gonna have guests over,’” Johnson said. “So, what’s the unifying value proposition this store provides?”
Although Norby said that b8ta is currently more focused on educating customers through its physical store presence rather than driving sales, the concept does allow for interesting logistical capabilities for small, isolated startups. Instead of waiting for its products to hit dealers’ shelves over a matter of months, b8ta can roll out new IoT devices to its Palo Alto location in days. With a few shops in strategic regional hubs, the average small to medium enterprise could establish a much wider organic shipping network than previously thought possible, thereby lowering the costs of consumers’ all-consuming desire for on-demand shipping.
It’s not like gadget-heavy stores haven’t made the process of browsing drive more customers into their stores. While catalog stores like Bro0kstone may have started the trend before the Internet, Re/code compared the concept to what made Apple stores redefine the idea of what a retail storefront should and could do. Instead of row upon row of items to cater to demand at any cost, stores should instead be used to create interest and drive demand. With so many low-cost and flexible ways to accommodate shoppers’ logistical needs, as seen by b8ta’s lone store’s rapid stocking capabilities, focusing first and foremost on the consumer experience is never a bad place to put a startup’s chips.
Perhaps that’s why, even though it’s hard to see a series of b8ta stores popping up around the corner from every Apple store and Starbucks branch in America, Norby is so bullish on the concept of his new Palo Alto location.
“This is not designed to be a loss leader,” Norby told Re/code. “It’s a real business.”
It can be — just not the way it has been in the past.