New technology often needs to be seen to be understood, but the pandemic and a massive shift from in-store to digital retail can make that tricky. Add to that a present era when category-defying products such as brain-computer interfaces, , and are proliferating and tech brands are seeking to gain traction. All of that creates a big question: What happens now for retail?
Vibhu Norby is CEO of B8ta, a chain of 20 stores that showcase tech in the broadest sense: Rather than endless aisles of screen-centric devices, B8ta stores are more like experiential ateliers populated with more than phones, TVs and laptops. Coffee makers, skin care products and backpacks share the stage with electronics.
CNET has partnered with B8ta to host talks and presentations in the stores.
Rather than focusing on direct unit sales, the chain is largely compensated by brands that contract with it to provide them with "retail as a service."
"We are actually a platform for brands to showcase their products exactly as they want them to be seen," said Norby. "Brands directly participate in merchandising" their products, instead of relying on typical store staff that can be unevenly trained and skewed by commission.
B8ta compares its aesthetics tobut sees another shared trait: a mission to evangelize without an immediate sale being the metric of success. An Apple Store "has to sell the brand not just the product," Norby said. "For a lot of brands here, we're the Apple Store for them."
B8ta started in Palo Alto, California. With five of its 20 stores in the San Francisco Bay Area, many of its talking points are quintessentially Silicon Valley. But Norby said future expansion will be focused on less obvious cities. "The next phase is about getting out of the big cities. It's starting to be the case that all people are early adopters," he said.
Hear Norby and CNET's Brian Cooley discuss the stores in the video above.
Now What is a video interview series with industry leaders, celebrities and influencers that covers trends impacting businesses and consumers amid the "new normal." There will always be change in our world, and we'll be here to discuss how to navigate it all.