Exclusive Q&A: How b8ta Aims To ‘Fix’ Brick-And-Mortar, Starting With Macy’s And Lowe’s

While b8ta has nine standalone stores, the innovative “retail-as-a-service” concept made its biggest retail splash in late 2017 when it partnered with Lowe’s on a connected store-within-a-store SmartSpot experience in more than 70 locations. With a company mission of nothing less than to “fix brick-and-mortar retail,” b8ta is giving Lowe’s consumers the chance to try technology products before they buy them.

The experiences offer a curated selection of 60+ smart home products such as security systems, lighting and cameras, but more importantly, they also are designed to emulate a lab-like experience and encourage shoppers to test the merchandise. If anything, the Lowe’s partnership revealed that b8ta is willing to partner with retailers not primarily associated with technology products to carry out its mission.

Now b8ta is linking up with another traditional retailer that is dead set on changing the way it perceives retail: Macy’s. When Macy’s led a $19 million investment to acquire a minority stake in b8ta, it shed light on the department store’s revamped vision of retail. Macy’s already is testing b8ta’s technology to power and expand its The Market @ Macy’s pop-up locations, and perhaps even introduce new product categories in stores. For host retailers like Macy’s and Lowe’s, b8ta’s analytics dashboard enables them to collect data about consumers’ behavior while they shop.

In an exclusive Q&A with Retail TouchPoints, b8ta CEO Vibhu Norby reveals:

  • Macy’s and b8ta’s shared view of retail’s future, focused on product discovery and the treasure hunt experience;
  • The four layers by which b8ta builds out its store experiences;
  • Where the recently introduced “Built by b8ta” solution fits into the modern brick-and-mortar store; and
  • The two ways the Lowe’s partnership prepared b8ta to work with Macy’s.

Retail TouchPoints (RTP): What excites you about working with Macy’s? How do you feel the companies complement each other?

Norby: We first started getting to know them last year as we deployed our own flagship store inside Macy’s Herald Square in New York City. We got really close, and we began to think through things to see where our software would be a fit for them.

Macy’s is a such an important company to American consumers — it’s the venue where tens of millions of shoppers buy everything from clothing, to merchandise for newborns, to cosmetics and even bedding. It’s an institution that’s been number one in many areas for decades.

The opportunity to reinvent Macy’s is big. We, like them, have a shared thesis of where retail will be going, and it’s focused on discovery and the treasure hunt that shoppers seek during their journey. It’s focused on attracting new, exciting and engaging products that the shopper wants to try, and enabling brands to deliver new product categories within locations that don’t offer them — with the software to back it up.

RTP: Where do you feel b8ta can help Macy’s improve its store experiences and expand on the Market @ Macy’s pop-up concepts?

Norby: The components of a great store experience are surprise and delight, and those are two things that our system is designed to improve — for the retailer, the brands and the consumer. Both teams have been looking into innovative experiences and brands from around the world.

If we’re bringing in new things, then we’re taking out old things — we’re trying to build a dynamic assortment that rotates brands and technologies consistently.

The Market @ Macy’s was Macy’s way of distinguishing the part of the store that was running a retail-as-a-service model. We can’t fully speak to how we are helping the specific brands within the pop-ups evolve, but the Market concept is really about creating a new business model within stores that offers different formats, brands and products.

With b8ta’s software platform and business model, brands can go from solely selling online to launching their products with Macy’s in a few clicks. With the platform, these brands can analyze and scale offline retail experiences in a way they would not have been able to before.

RTP: You’ve worked at retailers such as Threadbox in the past, and at tech companies…