Go Ahead, Touch It!

Offering gadgets galore to discover and interact with, the b8ta retail concept is more than your traditional retail store. It’s an immersive demo and display lab that encourages shoppers to get hands-on with cutting-edge tech products—all while analyzing dwell time, engagement and reaction.

By Lola Thélin


You won’t see a “do not touch” sign displayed anywhere at b8ta (think “beta”), a retail store that sells tech gadgets in an experiential immersive environment. In fact, it’s the complete opposite at b8ta, where it’s all about getting hands-on with the product. “Unlike other retailers, b8ta is dedicated to creating amazing experiences for both makers and customers,” says Phillip Raub, chief marketing officer and cofounder of b8ta. “I love watching adults have this euphoric sense of becoming a kid all over again. In an age when we are pressed for time, it is awesome to see people come into b8ta and spend an hour discovering new products with little regard to time.”

Its unconventional business model allows manufacturers to get new gadgets onto shelves without massive resources, inventory and wait time. The biggest draw is that b8ta provides makers with shopper analytics, such as dwell time, engagement and reaction. Captured through concealed sensors and cameras, data collection is one of the primary elements of the b8ta platform. There are roughly 200 active partners, Raub says.

The b8ta flagship store in Palo Alto, Calif., opened in 2015. For its 2017 store rollouts, it teamed up with San Francisco-based global design and architecture firm Gensler, which set out to create a space that is both approachable for customers and flexible for b8ta and its ever-changing list of makers. This year, Gensler designed three spaces (ranging from 1,900 sq. ft. to 3,000 sq. ft.), located in Santa Monica, Calif.; Austin, Texas; and Seattle (with a San Francisco outpost in the works).

“During my time at Nest, I learned that people typically shop for products that meet a need or desire, and that they’re less inclined to shop for solutions,” says Raub, who previously worked at Nest, the Google-owned smart-home company. “As a result, we specifically designed the store for discovery.”

Each b8ta showroom features a design separation between its product display and demo sections. The juxtaposition creates a clear definition of space and function, while allowing the constantly changing products to be the heroes and encouraging hands-on interaction. “The client asked for a flexible environment that can change over the years for the different products that will come,” explains Alison Carr, design director and senior associate at Gensler.

The minimal, open storefronts have understated signage and a palette of grays and off-whites, which supports the design team’s conscious decision to create contrast and present the product as hero. The store layout is divided into two distinct zones, light (featuring a porcelain tile) and dark (featuring an engineered oak wood floor with a dark stain). The ceiling heights also vary between the light and dark sides to further define the product and demo zones. “This split creates a dramatic architectural statement and is intended to draw customers, eventually becoming an iconic retail expression of the b8ta brand,” Carr describes.

The use of light also plays a significant role in the design. An LED light strip carried around the entire store perimeter draws the eye to the product display plane. Ceiling-mounted LED tracks and LED track heads also light the product tables at the center of the store, and focused adjustable LED downlights spotlight the products on the dark side.

For every product on both the demo and display sides, there is an iPad mounted to a “brick.” Designed by b8ta, the user interface and brick design tie the product presentation together for customers. All of these design tricks re-emphasize b8ta and Gensler’s goals: discovery through clear, simple communication. “As beautiful as the space is, it goes unnoticed, because it directs your eye to the product, which is clearly the objective,” adds Jill Nickels, principal and studio director, Gensler. “This is not your standard retailer looking for financial transactions.”

While each store focuses on the global brand message, the interior design does allow for localized messaging. “There is a place for localized messaging that may change for the store,” Carr says. “[And in each] store there is that one element that is specific to the needs of the local market.” For instance, the Austin store has a kitchen counter for kitchen products and a larger focus on music and audio products. At the Santa Monica store, which is located in a section of Santa Monica Place that focuses on kid-focused retail, the front of the b8ta store is dedicated to children’s products, with shelf heights catered to kids’ body heights, soft woven poufs and multicolored pendant lights. The future San Francisco site will have a social meeting area for b8ta executives to host makers and investors.

The basis of b8ta is much more than a retail space. “I hope [our business model] has a profound effect. The current retail model is very tired, and with the exception of a few retailers, the industry is failing to embrace technology,” Raub says. “Retailers need to be focused on bringing new products to market faster, creating experiences that customers want and, lastly, developing a feedback loop to iterate on those experiences.”

This is a curated environment seeking human touch. Go ahead and touch away.

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project file

b8ta
*Multiple locations (Pictured: Santa Monica, Calif.)


RETAILER
b8ta

CONTRACT DESIGN FIRM/ARCHITECT/LIGHTING/SIGNAGE/GRAPHICS
Gensler

GENERAL CONTRACTOR
Trainor Construction

CONSULTANTS/ENGINEERS
Henderson (MEP), KPFF (structural engineers)

STORE FIXTURES/MILLWORK
Fleetwood

FLOORING
Crossville

SURFACING
LG Hausys

WALLCOVERINGS
Sutherland Felt Co.

PAINT
Benjamin Moore

GLASS
Nor-Cal Glass

SPECIAL FINISHES
Kirei Panels (felt hood)

TECHNOLOGY
b8ta


Information in the project file is provided by the retailer and/or design firm.
*This Project File does not reflect materials used in the Palo Alto location.

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