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The future of tech retail needs to be more hands-on – CNET

New technology often needs to be seen to be understood, but a pandemic and 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, micro-mobility, new-edge exercise machines and sleep tech are proliferating and tech brands are seeking to gain traction. All of them have one big question: Now what?

Vibhu Norby is CEO of B8ta, a small but growing chain of 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 much more than phones, TVs and laptops. Coffee makers, skincare and backpacks share center stage with electronics more than you might expect. CNET has partnered with B8ta to present talks and futurist presentations in the stores. 

B8ta store in Palo Alto

We’re not at the big box store anymore. B8ta stores are hands-on showrooms where you can learn about a technology, and the staff are incented to make that happen, not necessarily a sale every time.


B8ta

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,” says Norby. “Brands directly participate in merchandising” their products, instead of relying on typical store staff that can be unevenly trained and skewed by commission.

Beyond its aesthetics, B8ta thinks it has something else in common with Apple stores: 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. For a lot of brands here, we’re the Apple store for them.”

B8ta was born in Palo Alto, California and with five of its 20 stores in the San Francisco Bay Area, many of its talking points are quintessentially Silicon Valley. But Norby says future expansion will be focused on less obvious metros. “The next phase is about getting out of the big cities. It’s starting to be the case that all people are early adopters.”

Virbhu Norby shared many more insights into the state of tech retailing with CNET’s Brian Cooley. Hear them all in context in the video above.


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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.   

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