B8ta, which calls itself a "retail as a service" platform, on Wednesday announced a new concept called "Forum" that pushes its focus beyond electronics and devices into fashion and lifestyle.
Its first Forum location, which includes tech-enabled dressing rooms, opens Nov. 15 on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, in the West Hollywood shopping district, according to a company press release emailed to Retail Dive.
Each brand partner is designing its own space and curating its brand experience, including product launches, community, influencer and VIP events, b8ta said. Its first anchor partner is women's athleisure brand ALALA, and the store will otherwise feature a rotating selection of products from more than 25 brands.
There are various retail concepts being tried these days to figure out how to best leverage physical locations, as it dawns on retailers that stores can continue to provide an advantage as long as they entice customers.
B8ta leverages good store design and data to showcase goods, many from little-known makers, in its own stores and in other retailers' shop-in-shop spaces, notably at Macy's, which invested in the company last year. About then, the company unveiled "Built by b8ta," a store-as-a-service platform that allows brands that traditionally haven't operated stores to quickly set up new physical operations.
Presumably, the startup has benefited from its association with Macy's even outside the financial support. Vibhu Norby, b8ta co-founder and CEO, told Retail Dive in an interview last year that "Macy's really understands apparel" and that "The interesting thing is where they're not similar, like how fast the fashion cycle is. In electronics, once you have a product, you won't introduce a new one for two years. In some ways our model is even better for apparel — because we can rearrange the store so quickly."
A b8ta spokesperson said that Forum has been under development "for some time."
B8ta's service addresses both back room and merchandising practicalities. The software includes checkout, inventory, point of sale, inventory management and staff scheduling services, "plus metrics like impression count of guests that walk by their placement, time spent browsing, and how often a piece goes into the dressing room." But part of the draw involves finding and curating brands that are new and perhaps exciting to shoppers.
It also leaves a lot of power to the participating vendors. RFID allows adjustments to the backdrop of dressing rooms according to a brand's aesthetic and enables visitors to read about the brands and products, and use in-room digital displays to request items to try on. B8ta said it chose its Forum partners based on their focus on ethical and sustainable production, (including Just Human, Tact & Stone, Poplinen, PROCLAIM, Remu Apparel, Neococo) or local ties (including H-ology, Silked and local jewelry makers).
"It's now time to translate four years of learning into the fashion and lifestyle space," Phillip Raub, b8ta co-founder and president, said in a statement, in which he said that the social aspect of shopping for clothes and accessories has changed. "Today, social experiences look very different, which is why we wanted to create a new experience tailored to today's consumer who seeks real-life connections and social engagement with brands that share similar values."