As more merchants make the effort to test new offerings and strategies via their own innovation labs, one company has gone above and beyond to help retail clients take that next step for their business. The digital innovation arm of mall operator Westfield has built a 37,000-square-foot innovation center in San Francisco, Bespoke, serving as the home to more than 75 retail technology startups and brands.
In the 14 months since Westfield Labs launched the retail tech-focused co-working, demo and event space, Bespoke has hosted more than 100 events and 20 tech demos.
“We really wanted to create a very flexible ecosystem where we could say yes to anyone from a startup or a big brand,” said Kimiko Thornton, Senior Director of Innovation at Bespoke.
This ecosystem has three prongs:
The co-working space facilitates and curates a community of retail technology companies focused on 3D printing, e-Commerce, data analytics, mobile and wearables;
The event space can host a variety of gatherings, from a small corporate party to a fashion show; and
The demo space is a public-facing zone where startups and brands can showcase new and innovative products. Companies that are piloting products and concepts can build out a pop-up in the space from anywhere between a day to a week’s time.
The space is held in the Westfield San Francisco Centre mall, enabling shoppers to visit the space and interact with employees as they work on and demonstrate projects. Demand for the space has been so strong that Bespoke will be expanding its co-working space with 12 new private offices later this year.
Bespoke Takes Pride As A Disruption Facilitator
Giving retailers and solution providers the chance to innovate and perhaps disrupt the environment around them is an important role that the Westfield Labs team is pursuing at full speed.
“We’re creating a space that is helping the entire market adapt to the shifts in the digital world,” Thornton said in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “For the companies that are adapting to this, we’re able to get them a home in the belly of the beast, a place where they can look out the window and see shoppers walking around. They can see their actual consumers, and they can see the retailers in action.”
On a weekly basis, a retailer will tour the facility and meet with a few of the companies stationed at Bespoke to evaluate what new concepts could be tied into their business model. With both tech startups and Westfield Labs employees within the same space, the retailers can get a sense of community that revolves primarily around research.
“A big aspect of what we’re able to leverage is the fact that we already have a lot of customer research from our marketing divisions,” Thornton explained. “We have a lot of insights from our labs who’ve tested out digital technology in the centers previously. We have insights from our leasing team of what retailers are looking for, and what our actual clients are investing in. The fact that we sit between Union Square, the heart of retail in San Francisco, and SoMa, the heart of technology, really gives us access to that community. That network is key in understanding not only how the retail market works, but also how the community is looking at a need for space, a desire for community events and activities.”
Accelerator Program Gives Startups A Chance
Westfield Labs also is partnering with digital agency R/GA to select 10 startups to participate in the Connected Commerce Accelerator program at Bespoke. Brand partners such as Macy’s, Walmart, Verizon and Bank of America Merchant Services will collaborate with, and educate, participants in the program through roundtable sessions, innovation labs and product demonstration and testing. The program will kick off Aug. 1 and run through the fall
Another opportunity for startup tech companies is being sponsored by CART, the Center for Advancing Retail & Technology. The inaugural Retail Innovation Pitch will be held online September 12-15, 2016.