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B8ta CEO: Live Shopping is the Future of Experiential Retail Worldwide

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Few retailers can compete with Amazon on a purely transactional basis, according to Vibhu Norby, Founder and CEO of b8ta. The retailer’s logistical expertise gives it a serious advantage over the competition in terms of speed and convenience, and it’s become a large enough gap that smaller retailers have little hope of gaining ground. However, companies that engage in experiential retail can compete in an entirely different space — and b8ta is bringing such experiences into customers’ homes with its Shop Studios and live shopping platform.

“I think when people are engaging with video, they’re thinking in a discovery/entertainment mindset, and I think our version of shopping is entertainment,” said Norby in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “It’s another way to spend time. We are competing against Netflix or Fortnite, things like that. My feeling is that the discovery portion of retail is going to be very much driven by video, and very much by live. If you don’t believe me, all you have to do is look at what Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat are all doing.”

Norby expects the major social media players to invest tens of billions in live shopping over the next decade, and retailers need to be prepared to ride that wave. This is a particularly natural growth path for the small, cutting-edge DTC retailers that partner with b8ta, and it can even tie into and enhance brick-and-mortar efforts by bringing studios into the store.

Stores Bring Live Shopping Streams to Life

The leap from curated shops to live shopping was a natural one for b8ta, which has always put the merger between tech and experience at the forefront of its operations. The retail-as-a-service company has never been afraid to try out new things, and live shopping was a natural next step for the brand.

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“We had been dreaming about building more live social media content for a long time,” said Norby. “When COVID began, it was a really good excuse for us to get more into video quickly. We’re not in the business of selling, we’re in the business of education and helping brands tell their stories. I think the format that we designed here is the closest equivalent to being a b8ta store that you can access from anywhere.”

Shop Studios are literally the merger of in-store and live shopping, with the initial studios set up at existing b8ta retail stores in Hayes Valley, San Jose and Palo Alto, Calif. Dedicated hosts run the shows, and in-store shoppers can choose whether they simply want to watch while they browse or directly participate by becoming part of the live audience.

“We literally built broadcast studios into our stores,” said Norby. “We are equipped with the same type of stuff that major television networks are using — the quality of the video feed, the audio, the lighting — and then also the caliber of the talent that we’ve hired. We’ve gone out and found people that are amazing on camera and enjoy doing this. I think it’d be fair to say that we’ve built sort of a distributed QVC model. It’s the quality of traditional video shopping, but it’s much more accessible.”

Norby likened the experience to NYC-based morning shows: while most of the audience is tuning in at home the presence of a live audience brings the experience to the next level. Shop Studio stores are constantly broadcasting, which makes it easy for people to participate in livestreams — b8ta has filmed enough content in the last year across its hundreds of partner brands that it could run the stream 24/7. The at-home audience will become part of the show as well as b8ta rolls out live chat, making the streams fully interactive through all channels.

The Future of Experiential Retail is Digital

Shop Studio is currently only available in the Bay Area, but b8ta plans on rolling out the program to the rest of the country. The company has always put experience at the heart of its operations, and live shopping is rapidly becoming the next step in the evolution of the great customer experience.

This is my belief: I think that live shopping is going to be a massive replacement for most of the things experiential retail was providing,” said Norby. “Experiential retail is expensive. Compared to the traditional stack ’em high, let ’em fly approach, carving out dedicated space with marketing, with real products and with knowledgeable associates, is an expensive proposition.”

The rise of livestreaming and live shopping coincides with the growing importance of cross-border commerce, which is another element that can drive up the cost of experiential retail. Companies usually focus their experiential efforts in first-tier cities and surrounding markets, where they can expect a solid return on the investment. Finding enough manpower to staff along with a dense enough customer base to justify the heavy investment required for an experiential store can be difficult in more rural areas, let alone in foreign countries where retailers would need to develop entirely new supply chains.

However, replicating the in-store experience online can not only maximize the audience for the cost, but also enable anyone anywhere in the world to tune in and get the full experience on their own terms. While it’s not a direct replacement for a great in-store trip, it can come close enough to attract a loyal customer base.

“In my mind, what we’re able to do with live is replicate a pretty high percentage of that experience — 80% or 90% fidelity to the real-life experience,” said Norby. “I think that’s good enough, and that’s going to be how the vast majority of people experience this version of retail. The plan for us is to really take our stores, and any new stores that we build in the future, and fully convert them into this live experience. It’s hosted, and customers can interact knowing that they will be on camera, and we can really bring that store experience to life.”

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