- As online shopping and Instagram continue to transform the way Americans shop, the role of physical retail spaces is changing.
- B8ta, an experiential retail platform that previously focused on electronics, opened its first apparel and lifestyle “smart” store, Forum, in Los Angeles.
- I visited Forum and saw how its display format and tracking technology have the potential to revolutionise how physical retail spaces interact with the online shopping world.
- Sign up for Business Insider’s retail newsletter, The Drive-Thru.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
In today’s brave new world of retail, online brands and brick-and-mortar stores seem to be hopelessly at odds with each other.
With online retail giants like Amazon often blamed for the advent of the retail apocalypse, the role of physical retail space is shifting. The way that people choose what to buy is changing, so stores and brands looking to appeal to the modern shopper have to work to be better – and smarter.
That’s where Forum comes in. Forum is a smart store that showcases online, direct-to-consumer, and boutique brands. Designed by experiential retail company b8ta, Forum opened in Los Angeles in November. The store is b8ta’s first foray outside of tech into fashion and lifestyle. B8ta is also the company behind the high-tech tracking system in the new Toys R Us store in New Jersey.
As scores of brick-and-mortar stores continue to shutter, b8ta’s store concept reinvents the physical retail space as middleman between consumer and brand. Here’s what it’s like to shop there.
Forum is located on Melrose Avenue in glitzy West Hollywood, Los Angeles, near the brick-and-mortar locations of online brands like Mejuri, Casper, and Away.
At first glance, it looked like a nondescript, albeit upscale store.
But I quickly noticed that each display was accompanied by a card explaining the products’ brand story.
Every corner of the store felt curated and almost museum-like, which makes sense given that museums are also all about telling the stories of objects.
I was greeted by store associate Tebby, who is also a singer-songwriter with a sizable following. After winning NBC’s “Songland” singing competition, Tebby left a corporate job in New York to pursue her singing career in LA.
John Legend selected and released Tebby’s original song, “We Need Love,” after her performance on “Songland.”
Tebby walked me through the store and shared some of her favourite products with me.
This speaker that also displays lyrics in real time was recently purchased for a corporate holiday party.
Forum’s purpose isn’t just to sell products: it’s to gather information.
B8ta provides online, direct-to-consumer, and boutique brands with a space that’s the perfect testing ground for how consumers interact with their products.
The store is curated for fashionable, functional, sustainable products.
As a result, walking through the store feels like walking through instagram.
Forum combines the appeal of shopping through Instagram with the practicality of being able to test out products before buying them.
It’s a flexible space that focuses on showcasing the stories and aesthetic of brands that otherwise wouldn’t be able to reach a test market.
But b8ta’s technology also allows brands to track how long customers interact with their products.
Its smart dressing rooms recognise items as they are brought in.
An interactive product description, similar to a website description, appears on a touch screen.
An extra touch: each brand has its own custom projected backdrop against which customers can try on clothes.
The smart dressing room provided all of the convenience and information available to online shoppers while also allowing customers to physically try on clothing.
It was time for me to test out the dressing room for myself. I selected a pair of Just Human sunglasses, which are made with mineral glass and wood. They’re much heavier than traditional sunglasses.
I also selected a reversible denim jacket by Remu Apparel, an outerwear company focused on sustainability and ethics.
As I entered the dressing room, the jacket in my hand appeared on the touch screen.
I tapped through the pictures and description.
B8ta also tracks how many try-ons convert into sales.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t going to be one of those conversions. The products I tried were hundreds of dollars.
I asked Tebby if there were products in the store that she personally used, and she took me straight to Brush on Block, a mineral powder sunscreen.
She gave me a sample of product from The Laundress, which sells eco-friendly laundry detergent.
There wasn’t anything in the store that I felt I couldn’t leave without. Everything felt more aspirational than practical.
But the concept of Forum is still young. If more Forum-like stores opened up, they could give online brands the chance to test products and interact directly with their customers.
Moreover, its tracking technology could be used in other kinds of retail stores to identify which products are most worth the space on their shelves — a benefit that would make physical retail even more efficient and profitable.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.