It’s been a busy year for b8ta, the retail shop and retail-as-a-service platform.
It’s worked with Macy’s, received two rounds of funding and rolled out Forum, a fashion and lifestyle version of its namesake store concept, all while expanding b8ta stores domestically and internationally.
In October, b8ta opened a new store in San Francisco’s Mission Bay neighborhood with a unique immersive retail experience dedicated to the Mini Cooper SE.
As part of the Mini Cooper SE’s planned rollout in March 2020, b8ta has an actual car in the store, complete with digital screens and other installations to educate customers on Mini USA’s first electric car. For b8ta, the Mini Cooper SE activation is yet another step toward expanding beyond consumer electronics and designing modular retail spaces.
“We want to be able to partner with brands and products that have an innovation story to tell,” said Carrie Kelly, svp, partnerships and business development, b8ta. “Although the heart of the business is in consumer electronics, there’s opportunity for us to branch out into other categories that are really trying to innovate.”
As part of the activation, Mini Cooper took over a small part of the b8ta footprint in-store. There’s the actual car in the space that sits atop floor decals showcasing the Mini Cooper SE’s smaller size relative to other cars; a wall featuring different parts of the car available to customize, such as adding a front and back dashboard camera or 3D printing a custom dashboard; and digital screens telling the story of Mini USA and why electric cars can make a difference.
Mini Cooper SE’s physical footprint in the store is divided into five smaller zones, giving b8ta a more “accurate read” on what drew the most foot traffic.
For example, b8ta found that customers constantly used the lifestyle digital display so it flipped the in-store accessory display to mirror that one. Or, to draw customers to the area, b8ta placed an in-store digital display about the Mini installation in the entryway where visitors were more likely to turn away from the exhibit. For Mini USA, b8ta’s ability to create such a custom space, as well as to provide data around dwell time, foot traffic and in-store impressions, is a key part of the partnership.
“We do not have the budgets of other mass OEMS, we are a relatively niche brand and we have to be more inventive out of necessity,” said Steve Ambeau, head of marketing, Mini USA. “Mini is an incredibly inclusive brand and part of that inclusivity is you need to experience this product. It’s very important that people can look, feel and touch.”
While the San Francisco and West Coast market is important to Mini USA and for electric vehicles, activating within b8ta meant coexisting among relevant brands, Ambeau said. Currently, Mini USA is in a transition period with its former San Francisco dealership space, and it will eventually return. However, the brand does have four other dealerships in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Ambeau added it was the first time the company’s done something like this outside of a traditional auto show but said the brand will continue to look for similar opportunities as the rollout date gets closer. As it stands now, about 50% of b8ta visitors interacted with the car, with 3% of those consumers taking additional steps to take part in a demo with the b8ta staff, and more than 50% of those customers completed a form to “express their interest in the car,” Ambeau said.
Kelly said the conversation between the two brands began in January but ramped up as b8ta’s Mission Bay store came closer to opening. Originally, the activation was only going to stay until the end of November, but it’s extended through early January based on its success and both teams iterating on the concept.
Though Kelly declined to share specific metrics, she said qualitative feedback around the experience, such as customers not being able to go inside the car, changed how the two brands configured the space and, in December, they made it possible for people to enter the car.
This isn’t b8ta’s first big partnership. The company has worked with Google, Eight Sleep and other brands to create fully immersive experiences. When Mini USA leaves, b8ta will use the space for health and wellness products.
“Every month, we have launches and exits,” Kelly said. “We’re always planning for who’s leaving and who’s launching and looking at how do we fill each store.”