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Las Vegas tech store watching customers with tiny cameras

One of the newest stores at Forum Shops at Caesars encourages shoppers to play with the hottest tech gadgets — like the more than $2,000 Devialet speakers favorited by celebrities such as Beyoncé and Jay Z. But the retailer known as b8ta is also having a bit of fun watching their customers.

Tiny cameras strategically placed throughout the tech store track where a customer walks. Tablets for every product can sense how long a customer reads content or watches videos about an item.

B8ta uses customer-tracking technology and shares the information with the brands it sells.

Since launching five years ago, its business model of retail-as-a-service has created buzz in the industry and the concept has become an example of where brick-and-mortar retail is heading even though it can feel “creepy” for some shoppers.

When asked about how he felt about his movements being tracked, Southern California resident Zack Berger said “it’s a little weird.”

“If you were to ask me when I was younger, I would say I don’t care. But now that I’m older I don’t know if I like everybody watching where I’m at,” he said during his visit at the store Tuesday.

It was the first time Berger stepped inside a b8ta store, though he was familiar with the concept, describing it as a place to find “cutting-edge stuff.”

Derek Wachter, who was visiting from North Dakota with his family the same day, echoed Berger’s thought and said the selection of merchandise was impressive.

“The only thing that looks familiar is the (Asus) laptop and Google — everything else, I didn’t even know this stuff existed,” Wachter said. “It doesn’t really bother me that they’re tracking how much time I spend. It sounds creepy but the purpose of this is good because it’s helping brands understand their market. I mean cameras at the casino do the same thing (but) for this, I think it’s cool.”

Heating up

Cameras in the ceiling, powered by analytics firm RetailNext, capture where a customer walks, how long they stand near certain displays and basic demographic information such as gender and age.

Jynx Younan, merchandise manager at b8ta’s Las Vegas store, said the information gathered doesn’t identify an individual person.

“What we tell people is it’s not tracking your face or your body, it’s tracking your feet,” he said, adding the data helps them market products in the store.

For example, last month Younan accessed the store’s heat map — showing where shoppers spend their time — and worked with store manager Laynie Shrago to figure out where to move merchandise.

“If a product is doing really well, we’ll leave it where it’s at and if it’s not doing so well, or if we want more people to get exposed to it, we’ll move it,” Younan said.

Meanwhile, tablets next to each item display product details and pricing. When customers interact with the digital display, brands like self-balancing electric board maker Onewheel are able to see in real-time how long a customer spent time with their product.

Onewheel chief evangelist Jack Mudd said the tablets “yield(s) some pretty interesting data for us. We don’t share any of it, but it is pretty interesting.”

When Onewheel noticed its product was gaining traction at b8ta’s Seattle store, it purchased out-of-home, or billboards, and bus advertisements during the holidays.

“It’s really helpful to have these brick-and-mortar touchpoints (because) we wouldn’t be able to afford our own store, at least not at this moment,” Mudd said.

Nura Vice President of Global Sales Jason Knickerbocker said the headphone manufacturer, whose product is at the Las Vegas store, is able to see a sales impact when changing content on the tablet.

“We can remotely change the listing — new picture, video, title for example — and see how it affects sales,” he said. “We saw an uptick of about 20 percent when we added the Reaction Video, showing artist reactions when first using the nuraphone…using this we have been able to refine our listing and we can use it in other retail chains.”

Rented space

B8ta charges brands a monthly fee to be included in its shops and typically features up-and-coming brands alongside items from established players like Google and Panasonic.

Pricing is tiered, based on store traffic, but brands can expect to pay about $1,000 a month for every two feet of space they occupy per store, according to b8ta Senior Vice President of Partnerships and Business Development Carrie Kelly. This means each b8ta store typically gets new merchandise each month making it a new experience for customers, Kelly said during a panel at CES this year.

She said the idea is to create an experiential shopping environment for the customer but also help brands learn how to better market their products in a retail setting, whether it’s testing price points or learning that a red-colored item is selling better than its pink counterpart.

It also taps sales associates for feedback on how products are performing and brands can live-chat with associates in the store.

Shrago, who joined b8ta after managing Lacoste at Forum, said in a traditional retail setting, brands only see sales reports and not customer feedback.

“At b8ta, they get in-the-moment feedback,” she said. “For instance, the typewriter in the front (of the store) had five colors but they got rid of three colors because they weren’t selling.”

Knickerbocker said having store associates provide feedback and demonstrate the product is especially helpful since Nura’s headphone retails for about $400.

“If you’re in traditional retail, you’re on a shelf,” he said. “They don’t necessarily demonstrate the product, which with our product it’s what makes sales. People try it and hear how good the sound is and how it personalizes to your (hearing frequency) and it usually results in a sale.”

While the customer-tracking component is a boom for brands, shoppers like Wachter’s mom, Stacy, at the Las Vegas store said the attraction is in the merchandise.

“It’s a cool store,” she said. “We come to Vegas all the time and we saw there was one here so we had to check it out.”

Contact Subrina Hudson at shudson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0340. Follow @SubrinaH on Twitter.

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