Back in 2014, I posed the question of whether the world needed an IoT super store. You know the kind, one where you could go in the heyday of the personal computer revolution for mice, graphics boards and speakers, only this more modern computing store's shelves would be lined with smart bulbs, connected locks and other consumer-centric IoT devices.
As it turns out, someone thinks maybe we do. b8ta, launched by four Nest alum, is launching tomorrow and is basically just that: a store exclusively for IoT devices.
Of course, any forward leaning retail concept in 2015 is going to be less OfficeMax and more Apple Store, with hardwood floors and lots of glass to accompany the high-touch retail experience. But according to reports, the store's decor and the nature of the products isn't the only thing that would differ. Maybe the most interesting thing about b8ta's approach is their open application process for product makers to put their products on store shelves, where instead of buying up inventory themselves to stock on the shelves, b8ta will rent space to companies looking to test their products out with real shoppers.
This approach strikes me as a much needed testing ground for the large number of product companies looking to get real-world feedback at retail. One of the biggest hurdles new companies face is getting into physical retail, and so an approach like b8ta could actually enable them to at least dip their toe in even if it doesn't mean a big purchase order from a national retailer. And while I'm not sure this model works with a thousand store footprint, dozens of these types of stores strategically placed in various markets around the country would provide an interesting retail based feedback loop that would be immensely valuable for device makers. Because, after all, because of its size and regional differences, the US is less a homogeneous one-size-fits-all market but instead more like a bunch of small countries with a variety of tastes and demographic differences depending on the city and region. By getting real-world testing in different test markets with a model like this, product manufacturers can be strategic about their rollout of products when they work with big box retailers.
The arrival of b8ta is just one sign of retailers rethinking how to approach what they do with the arrival of IoT, as we've covered (and podcasted) from places like Target Open House and Sears. Expect to see more innovation around retail in 2016.