If you don’t have a b8ta store near you, unfortunately, you are really missing out. What is b8ta? It’s what I call a click-and-mortar, but it is slightly different that what you might think. Honestly, when I discovered the b8ta store which recently opened in Hayes Valley in San Francisco, it instantly became my new favorite store. For starters, it’s packed with gadgets and gizmos, many of which I have reviewed on HighTechDad.com. And, these consumer electronics are swapped out with new ones every month. So if you are a techy person, you are probably going to plan to visit the store fairly regularly. There is also a website that showcases many if not all of the items in the stores. But what makes b8ta really intriguing is the expertise of the sales associates. Let me explain.
b8ta sales associates are actually called “b8ta testers” and there is a solid reason why this is. First though, you need to think about your shopping experiences you may have had at one of those big box electronics stores. More often than not, the salespeople in those stores are either on commission, under some sort of quota, or both. That means they are trying to turn a sale as quickly as possible to be able to move on to the next victim…er…customer. And often, their knowledge of a product is not very deep, elementary at best. If you want to ask complex questions, you’ll probably get a half-baked answer or lose eye contact as they scan for another opportunity. Honestly, it’s not that great of a shopping experience.
This is where the b8ta testers really shine. For starters, they aren’t on commission so this eliminates the sales pressure. Next, they really, really know the products on display in the store. In fact, I believe part of their training is that they must use the products and know them inside and out. A few of the testers I have spoken to have said “I have this at home…” and talk about how they use it personally. Detailed, hands-on experience is a huge positive as it deepens the knowledge of the product, something usually reserved for company employees of said product.
I’ve been to the b8ta Hayes Valley store a few times and chatted with various testers but it’s my most recent visit that I really wanted to share. This is because b8ta is beta testing a new service for this holiday season and I got to be one of the first to experience it.
It is essentially a concierge shopping service for an in-store discovery, demonstration, and shopping experience. You schedule an in-store appointment, answer a few questions about who you are getting a gadget for, and then go to the b8ta store to meet one-on-one with a tester and get personal recommendations based on the answers to your questions coupled with the product knowledge of the tester.
Let’s walk through my concierge experience.
The b8ta Shopping Consultation
As I was just testing out the service in order to write this article, I decided to have my dad and stepmom as the”recipients.” With that in mind, I scheduled my appointment. I received an email from Michelle with a series of questions (the ones you receive may differ), specifically:
1. Who are we shopping for this evening?
2. What’s is your budget?
3. Have you ever been to a b8ta store before? If so, What products sparked your interest?
4. How comfortable with technology are the individuals you are shopping for?
5. What interests do these individuals have?
Here’s the summary of how I answered. I said I was shopping for my dad and stepmom. My dad is 80. The budget I proposed was up to $250. I said that I had been to a b8ta store before but that I didn’t have a particular favorite gadget as I wanted to keep things fairly open. In terms of how tech-savvy my dad is, well, he refers to himself as “low tech grandpa.” I’m the one who handles all of the technology in their house. And lastly, in terms of interests, my dad enjoys cooking, reading, movies, and travel. Both he and my stepmom are history professors, and my dad is a very good cook. So, it was a pretty brief profile, hopefully leaving room for many ideas.
Once I answered all of the questions, I waited for my appointment time.
When I arrived at the b8ta store at the appropriate time, the store was pretty crowded. I asked a tester who Michelle was and once I found her, I waited until she was free. She greeted me by name and we proceeded to look at some product ideas she had.
I have to pause here to say that I literally had emailed her my answers 20 minutes prior. And this goes back to the deep product knowledge the b8ta testers have. She was able to make fairly good recommendations quite quickly.
Here’s what she came up with in that short amount of time.
First up, Michelle recommended a gadget related to cooking since my dad loves to cook. The Anova Precision Cooker is a WiFi-connected gadget that cooks food using a method called sous vide. With this method, food is placed in a sealed bag and then cooked via a warm bath of water. The Anova Precision Cooker is programmed for the type of food and then it automatically regulates the cooking time and temperature and is controlled by a smartphone app. The Anova Precision Cooker retails for $199, just around my budget cap.
The next product that Michelle recommended was a connected picture frame. Since my dad and stepmom are grandparents of two families (mine and my stepsister), she thought that a digital picture frame would be a big hit! The Aura Frame connected to WiFi and has an app that allows you to upload and manage photos on the frame. While the price of the frame was a bit above the budget I had set, Michelle did say that it would be on sale for the holidays. The Aura Frame retails a b8ta for $299. (It’s normally $399.)
As I mentioned, my dad and stepmom are both history professors, they do a lot of writing. While most of it is done on a computer, they do take a lot of written notes. Because of this, Michelle then recommended a pen and notepad combination that automatically digitizes and transcribes your writing using optical character recognition. It can even record audio as you write so that you can playback the audio and see the notes you were taking at that specific point in time. The Neo Smart Pen N2 retails for $169 but is available at b8ta for $129. You do need to also buy specific notepad paper that can detect the writing.
Last on the recommendations was something that I would think may be on the fringe of their tech comfort level. It was a connected lightbulb that could be controlled via an app once it was connected via WiFi. While I had recently swapped out many of their light bulbs with energy-efficient LEDs, I hadn’t really thought about getting a connected LED bulb simply because I didn’t want to overwhelm them with tech. The LIFX Generation 3 LED lightbulb, however, is designed to be simple to set up and easy to use. And it retails for about $60 so for my budget, I could get a couple of them.
So, overall, I was pretty happy with the recommendations that Michelle gave me. From just a few questions and answers, coupled with her product knowledge, she was able to provide gift ideas that actually made sense for my dad and stepmom.
If you are lucky to have a b8ta store near you (check their locations), and you are scratching your head a bit on what to get that loved one from a technology perspective, I would highly recommend scheduling an appointment to meet with a b8ta tester and get some gift ideas. The service is free and is only currently available during the holiday season.
And remember, even after the holidays, you will get a personalized shopping experience at b8ta. The inventory regularly changes every month as I mentioned, and the inventory varies by store as well. There are also b8ta in-store experiences at selected Lowe’s around the country (currently in California, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia). But I recommend for the best experience, head to one of the dedicated b8ta stores (currently in Austin, Corte Madera, Palo Alto, Santa Monica, Seattle, Houston, New York, and San Francisco).
Trust me, if you like gadgets like I do, b8ta will quickly become your favorite store to shop or just hang out and discover some reallycool tech!
HTD says: The b8ta in-store concierge shopping experience for the holidays is fun and educational when looking for a tech gadget for loved ones. But the store itself with the b8ta testers explaining how products work easily make it my go-to gadget shop!