The future of bricks and mortar retail – the best innovations from the US

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If you’re trying to find out what the next trends are for bricks and mortar stores in the UK, you can start by looking to the US. The US retail market remains the most developed and in some cases over developed in the world. There are a huge number of so called ‘ghost malls’ littering out of town locations across the country and traditional anchor retailers like department store J.C. Penney are struggling to stay relevant to consumers.

But the US is in a constant state of creative destruction and while many malls are failing there is no end in sight to new innovations in retail. With footfall on the UK’s high streets and in shopping centres taking a downturn in recent years it won’t be long before we start to see many of these making their way across the Atlantic.

With that in mind, we’ve got a list of some of the most innovative and interesting start-ups in the US targeting in-store experiences, whether that’s through a totally new store concept or in-store kiosks and pop-ups.

WithMe – Set up a high tech new store in less than a month

WithMe owns a fleet of on demand retail spaces for brands to quickly set up physical store fronts in major cities in as little as a month from first contact. Their Micro Retail locations range from 100-300 sq. ft. and come complete with fitting rooms, interactive mirrors, digital signage and self-checkouts. Additionally they can offer their Mobile Flagship, 3,000 sq. ft. luxury retail location that can be transported and assembled at nearly any location you choose.

Though the Mobile Flagship store is undeniably their most impressive product, their Inline Stores are also challenging the traditional retail concept. They convert bricks and mortar locations into tech driven experiences with a new featured brand every 45 days.

Firsthand – Hybrid pop-up and online shop

Founded in 2016 Firsthand has developed a combination of the pop-up store and online shopping. Firsthand curates a small selection of online products for business owners looking to monetise their space. They provide a small kiosk, a sample of the products and software including a tablet for self-checkout or online ordering. It allows customers to see, touch and try products in real life prior to ordering online. The venue owners not only get a share of the profits from these sales at the end of the month, but they also receive a constantly changing product line-up.

Firsthand Kiosk
Firsthand Kiosk

b8ta – Retail as a Service

b8ta operates retail as a service. As the name and concept suggests, the stores are targeted for discovery of new products and innovative technology. Product sellers keep 100% of the profits of their sales, but pay b8ta a subscription fee for space and services. This subscription depends on the number of products offered, as well as the number of locations they are in.

The entire system relies on a high degree of flexibility for the product seller. Using b8ta’s software they can manage their marketing messages and digital assets in stores from anywhere, they can even run price testing campaigns.

b8ta is expanding fast and their stylish, high-tech stores are like siren calls for early-adopters, creating the ideal environment for product testing and retail combined.

b8ta store Austin TX
b8ta store Austin, Texas

We spoke to Philip Raub Founder and CMO of b8ta and heard a little bit more about how their concept is setting the standard for the future:

“Consumers have demonstrated that they crave interactive shopping experiences. However, the continued growth of on-line sales indicates that consumers prefer to shop at home or on the go. As a results, b8ta’s business model and focus on customer experiences will the way that brands, consumers and retailers engage with each other in the future”

Philip Raub Founder/CMO b8ta

Freeosk – Automated sampling

Freeosk sampling
Freeosk in US retailer

Freeosk operate automated sampling machines across the US in partnership with major retailers there. There is a connected app alongside the kiosk that customers need to scan to receive their free sample; customers can also leave instant reviews. This helps Freeosk combine their data with customer loyalty schemes at the stores and provides both retailers and the companies sampling with a rich source of information about who products appeal to and what customers think of them.

Sampling can be interactive as well, Huggies for example ran a campaign where parents uploaded a photo of their baby and got a free print out of it alongside their sample.

Bulletin – Flat sharing for shops

Bulletin is changing the physical retail concept by renting locations and offering the space to online retailers. This could be anything from a small shelf to half the store. Consumers get a constantly changing array of products, while online retailers can make their first foray into the physical space without large amounts of time and capital. Retailers can even track their sales in real time via the online dashboard.

Bulletin Nolita
Bulletin Nolita, New York Central

New Stand – News Stands for the new commuter

Where is that train station staple of a news stand going? New Stand may have the answer, combining an app with daily news stories alongside micro retail locations along commuter routes such as subway stations and ferries. The stores stock more than just your standard convenience goods, intermingling new gadgets and on trend items with staples like snacks and umbrellas. The app allows commuters to browse and pay en route to the store making it convenient even for those days when you’re running late.

The New Stand NYC Ferry
New Stand on the New York City Ferry
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