Webidoo Portanuova. Technology for all.

11/03/2022

Webidoo starts a revolution with a new concept of the store: on one hand, a consumer electronics shop for people to try its products; on the other hand, a counselling agency to guide companies towards digital transformation. We met Giovanni Farese, Webidoo’s co-founder and general manager, to talk to us about the first tech-experience store in Europe, now open at Portanuova. Among the stories of virtual deejays, family robots, and portable personal trainers, he presented this unprecedented format to simplify access to new technology. Webidoo is a home of innovation that Giovanni likes to call Onlife: a bridge joining online and offline at Portanuova.

PN: What is Webidoo’s mission, in a nutshell?
GF: To simplify access to technology.

PN: We gather from your website that you are a reality never seen before: on one hand, a consumer electronics store; on the other, a web agency providing digital counselling services to businesses. A store and an office, two different realities for two different target users, connected by the demand for “digital”. Tell us how this choice came about.
GF: Webidoo was born 4 years ago as a cutting-edge startup company focused on innovation and digital transformation, working to simplify the best digital technology worldwide for our users. Customers include SMEs, professionals, and techies who, more often than not, are overwhelmed by the number of new releases. We are facilitators in technology search and implementation. We have offices in several European countries and are working on expanding to the USA.

PN: Are you an Italian company?
GF: Yes, and we believe Italy is the best starting point possible for Webidoo, because the drivers of its economy are indeed the SMEs we offer our services to.

PN: Are you inspired by existing companies, perhaps overseas, or are you the first to adopt this structure?
GF: For now, we are alone. There was b8ta in the USA, which put consumers in touch with “niche” technology manufacturers. But we went beyond, by adding businesses to our offer. Moreover, our store is based on retail 4.0, namely one with a dematerialized warehouse, which exists but is not in the same place as the shop. We are the expression of online and offline that we like to call Onlife, a try & buy offer based on trying at home also through online renting before a purchase. We also offer a pay-per-use option, which reduces waste even more and allows you, for example, to rent a video camera for a holiday. It is a very popular system in Northern Europe.

PN: What is the state of digital transformation in Italy?
GF: Milan is meant to be Italy’s driving force, but is still behind compared to other European capitals because often our SMEs are too egocentric and focused on business goals; they do not use their technological know-how for marketing purposes and to communicate with their users. They need a partner to push them to change. Our other target users – the end-users – are bombarded by such a large volume of innovations that they struggle to recognize what they truly need. Moreover, a great deal of technology is only available online, and people lie in the hands of information, tutorials, and influencers who are not always reliable. Besides, not touching and testing a product is a limit and an obstacle to the buying decision. At Webidoo, users may always try before they buy. Big brands are also gradually following this trend of physical and experiential touchpoints nationwide. The return to tangibility reminds me of the theory of historic recurrence by Giambattista Vico, stating that events repeat themselves in specific forms over the years.

PN: On your website, you promise “the most innovative products in the world: those that bring the most advanced digital technology in your everyday life”.
Do you search for such products, or do you choose among brands that ask for visibility?

GF: In the beginning, we had a scouting team that looked for products, while today, also thanks to the positive reaction of Asian and US brands concerning try & buy, brands contact us on their own initiative, and we only do the filtering. In the process of following current trends and trying to predict upcoming ones, today we work a lot on robotics. For example, we offer a robot that – thanks to its daily-learning AI – “grows” every day with its host family, becoming an active member of the same through interaction with the kids to which it presents quizzes, teaches new languages, and entertains. We also have robots designed for gaming, and will soon have robot assistants at our stores to show customers the different areas.

PN: What are the bestselling categories in consumer electronics?
GF: Young men and women love gaming, to which we dedicated an entire section of the store. Adults prefer everything related to smart mobility and fitness, to train at home, along with lifestyle objects. Some are wearables, such as interactive glasses that communicate with other digital devices, or cooking-related gizmos such as Plantui, a smart vegetable garden to grow in your house (it even monitors sunlight and lunar phases).

PN: What do you mean by sport & fitness; heart rate monitors and cycle computers?
GF: I mean training encouragement systems equipped with sound and colour stimuli that make you grind while having fun: an app helps you draft a training schedule, then you place light markers around the room – that may well be a hotel room too – and you try to balance following the sequence of such lights and the indications of the app. A sort of travel gym that combines sport and gaming thanks to an immersive experience and a VR viewer.

PN: What is the next step? Perhaps an evolution of smart home devices?
GF: Anything that involves AI. From our daily watchtower – our store – we see that people are growingly aware that robotics – voice assistants, for example – make our lives simpler. Another trend that is not new but is growing again is 3D printing, which lets you send semi-real objects (that materialize through the printer) via e-mail with a single click, wherever you are in the world. Last but not least, there is the metaverse, which will require growingly light and intuitive smart glasses.

PN: Back to Vico, is this a historic recurrence of Second Life?
GF: Yes, and even The Sims, which was also based on a virtual life parallel to real life.

PN: How will smartphones evolve with 5G?
GF: Every evening we set up an incredibly realistic holographic deejay that performs a DJ set, to the delight of passers-by, which gives everyone a taste of the holograms that will animate consumer electronics. Smartphones will be designed for battery saving, while new glasses will let us talk on the phone, take pictures, and watch videos, hands-free. In any case, the assimilation and digestion of new technology is a slow process: think about self-driving cars, which we’ve been talking about for decades and are still not truly widespread.

PN: In the video you made for the store opening in Portanuova we caught a glimpse of a microcar. Is it perhaps the 1950s Isetta, the forefather of modern city cars?
GF: It is the Microlino by Swiss manufacturer Micro Mobility Systems. A fully electric vehicle, like a “micro Tesla”. It is not on the market yet, but one day you’ll be able to test it here like any other product.

PN: How can we help the digitalization of the non-profit sector?
GF: This year’s project will concern, indeed, the non-profit sector, which paradoxically lacks digitalization despite its visibility leans greatly on the Web. We are developing a project to reuse electronic devices – such as ex-lease products that are still extremely modern – to accelerate digitalization in the non-profit sector and give a second life to goods, thus with an eco-friendly perspective too.

PN: Tell us about Webidoo’s effort in promoting digital literacy.
GF: We dedicated an area of the shop to Training and Information. We explain blockchain and cryptocurrency, which are popular realities but still a mystery to many.

PN: Why did you choose Portanuova for your first tech experience store in Europe?
GF: All of our indicators pushed us towards a pedestrian and high-profile area, and given that Portanuova is nicknamed the “digital district” in our field, it was a rather obvious choice. Of course, we immediately related to the double business and consumer spirit of the District: on one hand, a daily hub for thousands of professionals in ultramodern offices; on the other, a spot for people wishing to enjoy the green BAM or the stylish restaurants and cafés. We are also working on the organization of events to familiarize with technology by testing products outdoors (“district events”): they will begin in the summer with a digital telescope that will point automatically towards the star or planet the user wishes to see.

PN: Guide us through your store.
GF: It is subdivided into areas concerning ever-changing topics: Smart Mobility, we have lifestyle products presented on tables, Fitness, Gaming, and Smart Homes. Our Innovation Bar is designed to greet business customers, which are often professionals who walk into the store as consumers but end up asking about our solutions for companies.
Finally, we dedicated a space to our partner, Grenke, for the long-term lease of technological devices for businesses.

PN: What are Webidoo’s green choices?
GF: We have chosen our products even based on their materials and manufacturing standards. We offer education at our store and recommend turning on the nightshift function on devices (this eliminates blue light from our screens in favour of warmer and more relaxing colours). Most of all, we raise awareness on the pollution generated by the Web, especially e-mails. If you consider that 8 e-mails produce as much CO2 as a car traveling 1km (0.62 mi) and that a company of 100 employees sending 33 e-mails per day emits 13.6 metric tons of CO2, corresponding to 13 return trips from Paris to New York (source: AdnKronos Salute), it’s easy to see how digital education is fundamental.

PN: I imagine the Webidoo brochure is only available online…
GF: Are you kidding me?

webidoo.it

You’ll find the Webidoo Store at 12 Via A. Vespucci, a stone’s throw away from Piazza Gae Aulenti.