Do pop-up efforts make sense for subscription box services?

Discussion
Photo: Pop Box
Dec 18, 2017
Matthew Stern

In brick-and-mortar retail, one of the biggest recent trends has been the emergence of stores that host a rotating lineup of pop-ups. In online retail, subscription boxes have become popular. Now one store is combining the two trends — at least for its opening quarter.

Pop Box is a permanent pop-up venue in Lincoln Park, Chicago, according to Hoodline, that rotates its lineup of retailers every quarter. The store’s first installation consists of 16 online-only subscription box e-tailers, including PupJoy, The Runnerbox, Moustache Coffee Club, Mystery Tackle Box (fishing) and Home Chef (a meal kit startup which recently began selling through Walmart.com). In-store events in conjunction with some of the brands have been taking place since Pop Box’s opening in late October.

Birchbox, which focuses on beauty, is by all indications the only subscription box service with its own physical store, a location in lower Manhattan opened in July 2014.

There’s an apparent synergy between the subscription box model and that of the revolving pop-up store — both offer built-in variety and excitement to customers.

While Pop Box may be the first such store to start off with a focus on subscription boxes, a few rotating multi-pop-up retailers have appeared this year.

In Detroit, for instance, a tech accelerator opened a retailer with a rotating lineup of local retail pop-ups. And in Long Island, a mall launched [email protected] Field, a 3,500 square-foot space with a rotating lineup of online-only brands.

Even brands with their own outlets have begun to see value in overhauling the store experience every few months. In the King of Prussia Mall, Timberland opened an experiential store called Tree Lab. The store’s gallery-like setting swaps out themes every six weeks, entirely changing the store’s look, feel and product selection to match. 

Pop Box’s subscription box installation ends in late December and it’s unknown whether the next round of retailers will include more subscription box providers.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Is having subscription box services a good theme for Pop Box’s first lineup of pop-ups? What other themes might work to follow the first one with, and should subscription services play a role there?

Braintrust
"Before the box bubble bursts, the partnership opportunity between retailer and box services lies in the data they can share with each other."
"I think Pop Box has made a good choice. The same crowd that likes subscription services tends to like pop-ups as well, so it’s a natural marriage."
"We’re seeing an effort to get web-like benefits from our stores. Rapid changes, A/B testing, data collection..."

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27 Comments on "Do pop-up efforts make sense for subscription box services?"


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Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

This is simple promotion. The pop-up presents two (if not more) opportunities. The first is an opportunity to sell merchandise. The second, and more important, opportunity is that the pop-up is an excellent advertising, marketing and brand awareness program, all rolled into one.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

I think Pop Box has made a good choice. The same crowd that likes subscription services tends to like pop-ups as well, so it’s a natural marriage. And it gives the subscription services a good platform for showing their wares to broader audience. As for the second question, I have always been a big fan of the STORY concept, the New York City retailer that treats retail space like a magazine and changes the contents, theme and appearance every month. This approach allows a retailer to cash in on the topical, the trendy and so-hip-it-hurts for 30 days at a time. Could the right subscription services work in this environment? Of course, but it would depend on the theme.

Joanna Rutter
BrainTrust
30 days 8 hours ago

I love STORY too! Rachel Shechtman is a brand marketing genius. I’m consistently impressed by the concept and how it stays fresh and intriguing.

Max Goldberg
BrainTrust

Pop-ups are a great way for e-commerce players to attract consumers, while bringing freshness and spontaneity to established retail centers. Consumers get to experience something new and the e-commerce players can learn valuable information. Pop-ups don’t have to conform to a theme, they just need to be different.

Sterling Hawkins
BrainTrust

It is a great way for eCommerce players to build awareness and potentially collect some really valuable qualitative data on consumers. I’m with Max that this is a great match and I expect we’ll be seeing much more of it in the months to come.

Anne-Marie Kovacs
Guest

That sums it up nicely. 🙂

Kim Garretson
BrainTrust

In food service retail, the booming Food Hall trend is ideal for hosting pop-up subscription box service vendors. For instance, one of the new food halls in St. Paul, Minnesota hosts local food trucks inside during the winter months. And with several Minnesota-made food box services, I expect to see box pop-ups in the vendor line-up this season.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

To the extent that the physical presence gives the subscription box retailers exposure that enhances recognition, it is a good idea. The down side is that a pop-up store in only one location limits that exposure. It’s a good start. Pop-up locations will expand and retailers (subscription box or not) will have the opportunity to showcase in multiple venues if they so desire.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

A subscription box service on top of a pop-up offering is an excellent way of promoting, growing and building a brand. Pop-ups have emerged as a new and experiential-focused offering, however they are a new twist on an old retail concept.

Pop-ups offer significant value to emerging designers, artists and creative small businesses, as the model helps to mitigate all of the significant cost overheads associated with long-term leases. In addition, there is the newness and inspiration that could be built in the pop-up spaces, and a pop-up offers far more flexibility for small and mid-sized companies to make a statement.

Pop-up and subscription services tied together with a social media presence could have a significant impact.

Anne-Marie Kovacs
Guest

Indeed, emerging online brands are eager to get into the physical realm though it’s at a prohibitive cost in money, bandwidth and resources. At Pop Box, our goal is to help them tell their story IRL while allowing customers to discover something new.

Phil Masiello
BrainTrust

Pop-ups are a great and low-cost way to build incremental holiday sales and extend the brand. When I was an executive at a Washington, D.C.-based specialty food retailer, we used pop-ups every holiday season at the surrounding malls for specialty food-focused gifts and gift baskets. These stores were very profitable and exposed our company to customers who had never been to one of our stores.

Subscription-focused e-tailers can make a great theme for a pop-up, but it depends on the category. I could see this working well for Birchbox or some of the other beauty-focused groups. The fashion subscriptions, whose model is a bit more complicated and requires explanation, could benefit as well.

It comes down to the economics of the pop-up and the plan of customer engagement as to whether or not it is a good idea.

Adrian Weidmann
BrainTrust

Regardless of the category, product(s) or venue, pop-up store formats miss an incredible opportunity to understand the efficacy of their in-store merchandising, marketing and promotional designs, planograms and workflows if they don’t implement a comprehensive measurement campaign. Understanding the shopper’s journey and their behavior through their purchase should be standard procedure for these formats.

Joanna Rutter
BrainTrust
30 days 8 hours ago
Brick-and-mortar retail’s new/old/forever chief end is to surprise and delight people in ways most online retailers can’t. (Controversial statement! I know.) In that vein, it’s never not a worthwhile experiment to play around with retail concepts designed to thrill customers and put sleepy mall space to use. Personally, I’m surprised that we haven’t yet hit peak subscription since it’s such an oversaturated space, see: Blue Apron’s recent numbers. But before the box bubble bursts, the partnership opportunity between malls/retail real estate and box services lies in the data they can share with each other. Which hours of the day are visitors more likely to convert in-store versus online? Which products and boxes are selling the most and what does that say about local demographics? How does weather affect foot traffic vs. online sales? I wouldn’t advise an anchor location in a mall hurting for foot traffic to go all-in on subscription services, but keeping them in a retailer rotation to feed shoppers’ need for novelty and learning from each experiment helps stores hone how they… Read more »
Cynthia Holcomb
BrainTrust

Yes, an emporium of customer experience, bringing the virtual world into the physical world. Viewing products digitally limits the human sensory experience of interacting with a product. Stumbling upon the discovery of a “pop-up” of subscription box services is very cool, physically interactive, interesting and fun. It has the thrill of sensory shopping. Keep the product mix changing.

Joy Chen
BrainTrust

Pop-up retail provides good marketing and brand awareness to online brands. That is a strategy that many brands like Warby Parker have used to further their business growth. Pop Box’s first theme of subscription boxes during the holiday season was a smart move and provides them with brand awareness and trial. Additionally, the rotation brings newness to the consumers. Other themes could be, for instance, “New Year, New You” where health and wellness products and services can be provided at Pop Box — along with gym subscriptions, clothing, healthy juices and food.

Anne-Marie Kovacs
Guest

Joy, you may be reading our mind! 😉

Chuck Palmer
BrainTrust

I think we are seeing the “E-comm-ization” (you heard it here first, folks) of retail. We can change the look and feel of our websites much more effectively and efficiently than we can our stores; and with much greater reach.

We’re seeing an effort to get web-like benefits from our stores. Rapid changes, A/B testing, data collection. There are various ways to do this, and I think it works especially well for e-commerce outlets to present in-person.

My issue on this subject has always been scale. A pop-up in New York makes headlines but I question the value of the data that comes from it. As we see more real estate dedicated to these transient operations, we may be able to get better feedback from more customers across markets.

And of course the fresher we can keep these experiences for consumers, the more they will come back.

Peter Luff
BrainTrust

I like it as an innovative approach. The model has to stay fresh to stay true to itself. As it grows based on finding some good subscription product-line services, should they then stick with those or should they stay true to swinging them out after their defined period? If they don’t rotate them out, are they not just a small department store with even smaller concessions? It’s a tricky one to scale.

Jeff Miller
BrainTrust
A subscription box theme (as long as the product/brand is quality) is a nice logical extension for both pop up shops and subscriptions. It solves one of the main issues around online subscription retail in not being able to see the quality of products in the box. It seems to be a logical marketing expense in and some ways is similar to a low cost or free trial offer in terms of the impact on a subscription businesses P&L. If you can get a low CPA and then have similar LTV as a “normal” customer, then this model can be replicated and scaled. Like all brick and mortar, this one comes down to location, location, location. A subscription box kiosk in some downtrodden mall does not stand much of a chance. But a nicely designed pop up with helpful store employees who can educate people on the products, the subscription elements, and what they can expect in the future is a great idea. I am curios what the revenue split is between the store and… Read more »
Georganne Bender
Guest

Featuring subscription services is a good idea for a pop-up because consumers get to sample the wares before signing up. Pop Box’s rotating lineup of retailers every quarter sounds an awful lot like Rachel Shechtman’s NYC store, Story.

Anne-Marie Kovacs
Guest

Georganne, we are honored to be compared to Story. At the same time, our concept was developed as a response to the current retail scene: to provide customers with the shopping experience they crave today while allowing online brands to come to life in a physical space.

Georganne Bender
Guest

Rich and I still need to visit your store!

Anne-Marie Kovacs
Guest

I can’t wait to meet you. We are here until Sunday!

Anne-Marie Kovacs
Guest

Matthew, we invite you to drop by! There is so much more to our concept than meets the eye. We are open with this installation until Dec 24. 😉

Julie Bernard
BrainTrust

A pop-up is a great way to introduce a brand and offering to the consumer in a tangible way, especially if the offering is a product as opposed to a service. Secondly, it also helps spur word-of-mouth promotion. To support this (potentially) viral campaign opportunity, pop-up subscription-box spaces should make it easy for the visiting consumer to share their physical experience on social-media channels, driving interest in the immediate mobile moment and prompting subscription sign-ups even if the recipients are not nearby the pop-up location.

Dustin McAdams
Guest
Great to see this article! I am one of the founders of http://www.pupjoy.com. I just returned tonight from a fun event that we hosted with PopBox and pet industry e-learning leader, FetchFind — a festive holiday dog-friendly cocktail party. It was a fun celebration with a lot of adorable mutts. It drove some sales and I am sure that it helped provide us some awareness with the local community. But the real value is in the personal touch. And that is the value of Pop Box. We are in the business of experiences. We seek to be the best in the business of bringing joy to dogs and their parents. We’ve pushed a lot of boundaries in delivering customized options for the dog parent and we have an aggressive vision of where we grow a continuity focused e-commerce model. But the customer feedback we get from our normal channels – phone, text, chat, surveys, reviews, etc. — have natural limitations. There is no substitute for shaking hands, petting a dog and talking to owners. They… Read more »
Anne-Marie Kovacs
Guest

Dustin, it’s been an honor and a joy for Pop Box to be ambassadors for PupJoy and helping tell your brand story to a new audience.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Before the box bubble bursts, the partnership opportunity between retailer and box services lies in the data they can share with each other."
"I think Pop Box has made a good choice. The same crowd that likes subscription services tends to like pop-ups as well, so it’s a natural marriage."
"We’re seeing an effort to get web-like benefits from our stores. Rapid changes, A/B testing, data collection..."

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