Are pop-up shops more relevant in a pandemic-altered world?

Photo: Getty Images/LeoPatrizi
Aug 06, 2020
Allie Howen

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is an excerpt of a current article from the blog of Aptos.

For some retailers, opening a pop-up shop during the pandemic might look more like a sidewalk sale. However, doing so could be the difference between being closed completely and being partially open.

Beyond survival, pop-ups can make an impact in a number of ways as retail’s new normal takes shape. Here are five:

  1. Encourage (safe) in-person experiences: While some consumers couldn’t wait to shop their favorite stores after lockdown, parking-lot pop-ups can ease concerns for those taking a more cautious approach. Plus, parking lots may be the path to continue selling should lockdown restrictions be re-imposed.
  2. Community involvement: At the pandemic’s beginning, Tesco built 24-hour pop-up shops to support hospital staff. Retailers could donate a portion of its pop-up’s proceeds to local coronavirus relief funds or act as a drop-off spot for donated clothing or nonperishable foods. Even without a charitable aspect, retailers can partner with other businesses for a “buy local” outdoor event. In a socially distanced world, any meaningful connection made with your audience is a win.
  3. Virtually pop-up: From Amazon’s Prime Day to Mexico’s Hot Sale and China’s 618 festival, virtual pop-ups have proven they can work on a wide scale. Towns and malls during the pandemic are working to create digital pop-up events for local businesses and tenants, while other retailers are hosting their own events. As witnessed by a number of Chinese retailers during the pandemic, incorporating live streaming into the event can help stir buzz on social media. Curbside pickup can also be incentivized to drive omnichannel behavior with such events. 
  4. Sell discounted (out-of-season) items. For sellers of items such as apparel, frozen store inventory quickly went out of season amid lockdowns, and stocks may pile up again should restrictions recur. To help mitigate markdowns, a mall location facing restrictions may be able to open a pop-up at a stand-alone or strip mall location with no restrictions. 
  5. Test things out. Just like in normal times, opening a pop-up during the pandemic can be used to test new products, services, technology and markets with a low-commitment.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How do you see pop-up shops potentially helping retailers manage the pandemic’s fallout? Which offer the most potential: outdoor pop-ups, at strip centers, in stand-alone locations or virtual?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Pop-up shops will give flexibility for retailers to find coronavirus-proof ways of showcasing their products and building brand loyalty."
"The pop-up store is one of many disruptive retail formats that can offer significant advantage to retailers."
"I believe the most effective pop-ups are outdoor ones. Inside locations are too risky at this point and virtual pop-ups are — well — virtual."

Join the Discussion!

18 Comments on "Are pop-up shops more relevant in a pandemic-altered world?"

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Nikki Baird

Pop-up shops are for sure one area of store-based retail that is actually a bright spot – even if all we’re talking about is a tent in the parking lot. But time is short. Winter is coming! And Isaias and the daily 3 p.m. squalls that are now rolling off the Rockies and wreaking havoc out east are proof that pop-ups are not a sure thing. They won’t be enough to offset the challenges in physical stores. Only a vaccine or a virus under control can do that.

Jeff Sward

“Nimble” has become one of the key attributes in retail these days, so pop-ups are now a very necessary tool in a retailer’s arsenal. It might be free-standing or it might be store-within-a-store, but the ability to get the most needed product to the right place at the right time is crucial.

Xavier Lederer

To your point on “nimbleness”: nobody knows what the situation will be in 5 months — will we be in lockdown again or will we enjoy Holiday shopping as usual? Therefore keeping costs down and enabling flexible formats (e.g. outdoors vs indoors vs pick-up only) will be crucial. Consumers seem to accept “quick and dirty” solutions from their TV stations because of the pandemic (e.g. anchor airing from their living room); this might be a good opportunity for retailers to test out new “quick and dirty” retail formats this winter as well.

Jeff Sward

Yep … time to shred the old rule book. And I would have no problem being a “fast second” in embracing a new idea. Thanks.

Rodger Buyvoets

Pop-up shops will give flexibility for retailers to find coronavirus-proof ways of showcasing their products and building brand loyalty. At the moment, I think virtual offers the most potential – outdoor is weather and location-dependent (a logistical nightmare!) and strip-centers are also at risk of going bankrupt. In the future, however, there could be the potential to rethink strip-centers into something more in line with consumer expectations and experiential marketing. But it will be some time before this becomes profitable. Virtual, on the other hand, has proven successful for every retailer that’s integrated a solution.

Neil Saunders

The flexibility offered by pop-up shops is highly relevant in a retail world that has been, and continues to be, disrupted. Against this backdrop, many brands and retailers might not be willing to commit to opening permanent spaces as they don’t know how shopping or rental dynamics might shift over the medium-term. A pop-up store allows them to reach and connect with customers physically without making long-term commitments. That said, there is still a lot of work involved in creating a good pop-up experience and making it work – so this is not an easy option.

Michael La Kier

Be it selling extra merchandise, trying out a new idea, or simply acting as a means to open when they otherwise could not, pop-up shops offer retailers flexibility. In this day and age, especially for retail, flexibility and nimbleness are things that are sorely needed.

Ben Ball

Pop-ups are fun. That has always been their primary appeal. It just so happens that they are typically outdoors and that plays well in the pandemic environment. Weather is the common threat, but how about all that empty mall space we keep talking about? Pop-ups were largely a mall phenomena to begin with. Keep the physical retail spaces closed or limited in occupancy while throwing up distanced pop-up spaces throughout the mall. There’s plenty of opportunity to channel foot traffic and space the shopping locations to create that same sense of security that outdoor pop-ups provide. Some serious investment in air filtration and improved HVAC systems by the mall owners wouldn’t hurt either.

Ken Morris

I believe the most effective pop-ups are outdoor ones. Inside locations are too risky at this point and virtual pop-ups are — well — virtual. The outdoor pop-up can be anywhere with ample parking and population density. Parks, existing strip centers, and beaches are all possible locations. We need to be prepared for the long haul here so we need to get creative in our approach to retail 2.0.

Gene Detroyer

I have long been a fan of the pop-up business model, not just for special situations like this but for ongoing retail. The pop-up business model allows retailers to balance their demand with the calendar.

It also helps landlords, especially in this situation, to utilize their collapse space. But also on an ongoing basis, a landlord gets to utilize empty space. The square footage associated with retail will continue to trend down. Pop-ups give landlords some opportunity of utilization.

Yesterday on my daily walk around the city I passed a pop-up for Polestar. Polestar is a Swedish-Chinese joint venture for electronic vehicles. The pop-up was small, just two automobiles. But it was on Madison Avenue, which has been decimated by high-end closings. A big win for that landlord and an opportunity for Polestar.

They will work with any of the choices noted in the discussion, but virtual.

Brian Numainville

Pop-up stores add an element of fun and can create a treasure hunt feel. And who doesn’t want to have a little fun nowadays! It won’t be enough to make up for lost sales inside traditional stores but certainly an opportunity to keep some sales going and keep brands in front of shoppers, as long as the safety of the experience is evident. Virtual events can also be enticing, as for some shoppers online IS an experience so these should also be part of the approach.

Brandon Rael

As the consumer traffic migrates from the four walls of the shopping mall, local downtowns have reemerged as the center and heart of communities. The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked the need for innovation, adaptability, flexibility, and creativity. Pop-ups have provided this value proposition, without the long-term lease liabilities, cost of inventory ownership, and overall operating costs.

From a real estate perspective, the vacant spaces will be occupied by multiple brands and be a source of critical recurring revenue. With the need to be more outdoors and in socially distant spaces, pop-ups are a remedy in these uncertain times.

Ralph Jacobson

The agility of these shops allows retailers to set and/or follow trends as opportunities arise. Location, location, location will determine the most success.

Charlotte Kula-Przezwanski

Pop-up shops were used heavily last year in the run up to the holiday season, I think they will be even more prevalent this holiday season to launch new brands, capture the “curbside pick-up” trend, used to reduce excess stock levels at competitive prices and give great options for flexibility and agility. Agile and nimble will be the words and actions that retailers need to think about and pop-up shops are a fantastic avenue for this. I think we will see many more over the next few months. I agree with other comments, they are also usually fun and a nicer shopping experience during COVID-19 than large shops.

Georganne Bender

I don’t know if pop-up shops are more relevant during the pandemic but they sure are a lot more fun.

Every major retail store I have visited as of late has lots of out-of-stocks. I understand why but it is disheartening, and I wonder how that scenario affects everyday consumers who are there for more than just picking up groceries. A pop-up shop on the sales floor is different from what the customer expects to find and it allows the retailer to highlight product and categories they can show in quantity. Pop-ups outside the store and in a tent in the parking lot are no-brainers. Now is the time to experiment.

Dave Bruno

Allie and I are colleagues, so she knows my answer already, but I am 100 percent aligned with her premise: pop-ups are a great option for many business cases, but especially right now as an option to work within pandemic-induced guidelines.

Mike Osorio

Pop ups have and will continue to be a good tool in a retailer’s toolbox of physical options, either in parking lots of centers where they already exist, or in trial locations that come available in centers and other locations of interest. If cash is available for marketing investments, pop ups should be one of the areas of trial along with new digital platforms and collaborations. This is a great time for trial. Keep trying!

Karen S. Herman

I find it fascinating that pop-up stores were highly disruptive when they first emerged as a short-term offline retail solution and now, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the pop-up store format is proving to be one of several short-term offline formats that can benefit besieged retailers. My company is also seeing an increase in offline flash sales as well as digital flash sales. Interest in digital trunk shows is growing along with interest in fashion trucks and mobile vending. The pop-up store is one of many disruptive retail formats that can offer significant advantage to retailers.

"Pop-up shops will give flexibility for retailers to find coronavirus-proof ways of showcasing their products and building brand loyalty."
"The pop-up store is one of many disruptive retail formats that can offer significant advantage to retailers."
"I believe the most effective pop-ups are outdoor ones. Inside locations are too risky at this point and virtual pop-ups are — well — virtual."

Take Our Instant Poll

Where do you see pop-up shops offering the most potential to support stores during the pandemic?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...