Are pop-up shops the answer to getting reluctant shoppers back into stores?

Discussion
Opening of the R|Evolution pop-up, Sept. 2019 - Photo: CS Hudson
Apr 20, 2021
Matthew Stern

Before the novel coronavirus pandemic, pop-up stores had become a fashionable way for retailers to generate buzz. Now some are seeing them as a way for brands and retailers to get hesitant customers back into the spirit of physical retail.

British fashion designer Stella McCartney, for example, opened her brand’s Old Bond Street flagship store in London to pop-ups of numerous local businesses to celebrate the lifting of coronavirus restrictions on U.K. retailers, according to an article on CNBC.

Brands are also finding advantageous real estate conditions that make pop-ups a good bet.  A pop-up store selling NCAA gear recently opened up in a former restaurant space in downtown Indianapolis and, according to a Fox 59 report, what would have been a $15,000 short-term lease was secured for $3,000 plus 10 percent of sales.

Though the latest emerging wave of pop-up mania interest comes against the backdrop of the pandemic recovery, many of the benefits of the model that analysts are touting, and brands are discovering, remain from the pre-pandemic era.

Being able to give the shopper an experience that feels exclusive due to its limited run, for instance, is still a factor that drives traffic to pop-ups, according to CNBC.

And smaller brands are still finding the model a good way to test the physical retail waters and get out in front of otherwise difficult to reach audiences.

In the U.K., for example, a few online-only businesses have been dipping their toes into physical retail with pop-ups on Oxford Street, according to BBC News. A chocolate business, The Painted Peacock, Unhidden, a clothing brand for the disabled, and health and beauty store Seekology have signed on for one- to four-day pop-up experiences in the Central London shopping district, which was the busiest place to shop prior to the pandemic.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will conditions prompt a bigger role for pop-up stores in the months and years to come? What are the keys to operating successful pop-up stores?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Pop-ups are becoming a full-on channel in their own right."
"In general, people are itching to get back to normal, which means back to shopping in-stores and dining at restaurants. Pop-ups provide a good excuse to do that."
"...consumers’ priorities have shifted from pop-up-like experiential stores to those that provide a safe, clean, and organized environment to shop."

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26 Comments on "Are pop-up shops the answer to getting reluctant shoppers back into stores?"


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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

Pop-up stores offer a great way to test a concept or a market, but it’s no replacement for a real store. While the pop-up approach could work for any retailer/brand, I believe it’s especially useful for direct-to-consumer brands that are trying to gauge market acceptance as they make their first steps into physical retailing. And while pop-up stores offer great advantages in terms flexibility of location and short term, flexible leases, they can also present serious challenges, like limited space and incomplete/temporary infrastructure and systems.

Xavier Lederer
BrainTrust

You are making a great point Mark. A pop-up is a great way to test a new geography indeed. In the current context, it will be complex to predict which malls/shopping streets will recover and which ones won’t. In this uncertain retail environment pop-ups can clearly help filter out bad locations that look promising at first sight, at a relatively low cost — and therefore reduce the risk while speeding up retail expansion.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

I think pop-up stores have passed their peak, especially occasion-based stores. Halloween pop-ups are just beyond the level of saturation that will make them successful.

I think nature will draw people back to stores. The population is itchy. Keeping them coming back is all about personal attention from employees, having the right product in stores, and keeping the stores CLEAN. Pop-ups have nothing to do with it at all.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Pop-up shops just aren’t a thing in the suburbs where I live. I can’t really tell you the last time I have seen one other than during a pre-pandemic trip to NYC. You’re right about Halloween shops, they are expected now.

Scott Norris
Guest

Unless the brand already has outstanding social presence that will yield organic, planned visits, a pop-up needs vigorous foot traffic passing in front of it to get any kind of traction.

I’ve been calling it “stumble-upon marketing” for about 30 years when I figured out the Friday and Saturday night lines to get into the family buffet restaurant at the far end of the mall where my office-supply/teaching-supply shop was located created spill-in traffic and dozens of customers exclaiming “I didn’t know this existed – it’s perfect for my child!” I could never have bought that kind of advertising.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

In the malls and outlets I have visited lately, there are a lot of signs on the windows of vacant stores suggesting that it’s the ideal location for a pop-up concept. From the landlord perspective, this is a creative way to try and fill space with things that are interesting to the consumer. Now is also an ideal time for brands not usually involved in physical retail to test their concept or expand awareness. There are so many creative small brands and businesses out there – small, medium and large – and I hope we will see more of them pop up and keep retail relevant and vibrant.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Pop-ups are the equivalent of food trucks. Yes, some can break through and get a loyal social media following. But brand building? Sales? Long-term ROI? I think many are excuses to craft “buzz” without working on engaging their customers through the shops that already carry the products.

DeAnn Campbell
BrainTrust

This was true when they first started emerging, but today I think pop-ups do offer many of the brand building and sales generation benefits of their permanent cousins. GlamSquad’s pop-ups were a big factor in helping educate consumers about their unique value prop, and boosted brand awareness and popularity to the point that they were able to successfully launch their own line of products and garner a profitable partnership with CVS.

Oliver Guy
BrainTrust

I have long been an advocate of pop-up stores as a way to keep a retail venue “fresh” and encourage people to return and see what’s new. In a similar way, discount grocers Aldi and Lidl have central aisles of non-food product that change from week to week to encourage customers to return. Combining that with advertisements to encourage people to visit and collaborating with mall/venue owners in planning would be very prudent.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Pop-up stores are the perfect business model for many retailers. It is a way to balance the seasonality of their business with the costs — think labor, rent and everything that goes with operating a store. With or without pandemic I predict the future of seasonal retail (where 50 percent or more of their business is affected by holidays or season) will move to having at least 50 percent of their floor space in pop-up.

The keys? First, as always, is location. Then profile and communication. It will remain an excellent way for new operators to build their brands through spontaneity. Staff the management of the store with your best people and train the rest of the staff.

Venky Ramesh
BrainTrust

Pop-up stores, in general, are a great way to generate customer interest and drive engagement. I also think it can be a great tool for digitally native brands to solve their problem of “discoverability.” They can drive trial and subscriptions in an offline world that can be seamlessly transferred back to the online world.

DeAnn Campbell
BrainTrust
Pop-ups are a permanent tool in the retail tool chest because they’re one of the most effective ways to accomplish several goals simultaneously. Testing new locations, new products or new experiences can be done quickly before spending larger dollars on permanent space. Adding pick-up or return locations while our workforce explores where the balance between home and office will land helps rebuild e-commerce profit margins. And as more brands move to take back control over their customer experience rather than sell through other retailers, pop-ups will be a critical tool to engage shoppers offline, reinforce brand trust and lift online sales through the power of the brick-and-mortar halo effect. Omnichannel doesn’t just mean e-commerce, and shoppers now expect both online and offline conveniences. It’s the Wild West right now because there’s so much open space, but as rents eventually go up I expect some of the most expensive locations could become dedicated to short term leases, and possibly even purpose built for this in the future. Pop-ups are becoming a full-on channel in their own… Read more »
Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

Pop-ups are a great way to generate consumer interest for DTC brands, and a way for those brands to test engagement. Now is a great time for this as landlords are no doubt looking to fill vacant space at lower costs if only to attract foot traffic by showing new things in the space – a good way to attract customers to the mall.

For established retailers, the reasons for pop-ups are different. They can be used to test new locations to see if a permanent store is warranted, and they can be used to test a new concept before deploying to existing stores.

I expect we will see an increase in pop-ups over the next few years, especially as more DTC brands move towards opening stores of their own.

Christopher P. Ramey
BrainTrust

Pop-up stores allow retailers to test markets and expand their brand presence while using a pillar of luxury: scarcity.

The most compelling offer of all is: buy now because we may be gone tomorrow.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

I don’t think a retailer has to necessarily import a pop-up shop. I think almost any retailer can operate with a pop-up mentality. It goes back to offering a treasure hunt shopping experience. A continual offering of new and different. Pop-ups have lots of different executions, as in testing new markets or taking advantage of newly available real estate. But I like the way the article expresses the “limited run” point of view. It’s about creating and managing scarcity. Any retailer in the mall or on Main Street ought to be able to manage their assortment flow in order to create an ongoing parade of the unexpected. Too much predictability is a reason to wait for promotions and discounts. New and “limited run” is a reason to visit often and buy now.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

In a pre-pandemic world, pop-up shops were one of the more popular and emerging ways indie brands and smaller retailers could engage with customers without the liability of long-term leases. However in a pandemic, and hopefully the post-pandemic world, consumers’ priorities have shifted from pop-up-like experiential stores to those that provide a safe, clean, and organized environment to shop.

Conceptually, pop-ups are an outstanding addition to the retail landscape in more cosmopolitan cities such as NYC. The authenticity and magic don’t translate well to the suburban shopping centers.

If executed properly, pop-ups could once again be a natural extension to a brand’s digital and social presence.

Liza Amlani
BrainTrust

Not necessarily — authenticity and magic translating into suburbs is exactly what the suburbs need! Over the last 12 months alone, those trendy New Yorkers, Torontonians, and Londoners (the “big city folks”) moved out of the city.

Pop-ups would be a perfect way to bring the excitement of product launches and exclusivity to the same customers that loved this model when living the city life. This is an untapped opportunity where traditional thinking marketers may think they know best but you need to go where the customers are.

Says the city girl….

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

Thanks for sharing your perspective, Liza. I agree that we have seen a mass exodus from the more cosmopolitan cities to the suburban areas during the pandemic.

I believe that an experiential and pop-up-like scenario could resonate in the local main streets or downtowns, where the shop local and community gathering areas are. With the warmer months, potentially sidewalk sales, farmers markets, and other community town centers could be ideal places for pop-ups.

I don’t see this resonating in the traditional shopping malls.

Cynthia Holcomb
BrainTrust

Pop-ups are entertainment for those who have the time to stumble upon a pop-up. Executing a successful pop-up in the world of constant retail noise and the constant over retailing through redundancy of product across malls and stores reduces even the best of retail presentations, pop-up, or otherwise into just plain old more noise.

Liza Amlani
BrainTrust

Pop-up stores will continue to have a bigger role in retail. With commercial real estate losing retailers, shops getting boarded up, and landlords scraping for retailers to fill their spaces, pop-up stores and short term leases are a way to keep business going.

From a retailer perspective, this is the perfect opportunity to be non-committal. This is exactly the purpose of a pop-up, not only giving the air of exclusivity and the excitement around limited time only product assortments, but also giving brands a way to test the market.

The key to operating a successful pop-up is dependent on three things. Location, customer demand, and the air of exclusivity. Take for example Supreme, the latest Jordan release, the opening of the OVO store in Soho — customers love a pop-up.

Dave Wendland
BrainTrust

I’m a fan of pop-up stores when they are relevant to shoppers, rich in assortment (and placement), and rightly-placed at retail. If the pop-up makes sense to shoppers I am confident that they will respond favorably — and sales will follow.

Jasmine Glasheen
BrainTrust

Next gens and Boomers alike are clamoring for life experiences. Analysts predict we will see a “silver surge” of boomer shoppers going out to make their bucket list dreams a reality once vaccinated.

We’ve all been clamoring for in person experiences over the past year. There’s pent up demand for anything that feels exciting and novel. I predict pop-ups will become more mainstream as stores reopen.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

One might remember the phrase “supply side economics” and this would seem to be an example, of sorts: “advantageous real estate conditions” being a euphemism for “desperate property managers” and “massive vacancies.”

So in that sense, pop-ups, of almost any kind — within reason — make sense. Will they encounter a demand? I don’t know (and don’t really think anyone does), but the only way to find out is to try it, there’s little to lose … except a few “for lease” signs.

Kenneth Leung
BrainTrust

Pop-up is good right now because shoppers are looking for “the moment” with discoveries after being stuck at home, and nothing like a pop-up with a limited time to drive the curious and get in/out quickly. Also, this allows you to experiment with short term decorations and merchandising concepts and locations to gather feedback from purchase and also social media metrics.

If anything, retailers are trying to decide whether to reopen full stores and use pop-ups to gauge the neighborhood traffic before committing to the staffing to fully reopen.

Meaghan Brophy
BrainTrust
In the coming months, pop-ups could be a good method for retailers to test new products — consumer behavior and preferences have changed a lot over the past year. 

 However, we’re not yet on the other side of the pandemic, and the bigger concern is safety. People want to feel safe while shopping, and historically, successful pop-ups meant crowds. For now, retailers should focus on ticketed, limited events, or outdoor functions. In general, people are itching to get back to normal, which means back to shopping in-stores and dining at restaurants. Pop-ups provide a good excuse to do that. There are two key elements for operating a successful pop-up: Location/marketing: For a pop-up to have good ROI, it needs to gain a lot of buzz. A popup needs either plenty of customers that make a concerted effort to attend the event (which can be done through social, email, and local marketing). Or, retailers need a spot that gets significant foot traffic so customers will stumble upon the event. 
 Product & value proposition: For… Read more »
Patricia Vekich Waldron
Staff

Pop-ups are a great (and flexible) way to test, validate, gather insights, generate buzz and connect with consumers.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Pop-ups are becoming a full-on channel in their own right."
"In general, people are itching to get back to normal, which means back to shopping in-stores and dining at restaurants. Pop-ups provide a good excuse to do that."
"...consumers’ priorities have shifted from pop-up-like experiential stores to those that provide a safe, clean, and organized environment to shop."

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