How Virtual Reality is Making the Pop-Up Shops of the Future a Reality Now


In 1995, a new store opened that would forever change the face of retail: Amazon was not what shoppers traditionally thought of as a store, but soon the convenience of online shopping stopped being a novelty and became the norm. Suddenly, so many products and services became available with the click of a mouse.

Over time, our thinking as consumers has changed, in ways that may have begun with Amazon, but have also extended beyond its influence. Today, with apps, movies, music, television, and so many other options available whenever – and wherever – we want them, we truly are living in an on-demand era.

While most purchases are still made in brick-and-mortar locations, the expectation for on-demand service remains.

To combat the efficiency of Amazon (and its ilk), physical store locations are coming up with creative ways to provide service to consumers. This is an idea that stretches beyond simply customer service into the entire experience of shopping.

Pop-up shops are one of these concepts.

History of the Pop-Up

Pop-up stores are not new – what we think of as a pop-up has been around for more than a decade (and the notion of pop-ups – think seasonal stores – has actually been around for hundreds of years). Originally, pop-ups were used to promote sales, a way to highlight special items or products that needed to move off the shelves. Now, however, many retailers are routinely deploying pop-ups as part of their core retail strategy. The pop-up has matured into an extension of a brand – to tell a story or deliver an experience.


This is in line with the way brick-and-mortar retail is evolving. Satellite outlets are shuttering across the nation in favor of large, flagship stores in urban locations. Physical outlets are striving to provide experiences, which is becoming as important as the shopping options they offer.

It is also the perfect time for pop-ups as far as the real estate market is concerned. With store closings leaving holes in their ledgers, renters are more and more willing to lease space on a monthly basis.

Pop-up shops deliver on the fear of missing out (FOMO). Not only do pop-ups allow sellers to become more flexible and creative, they also give the buyers a story to tell other shoppers. Pop-ups turn shopping into an event; something that has to be experienced to be understood.

Still, no matter how inexpensive a pop-up might be compared to a permanent location, retailers incur some cost to set one up. Now, however, there is another option.

Pop-Up Shops in Virtual Reality

A virtual-reality pop-up provides a bridge between a physical store and online shopping. However, this idea isn’t to simply recreate your store in a virtual environment. It’s to create something unique and limited: to reproduce the effect of a pop-up shop in a virtual environment.

Fusing technology with pop-ups is a concept as old as the shops themselves. These shops often integrate a social-media-worthy component with the shop’s layout. Social media has always been a valuable asset in spreading the word of a pop-up.

For example, New York-based streetwear brand Kith opened a pop-up located in Aspen Colorado in the winter of 2016. The retailer flew several friends and family to the opening, but the vast majority of its customers were going to miss the festivities (being located on the coasts). So, the retailer shared the experience through Instagram stories. This way, the limited-time event of the pop up was experienced by Kith followers across the country.


Photo Credit: Kith

What if, instead of Instagram stories, which are limited in what they can show and how long they can show it, Kith was able to recreate its Aspen pop-up in virtual reality? Instead of living the experience through Instagram fits and bursts, interested consumers could experience the shop’s layout and ambiance by traipsing through the environment virtually.

Virtual reality is the next frontier for savvy retailers. Just as marketing innovators continue to push the bounds of what social media has to offer, so too will pioneering retailers be the ones who stretch the bounds of what virtual reality can do. Someday, VR may even replace social media as the tool retailers use to give their consumers an intimate look at special events and promotions.

The advantage of virtual reality is that consumers do not have to be limited to window shopping – actual shopping is a possibility. Shoppers can virtually browse available inventory and make a purchase should the impulse strike. For apparel items, it could even be possible to virtually “try on” items.

In December 2017, Swedish retailer Ikea opened several virtual reality pop-ups in Kuwait, Jordan, and Morocco. Located in malls throughout those countries, the relatively small 4-by-4-meter virtual reality zones allowed consumers to select furniture and accessories for a variety of floor plans. Users could choose from over 450 actual Ikea items and play around until they discovered their perfect layout. Once they determined an ideal arrangement, users were sent an email and given a printout that showed their clearly itemized masterpiece.


Photo Credit: IF World Design Guide

Since the virtual pieces were based on actual Ikea furniture, users had the option of purchasing pieces online or in stores. Traffic at the Kuwait location was up 19 percent during the virtual reality promotion. This campaign was designed to increase foot traffic to nearby Ikea locations (and that worked), but in the future, consumers will be able to buy pieces they like from the virtual environment itself.

Virtual Reality in Pop-Up Shops

Of course, if you are not ready to convert your pop-up into a fully virtual experience, you can bring the virtual experience to your pop-up. Having a VR attraction can help get attention for a pop-up or the attraction can be used as a pop-up event inside a store.

For example, British fashion retailer, Topshop, provided a pop-up virtual reality experience in its Oxford Street store to kick off the start of the summer season. The feature had guests sit on an inflatable tube in what appeared to be the entrance to a waterslide. For added verisimilitude, air vents pumped the scent of sunscreen throughout the store. The guest then put on virtual reality goggles and went for a 360-degree waterslide ride high over Oxford Street without ever leaving the store.  


Photo Credit: Eventual VR

When Coca-Cola decided to open its first ever pop-up shop, the brand used a virtual sleigh ride to enhance the experience. Located in Dublin, Ireland, the Coca-Cola shop offered visitors special merchandise and a trip in Santa’s sleigh pulled by two reindeer as it initially made its way through a quaint village and eventually began soaring high above the terrain.

Facebook also used virtual reality in its most recent pop-up stores to promote, of all things, virtual reality. Facebook has made significant investments in virtual reality and used the pop-ups as a way to promote the technology, since a recent market study found that half of consumers who try a virtual reality headset say, “they plan to purchase one” and 15 percent make an immediate decision to buy after experiencing the technology.

Virtual reality can be just the thing that brings people into your shop – or brings your shop to the people. If you plan to use this innovative technology at your next event, give the Event Architecture experts a call at 972-323-9433 and discover how we can help make your wildest flights of fancy a reality.