Retail Redefined Through Pop Ups


What do the retailers Victoria’s Secret, Abercrombie & Fitch, Tesla, Charlotte Russe, Payless ShoeSource, Gymboree, and J.C. Penney have in common? They have – within this calendar year – announced intentions to close some or all of their physical locations.

Some, like Tesla, are trying a new sales strategy (all Tesla sales are going online only). Some, like Victoria’s Secret, are having difficulty adjusting to new consumer expectations. And some, like Payless ShoeSource, Gymboree, and Charlotte Russe, have filed for bankruptcy and are in the process of closing permanently.

Regardless of the specific reason, all of these retailers are feeling the effects of a seismic shift in the retail space that has existed for nearly a decade. Online shopping has transformed retail, and the brick-and-mortar retailers that are (or have been) slow to adapt have taken a significant hit.

This is not to say that all brick-and-mortar retail is in trouble. Some stores are thriving, and for the most part, those are the stores that noticed when the retail landscape began to shift and were able to pivot and innovate.

One of those innovations has been the rise in retail pop-up stores. While pop ups and temporary stores are not a new concept, in the past few years retailers have taken the idea to new heights as they mobilize their consumer engagement efforts.

A pop-up shop allows an established retailer to experiment in a way that might feel off-brand in its conventional bricks-and-mortar shop. It also allows these retailers to head into neighborhoods and bring the store to its consumers. Smaller retailers, on the other hand, can test drive new products or promotions in an inexpensive, virtually risk-free environment. While online-only stores are able to break through the virtual barrier and meet and greet consumers in real life.

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Meeting Today’s Consumer on Their Terms

Historically, brick-and-mortar retailers relied on foot traffic to move their product. Stores were established in areas (such as malls or retail districts) where foot traffic was a given. Sure, there were peak times and lean times, but the fact that people were going to be walking by the store was never in question.

Similarly, this consumer – the mall walker, if you will – thrived on the familiarity. The fact that you could go to any mall in the country and not be surprised by what you saw was seen as a benefit.

This is not the case anymore, at least not to the degree it once was. Familiarity is now just a mouse click away, which has driven down foot traffic.

Today’s consumer, when they leave the comfort of their couch, is not looking for familiarity; they are hoping to find adventure. They want to be excited and entertained, which is exactly what a pop up can deliver.

Typically open for as little as a few days or up to a few months (although there have been pop ups that have lasted more than a year), pop-up stores attract customers in two ways. Initially, it is the sudden appearance of a store along with a visually appealing façade and interior that catches someone’s eye. Next, it is the concept of the shop itself, its activities, and the items available to purchase. Placement of the store is, of course, helpful, which is why most pop ups occur in busy urban centers.

An Essential Component of the Marketing Strategy

For most retailers, there wasn’t much of a strategy when they began experimenting with pop ups. They were seen as tangential to the main marketing effort. That has mostly changed now as may stores view pop ups as a core part of their marketing plan.

However, how the pop ups fit in the marketing plan will vary from retailer to retailer. Often, the end goal of a pop up isn’t even to sell something (at least, not a specific amount of something), the objective is the publicity, the exposure a band achieves by pushing boundaries and innovating.

Of course, some retailers want to generate sales. In fact, the fear of missing can be a powerful sales motivator and a driving factor behind pop up commerce. This is helped by the fact that pop up can be placed directly in the heart of demand. If your sales data can pinpoint locations where a central cluster of your customers live and/or work, imagine their excitement if your brand pops up in their neighborhood.

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Preparing a Successful Pop Up

As with anything in life, when planning a pop up, you have to know your goals. What do you hope to achieve? Customer appreciation? Sales? Brand awareness?

Next, you need to identify who your customer is and where they are most likely to be. For example, you are a toy retailer, does it make sense to open a pop up in an area that contains mostly high-end clothing stores? Maybe, if those customers are primarily parents who are likely to have their children in tow. But if those consumers are mainly young, single people, the area is likely not the best setting.

The location is essential when it comes to a pop up. Many landlords are offering short term leases, specifically for pop ups, but existing space is not your only option. A portable structure presents the perfect solution, with the added benefit of being able to go up virtually anywhere. Depending on their size, these structures can be set up in a matter of minutes or hours and are durable enough for any environment and can withstand any weather.

Then, you need to devise a marketing strategy. If you have an established social media presence, that is an ideal way to get the word out. Also, if you have relationships with any influencers, be sure to reach out to them so they can let their followers know about your big event. If you have the email address of customers, especially ones in the area, set up an email campaign energizing your base about the upcoming pop up. Reach out to the media, they are always looking for interesting stories (if you can have a hook ready for them, that’s even better). Finally, don’t forget good old grassroots marketing. In the days leading to your opening (or as your store is being constructed), a big sign announcing the upcoming opening can do wonders for word-of-mouth marketing.

Some of the Top Retail Pop Ups from Last Year

Retailers have been creatively using pop ups for years. Here are two very different examples that may spark an idea or two for you.

Casper’s The Dreamery

Sleep is a critical component of good health. It is also something that one in three Americans do not get enough of.

Casper, an online mattress company, took this alarming fact and created a pop up around it. Known as “The Dreamery,” Casper essentially created a hands-on showroom for their online-only product. For $25, people are able to reserve a private pod to take a 45-minute nap. The pod contains a bathrobe, earplugs, sleep mask, and a bed with a pillow and a Casper mattress.

Even though Casper offers a 100-day money back guarantee, “The Dreamery” is an innovative way to let people test drive their products.

The Luxury Discovery Suite

Moët Hennessy has a lot of different brands, some of them are quite upscale. “The Luxury Discovery Suite” provides the opportunity for a person to be able to sample a wide variety of extravagant brands in a single location.

People could visit the site, which was made to look like an upscale apartment, and partake in tastings of Moët & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Hennessy XO, and much more. There were also special events held at the site, such as a Dom Pérignon dinner hosted by the general manager of Moët Hennessy Canada.

Most people rarely get the opportunity to sample some of these brands. Having them all in one place was quite the luxury.

As the retail landscape continues to evolve, expect pop up to become an increasingly important part of a retailer’s strategy. If you need some assistance conceptualizing a pop up campaign or would like to learn more about our portable structures, give Event Architecture a call at 972-323-9433.