Pop-ups: An essential part of the modern retail strategy

 —  Article by Natalie Holmes
pop-up coca cola retail store
Image credit: Shutterstock

Once a novelty concept, today pop-up stores are a firm fixture in shopping centers, transit hubs and markets – in fact, anywhere with a high footfall.

They’re no longer the preserve of start-ups and boutique retailers. Big name brands are now harnessing the power of pop-ups to enhance brand awareness, boost seasonal sales and target new markets.

“In many cases, they present an effective way for brands to test a format they haven’t trialed before,” explains JLL’s Director of London retail, Duncan Gilliard. Watch retailer Larsson & Jennings, for example, started out with a London pop-up before signing a permanent lease, and subsequently opening further stores in London’s Regent Street and New York’s SoHo.

Likewise, they’re commonly used to launch or trial new products. U.S. footwear retailer DSW, for example, recently debuted their range of customized 3D-printed shoes in pop-up locations in New York and San Francisco, which allow visitors to actually see their new shoes being made.

Even Google is experimenting offline, with a new space in New York’s SoHo. While shoppers can’t actually buy anything from Made by Google, the store provides an opportunity to try out the brand’s new hardware.

An evolving format

When pop-ups first came on the scene, critics thought they may pose a threat to traditional real estate. “We’ve seen from the way companies and landlords are using them, that in fact they’re complementary,” Gilliard says.

Take traditional British brand Hunter—known for their colourful wellies—which set up a temporary store in London’s Piccadilly Circus, just steps from their permanent flagship on Regent’s Street. “This location was predominantly a satellite that directs customers to the main store, and increases awareness of the brand,” Gilliard says.

Elsewhere, brands are leveraging pop-ups to deliver products directly to their target market, as well as get a foothold in new ones. Canadian fashion retailer Kit and Ace collaborated with luxury hotel chainsfor “The Carry-on”, which offered guests and local residents the opportunity to shop a selection of the brand’s travel clothing and accessories.

Crucially, the initiative also featured an online version, offering digital visitors access to city guides curated by local influencers, as well as product recommendations.

“Lately we’re seeing pop-ups used as a key part of an ominchannel marketing plan,” says Gilliard. “Brands are realizing that they need to harmonize the digital and physical. If someone has a good brand experience in the real world, they’ll buy online.”

New opportunities for big names

Within the modern day retail strategy, pop-ups are frequently used to engage consumers in unique and experiential ways, such as drinks brand Rémy Martin which travels round U.S. cities and allows visitors to blend their own cognac. “Brands, for their part, recognize that a pop-up needs to provide something special. A smaller version of a freestanding store simple won’t work,” says Gilliard.

Creating such immersive and interactive experiences can convert casual visitors into long-term customers.

Moreover, to businesses offering season-specific products and services, the pop-up offers big benefits. “Ice-cream brand Magnum have been successful with their pop-up stores in Central London which has allowed them to maximize their brand awareness at the peak of summer,” says Gilliard.

Making pop-ups pop

While temporary stores have transformed the retail strategy of many brands, Gilliard notes that brands should think carefully about how the format fits in with their overall approach: “For some retailers, because of their concept and the amount of time it takes to launch, the pop-up doesn’t work.”

A key challenge for retailers is gathering accurate results in a relatively short time-frame. “When trialing for physical stores, retailers need to take a pop-up for at least six months to a year,” he explains. “We generally see that retailers become much more successful the longer they’ve been in a location, due to factors like word of mouth and consumer awareness.”

However, as long as pop-ups continue to draw in consumers, they will remain a key part of a retail strategy. “Now that so many big brands are embracing it, the pop-up has hugely improved in quality and creativity in the last 10 years,” concludes Gilliard. “I believe the format will continue to move in that direction.”

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