During fashion week in London’s Soho district this past February, Lego opened a pop-up store with nothing in it. Well, nothing except for a pedestal displaying a QR code. When visitors scanned the “Snapcode,” linked to Snapchat, their phones displayed an augmented reality-enabled fashion boutique where they could interact with arcade games, a DJ and a bouncer. They also could view an exclusive limited-edition apparel collection, available for purchase through the social media site’s “Shop Now” feature.
Pop-up concepts like this are becoming essential in retail, where consumers’ insatiable desire for the new and different requires constant testing and experimentation. Pop-ups lend an air of exclusivity, an of-the-moment excitement and Instagram worthiness that generates top-of-mind brand buzz in crowded markets. Their success has driven the pop-up industry to approximately $10 billion in sales, according to PopUp Republic.
Retailers create pop-ups for a variety of reasons, and their run times vary from just a few days to months or more. Common purposes include the desire to:
- Explore potential new markets; Goop recently opened a London pop-up for this purpose.
- Test new products/concepts/services and experiment, such as Wrangler trying out a new global high-end line in London.
- Try out brick-and-mortar, for e-Commerce-only retailers.
- Attract a new customer base, such as House of Fraser’s recent pop-up.
- Promote the brand.
- Engage directly with customers, especially for brands that sell primarily through retailers. Superdrug invited social media influencers to select the products for its ethical makeup-only pop-up.
- Study and learn from customers.
- Tie in to holidays or events, such as Waterstones’ International Woman’s Day pop-up featuring only female authors.
- Take advantage of an opportunistic lease in a prime location.
- Serve as a click-and-collect/BOPIS location, as Zara did at Westfield Stratford in east London.
Some pop-ups run their course and close down, but retailers have also adopted pop-up only business models — generating excitement by temporarily setting up shop at locations suggested by their social media following, for example — or moved on from the pop-up concept to full brick-and-mortar sites, as Amazon is now doing in the U.S.
Cloud-based platforms are well-suited for retailers operating pop-ups because they give the new location instant access to the software needed to run the store without anyone needing to install and configure devices on site. Click To Tweet
“Pop-ups are a physical media channel much like the Internet, TV and radio, and can be used as a tool to tell a brand’s story,” said Leon Goldwater, Chief Executive Officer of We Are Pop Up, a firm that helps businesses book pop-up spaces and ShopShares in Europe.
“Many brands and retailers have realised the impact of using physical locations as experiential concepts and that they are essential to activate and keep customers engaged. The pop-up needs to be seen as part of the brand’s marketing strategy and as a great way to test out new concepts, ideas and formats.”
Making Pop-Ups Work
Regardless of their purpose or location, pop-ups share some important requirements. One is that they can be set up and taken down quickly. Cloud-based platforms are well-suited for retailers operating pop-ups because they give the new location instant access to the software needed to run the store without anyone needing to install and configure devices on site.
Another requirement is great measurement tools. Pop-ups support experimental retail by enabling rapid prototyping of new ideas, so retailers need metrics and data collection tools to maximise the chance to learn about customer behaviours. Cameras, beacons, heat mapping, WiFi, GPS and other tools help retailers assess customer reactions and even serve up personalised content inside the pop-up store. Many retailers take a close look at the interactivity between customers’ online and in-store activity to understand the interaction between the two.
Weaving Pop-Ups Into Omnichannel Retail
Another critical enabler is an omnichannel platform, including omnichannel communication capabilities. Pop-ups may have narrower concepts than “regular” stores, but consumers don’t leave their expectations at the door — in fact, their expectations are often elevated. Because so many pop-up concepts, like Lego’s merchandise-free AR store, are highly tech-driven, consumers expect to see a retailer’s best tech-savvy on display, including the ability to recognise them as individuals to personalise their pop-up experience. The pop-up must be able to access the omnichannel platform to view loyalty status, purchase history in other channels, browsing behaviour, and in the case of concepts offering click-and-collect and returns, access to order management systems.
It's essential that pop-ups are woven seamlessly into a retailer's omnichannel platform, not just in terms of the software stack, but also in their ability to communicate effortlessly with consumers. Click To Tweet
Managing all of those fields also requires access to unified commerce systems. A pop-up driven by crowdsourcing ideas on a retailer’s social media channels and launched with influencers in attendance, for example, must be capable of live chatting with those followers. A customer who signed up for a subscription service after trying products in a pop-up will want to be able to ask a customer service agent more questions about that transaction when they’re back home. Staff at a nearby permanent store may need to communicate with pop-up staff about a product or process.
In short, while a pop-up store often stands out from a retail brand’s year-round locations, it’s also very much a part of that brand in the eyes of the consumer. As such, it’s essential that pop-ups are woven seamlessly into a retailer’s omnichannel platform, not just in terms of the software stack, but also in their ability to communicate effortlessly with consumers and the rest of the retail organisation.