Pop-ups: Fad or enduring retail strategy?
Pop-ups have, well, popped up everywhere of late. Born from the need to quickly fill and add theatre to a row of empty shopping centre units, the pop-up has been adopted by everyone, from new independent retailers to more established luxury brands, as the newest big retail strategy in their armoury – as fast as a new street fashion craze is adapted by the high street!
But is this a fad or something more enduring?
I would argue that the pop-up should not be thought of as a new phenomenon; it is simply a re-working of the ‘trunk show’ concept. The trunk show has existed throughout modern retailing history as a way to take a product out of its traditional, ‘safe’ setting and present it creatively to the target consumer: providing an intimate in-store preview of new collections to generate sales and promote brand awareness.
What is interesting about the recent resurgence of pop-ups is what it can tell us about the current retail environment. The pop-up has risen to success filling badly designed, over-priced, or wrongly marketed spaces, bringing life and regeneration to an otherwise soulless retail strip – at least on a temporary basis - whilst satisfying ever-growing consumer appetite for new and exciting brand experiences.
However, each brand is unique, and needs to think very carefully about how the format can be used to carefully bring their brand proposition to life and give added value to the customer. Perhaps inevitably, the revival and subsequent deluge of pop-ups has resulted in some brands turning to them for the wrong reasons.
We have seen brands use them to dip their toe in the water of shopping centre trading rather than doing research, or as a low-cost sales platform, and as a low-risk ‘sleep easy at night’ retailing initiative. All of these are big mistakes and demonstrate the risk of placing value in short-term gain over genuine, sustainable brand growth.
Used correctly, however, they can be spectacular. The seeds of the idea are good, but to blossom in to a truly great idea requires further thought and insight. It is not enough to simply open a pop-up; it must be layered and become a true creative innovation that aligns perfectly with the brand. When this is shaped into a strategy the results can be truly brilliant – just look at Chanel in Harrods, Diesel in Regent Street and Chanel again with its recent pop-up flower stall in Covent Garden. At its best, the re-worked trunk show can be both a true retail strategy and a delight.
The success of the examples quoted above lay with doing something incredibly well, at scale, with commitment, and for a short period of time - before moving on. The pop-up should not be seen as a single, stand-alone strategy to live and die quietly, but instead should sit alongside the brand’s other retail channels as the little rebel sibling – daring, seeking, and ultimately, gaining attention.
Long live the pop-up!
Gregor Jackson is partner at GP Studio