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!

Gregor Jackson
Gregor Jackson

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.

Diesel Village Regent Street pop-up

Source: courtesy of http://www.londonpopups.com

Diesel Village Regent Street pop-up

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.

Diesel Village Regent Street pop-up

Source: courtesy of http://www.londonpopups.com

Diesel Village Regent Street pop-up

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

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  • Tristan Pollock November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Great article, Gregor. I would argue that pop-up retail is here to stay. Brands want to be more nimble, thus they want to be omnichannel, and when offline, temporary and targeted.

    Check out Storefront, the marketplace for pop-up retail space at http://www.thestorefront.com

  • Claire Storrow November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Some good comment Gregor. But I wouldn’t overlook the power that pop-ups give to independent businesses and more specifically female-run businesses (there’s an article in the current Marie Claire if you’re interested!). In these unstable times, the pop-up format is perfect for small businesses that don’t have big outlays or loans and need to grow. The flexibility they provide is also beneficial for entrepreneurial mums. I can’t help thinking that these smaller businesses are the ones who generate more of the genuine spirit that the bigger brands try to emulate and which can all too quickly amount to a lot of hype.

  • Rick Harris November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I agree with both Gregor’s post and Claire’s comment.
    The bottom line is that it’s probably still too early to judge pop-ups. But to my mind and experience, they do have some clear pro’s and cons:

    1) Some shoppers like the variety and eclectic mix that a pop up store can bring, especially for goods that are otherwise only available online. This enables them to touch and feel the product.

    2) Pop ups feel new…at least for a while. They have a curiosity factor, which draws people over the threshold. This does not negate the need for high impact window displays, but does encourage a degree of transparency in them, so th e inside of the store can be peeked at too.

    3) this format carries an expectation of browsability. At their best, they have a kind of market-stall feel, with a sense of discovery that is often sadly lacking in the uniformity of a modern-day mall offer. The challenge of course is to be able to maintain this, and keep it sustainable, with fresh lines and displays

    1) Shoppers are aware that the store may not be around for more than a few weeks. What happens if they need to return an item? For established brands using pop ups for promotional or brand activation, that’s one thing. But boutique niche brands might just disappear completely. For good.

    2) With set up being so quick, one of the casualties of the format is often customer service. Staff may not have been trained much, beyond the operational basics of using the till. And aside from lacking product knowledge, they may simply not have an aptitude for service. Even in a pop up store, this still matters.

    3) Pop up stores (understandably) tend not to commit to stock depths the way that regular stores do. For a customer, that means that not all SKU combinations of colour and size are available for long. The impact of having only odd sizes left can make a store feel like an outlet. Beware damaging your brand in consumers’ minds.

  • Lucy Ryder Richardson November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    The Internet has become such a comfortable way to shop that the high street has to become an experience now. Why is Apple such a fun place to hang out? They have staff!!! And stuff you can interact with. To look at the place it is very bland and clean and minimal but boy do they work the room. Walk into most shops and you get people ignoring you. Or you cant find anyone to ask. They are stuck in the changing rooms or behind a desk. Where is the person that actually went to Scandinavia to source these amazing products. Bring me the buyer who knows all about the items.

    At our Midcentury Modern and Midcentury one day shows and pop up you get the dealer and designer telling you about their wares. You know you have to buy it as it is for a short time only and there are not so many pieces available. Turn around to think and Terence Conran will have just bought the original George Nelson bubble lamp you were lusting after. Call your husband for measurements and designer Russell Pinch will have lived up to his name and swiped that rare walnut dresser from under your nose.

    Pop ups are the way forward for retail in a recession as they bring back the excitement shopping used to bring us when new lines landed in the stores or a new creative team took hold of the buying room. The pop-up system
    could work well in larger stores where the existing sales/till structure is already in place but it is also fun when we take over whole streets or areas. Watch this ‘soon to pop-up space’ .

    Lucy Ryder Richardson is the founding partner of Midcentury Modern, The Midcentury Show, Modern Shows and the Modern Marketplace at http://www.modernshows.com

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