With the rise of online shopping, owners of brick and mortar retail stores have been left to wonder at the fate of their stores. It has not been reassuring that major corporations like Macy’s and Walmart have closed their doors on hundreds of stores due to lack of foot traffic. Despite this ominous trend, the numbers tell a positive story for brick and mortar retailers. According to the Harvard Business Review, in the first quarter of 2016, offline sales accounted for 92.3% of all retail sales. These numbers seem to suggest that, despite the availability of online shopping, customers still want to buy their products in person. This is not to say that the retail space isn’t changing. In fact, it is more accurate to say that brick and mortar is not so much becoming obsolete as it is evolving. What consumers want nowadays is not just a warehouse of inventory, but an experience. One of the ways that brick and mortar retailers are adapting to this demand is by hosting pop up stores.

So what exactly is a pop up store? The simple definition is a temporary retail location. However uninspiring that definition is, a pop up store is actually much more than that. It’s a way for brands, big or small, to create a unique experience for shoppers – one they can’t get online or at the permanent location.

pop up stores

For example, Hermés celebrated its 80th anniversary with a pop up store in four major cities around the world. While the pop up itself was a sight to see, decked out in an all orange retro design, the unique experience they offered was key; namely that they provided dry-cleaning and dip dye treatment for their signature silk scarves. This temporary physical location offered something the brand doesn’t provide in their permanent locations, and something retailers could never offer online. Yes, there’s novelty of the location, but there’s also the urgency that this location will not be around forever — both of which drive customers to experience the shop for themselves.

For brands, the setup is equally beneficial. A pop up store is not just a unique experience for shoppers, it’s also a unique opportunity for brands to market. For instance, Nike hopped on the pop up store bandwagon four years ago, with their annual Air Max Day that features several Sneakeasy shops in the US and Canada. To visit one of these temporary Nike havens, shoppers must sign up at each city’s microsite and follow their Twitter accounts to receive more information. For Nike, this means gathering the contact information of Nike fans for marketing purposes as well as receiving more Twitter followers.

Pop up shops are not just for major brands. Smaller brands can find advantages in hosting pop up shops as well. However, the function and purpose of the pop ups would most likely differ. For big brands, the purpose is to keep customers interested and keep foot traffic high in their physical locations, especially at a time when many shoppers are going online. For smaller brands, the intention would be to create interest in a new brand, as well as promote foot traffic to physical locations. By creating an engaging experience at a pop up shop, smaller retailers are providing potential fans a taste of their brand identity and enticing them to visit their permanent locations in the future. Smaller retailers can also take a page from the marketing playbook of larger retailers by encouraging visitors to the pop up to engage in social media.

Arguably, one of the biggest benefits of pop up shops for brick and mortar retailers is the reminder that there are advantages to leaving the relative comfort of one’s computer or mobile device and interact with products in person. While retailers can and should provide experiences in their permanent locations to entice shoppers to visit, many times pop up shops offer experiences that retailers can’t offer in their permanent locations. One example of this is Bespoke. Bespoke is a space in San Francisco’s Westfield Centre that offers a unique intersection between coworking, demos, and events. They provide a highly customizable, interactive space to demonstrate new products and receive real-time feedback. Their event space also makes it possible to host workshops, something that brands like Williams Sonoma have done recently to attract customers and teach them how to use their products. Pop up spaces or spaces such as Bespoke offer a customizability that may simply not be available in permanent retail locations. Using customizable, temporary locations mean providing experiences for shoppers that brings them into the physical space and creates loyal fans who have a reason to visit a retailer’s permanent location.

Increasingly, the shoppers of today are less keen to leave their homes just to sift through a pile of “stuff.” What they want is an experience. So while some pundits have been predicting the doom of brick and mortar stores, one could say that they’ve been missing the big picture; and the big picture is this: brick and mortar is not going away, it’s simply evolving. Brick and mortar retailers can offer unique experiences by hosting pop up stores and giving shoppers a new reason to purchase at physical locations.


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