In our modern experience economy, we find ourselves faced with retail fatigue, growing tired of repeatedly seeing the same products and services. And whilst the ‘death of brick and mortar’ is a grossly exaggerated headline, there is something to be said for the death of interest in skimming through an abundance of product. It is this shift in consumer preference for experience rather than materialism which has seen the homogenous store format die; igniting the pop-up phenomenon.
The pop-up concept completely redefines the shopping experience. No longer are retailers striving to secure the longest leases on the ‘ideal’ location, with the understanding that this permanency would not protect them against a constantly shifting retail landscape. Instead, there is a focus on transient retail spaces, with no fixed abode or timeframe. Quickly labelled the ‘pop-up’, these temporary activations focus on a sense of urgency and exclusivity, reigniting our passion for physical retail.
The curation of this ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ concept continues to revolutionise the way in which we truly experience brands and retailers, creating environments which facilitate a conversation between brand and consumer. Originally likened to a stunt, these pop-ups have now become integral to retail strategies and in recent years we have witnessed a multitude of brands reaping the benefits.
A degree of uniqueness
Whilst the permanent retail store can regularly evolve its design, it is no competitor for the pop-up, in the sense that their specialisation can offer a large degree of uniqueness. It’s an experience which can feel exclusive, with consumers understanding that it won’t last forever. This thrill of limited availability has been utilised successfully by Lone Design Club, a brand whom pride themselves on being the ‘antidote to fast fashion’. With an understanding that online channels offer easy access to products, without the cost and potential failure of chain locations, the brand also appreciates the fact that shoppers will travel to a unique store for the right experience.
Particularly important for a small but impressive brand such as LDC, these pop-up stores become more than just a sales vehicle but also a method of building deeper relationships with consumers, through a unique selection of products and experiences. And rather than just a singular pop-up, the brand focus on creating a series of temporary spaces which appear across London and Milan; harnessing the power of social media to spark excitement for each upcoming store.
The unique element of the pop-up store is not limited to the products, but the curated design and experience of which a consumer can become part of, even for a short number of weeks, days or potentially hours.
Modernisation of the traditional
It is no longer uncommon to see new brands testing the waters of retail with a pop-up store. However, this temporary retail is also being utilised by well-established brands in order for them to modernise and expose themselves to innovative market segments. Whilst their longevity in the industry means that they usually have permanent retail stores and a firm e-commerce strategy, the curation of fleeting pop-up stores can allow traditional brands to promote experiences, launch new product collections or even re-invent their image.
Whilst already a well-recognised brand with a reputable following, Levi’s have reaped the benefits of pop-up activations across the globe. Their customisation studio in Los Angeles was not only a recognition of pop-ups, but cleverly played into the latest personalisation and sustainability trends. Available just for ten weeks, the Levi’s pop-up studio promoted an on-demand customisation concept, with visitors able to design their own denim product and have it ready within an hour. Not just a quick monogram of names or quotes, it was the complete one-of-a-kind jeans service which expertly drew attention.
Levi’s are undeniably one of the most pivotal denim retailers, yet the longevity of their brand does not necessarily mean loyalty, particularly when consumers are faced with an increasing amount of alternative brands. However, the hype of this customisable pop-up opened the doors for a brand-new consumer experience, focused on modernisation and innovation of creativity.
The thrill of the experience
Much like permanent stores, pop-up spaces also run the risk of failure. Since their inception, we have been witness to many brands who miss the mark when it comes to temporary activations; whether it’s a lack of finesse in the design or a timeframe which reduces the sense of exclusivity. For a pop-up to thrive, it is essential that the brand is focused on the thrill of the experience. It is this ‘FOMO’ (fear of missing out) which drags us away from the ease of online shopping and into a physical environment which delivers on its promises for a memorable experience.
Whilst these experiences are often associated with the beauty and fashion industries, the tech sector is no stranger to innovative pop-ups. Back in 2017, Ebay opened the worlds first emotionally-powered pop-up store in which consumers could find the perfect christmas present based on their emotional connection to an item. More recently, Google revealed their innovative ‘Curiosity Rooms’ pop up as part of the Pixel 3 launch. Similar to Ebay in its dedication to the human experience, Google took this one step further with an overtly playful, creative and incredibly photogenic space; designed to inspire and delight every visitor. From the Vogue photobooth and GIF-generating slide through to the hosted talks and expertly made coffee, each element of the Curiosity Rooms created a memorable experience which aligned with the Pixel 3.
The hype of a pop-up rests on this ability to curate an experience which exceeds that of the traditional store; one which resonates with us both physically and emotionally. They cannot be measured purely in sales and should instead focus on footfall, brand communication and social reach, which ultimately become the driving force behind loyal consumers.
Activation of the brand
In an era whereby digital natives are dictating the way in which we shop, we find modern retailers launching their brand online prior to any physical outlets. However, the introduction of this pop-up phenomenon has seen new brands venture into physical environments with short-lived exposure. They allow for the discovery of locations, demographics, best design strategies and most importantly: a tactile experience with their potential consumers.
Built upon the success of Instagram and its cult following, beauty brand Glossier have only opened two permanent stores – one in LA and the other in NYC. However, the buzz of an authentic beauty brand which empowers the natural woman, quickly reached the UK and sent beauty hunters into a frenzy. And whilst Glossier reacted with a UK site for online purchases, this digital solution could not offer the tactile experience which is vital to the beauty industry. To answer this demand for tactility, the brand opened a pop-up store in London which would only be available for seven days. As a physical translation of their millennial driven design, the temporary space invited avid beauty seekers to truly get involved with the product ranges and discuss their beauty regimes with Glossier ambassadors; essentially breaking the fourth wall of digital retail.
There was no doubt that Glossier were already killing it at retail, harnessing the power of Instagram not only as a sales tool but to also facilitate beauty conversations with the ‘real women’ who followed them. However, their introduction of a pop-up store brought their online personality to life; creating a tactile platform which would permit experimentation and increased brand loyalty.
The nomadic pop-up
From warehouses and residential townhouses through to shipping containers, the pop-up has pushed the boundaries of ‘norm’ in retail. And as brands begin to experiment with these various forms, we also see them becoming less satisfied with the concept of one location. The ‘travelling pop-up’ has quickly become a popular movement, with brands choosing a select number of locations to launch their innovative yet temporary space. The likes of Kanye West, Charlotte Tilbury and Rihanna have reaped the benefits of hitting numerous cities with their latest product drops; utilising the power of social media to create a localised hype.
However, the most commonly associated with this nomadic pop-up trend is the food and drink industry. No longer limited to festival food trucks, the foodie pop-up has been fully realising in dining clubs, street food festivals and social experiments - think Ikea’s Dining Club. And over the past couple of years, we’ve seen the Aperol Spritz Socials truly harness the power of nomadic retail. There’s been no refuting the craze for the italian drink which has swiftly made its way onto every drinks menu in the UK and the brand’s introduction of these ‘socials’ created an undeniable buzz. Travelling across cities such as London and Manchester, Aperol Spritz accounce their arrival via social media, sparking interest in purchasing tickets for a summer spritz event before its gone.
For the travelling pop-up, it is not only their ephemeral nature which incites a buzz, it is the chance for visitors to talk and instagram about their cultural experience with a brand; paticularly when it involves a trend-lead foodie experience.
From the anticipation of an unmissable experience through to the thrill of the unexpectd product drop, the scope for innovative pop-ups is endless. Whilst the physical envionment for retail is certainly not dead, these transient spaces have begun to breathe new life into the industry. They are no longer a singular concept, but should form part of a larger campaign which will continually inspire passion and intrigue from the modern day consumer.
As we continue into 2020, these pop-ups will continue to build unique and memorable experiences; creating a future which is predominantly temporary.