The On-Going Evolution and Value of Pop-Up Retail: 6 Questions to ask if it’s right for you
In 2008, the retail world, at least in the U.S., faced multiple challenges and on many fronts. As online buying began to grow in step with shoppers’ comfort with this channel, the pull of foot traffic from brick-and-mortar stores to the online experience was felt progressively by many retailers almost daily.
Adding to this, the economy at large was doing a nosedive and those retailers who were tethered to expensive operations and real estate began to pull back, with many closing down completely.
As this happened, storefronts became empty and it seemed overnight that main-street retail saw a sea of “For Lease” signs quickly replacing window displays, even in the most urban and populated areas of the country. As a result, many landlords found themselves in a desperate effort to find tenants to fill, if not just temporarily, their empty properties. Providing even a short-term revenue stream in place of what typically was a 3-, 5- or even 10-year lease agreement.
This was truly the birth of pop-up retail. It filled an immediate need and addressed rather dire economic circumstances on both sides. A win-win for many. Landlords got a check and the promise of a rotating schedule of new tenants coming in and retailers, along with smaller brands, could set up shop on much more palatable (and inexpensive) terms. What I’m saying here is that for the price of one digital advertisement, many were now presented with the ability to open up an actual shop for a few hours, days, weeks or months, securing sales while also scouting out a potential longer-term stay. What’s not to like about that?
What’s that saying?…“Necessity is the mother of invention”?
What started out as a remedy for abandoned storefronts would over time evolve into something much more than what its humble beginnings even gave a hint to. And as we looked on with great interest, we watched as the pop-up retail concept morphed into many different ideations, missions, uses and approaches. We watched how pop-up retail became an added marketing channel and saw the endless variety of consumer experiences it could provide for not only big names with deep pockets, but also for smaller start-up players. And to date there appears to be no end to its virtues, especially now, when so many find themselves still trying to navigate through an on and off post-pandemic uncertainty. While shoppers might still be hesitant to patronize large retailers, they remain hungry to have an in-person, tactile experience and pop-up retail continues to offer this in ever-changing and imaginative ways.
As mentioned, what began in 2008 out of economic need has, over the last 13 years, evolved into a whole new approach in retail marketing and exposure. While the Halloween seasonal pop-ups continue to flourish and take over empty mall spaces and closed Sears stores, pop-up has now entered a realm made for much deeper and meaningful connections with consumers.
We wrote extensively on pop-up’s ability to serve many needs and many aspirations, but the one thing that we had predicted that has proven to be true is that retail pop-ups are a non-passive approach in connecting with consumers; taking brands and retailers directly to the shopper in ways and into communities that no one single store could ever hope to achieve. Pop-up retail was and is the springboard of experiential retail—executable and realistic even for those new to the game.
Through 2017 on into early 2020, retail pop-up was on a mega ride, fanning out to consumers in activations that were as unique as they were engaging. We wrote about some of these experiences that included brands like Hendricks Gin, Timberland and Casper and marveled at the depth of imagination that some of these entities took in giving shoppers a memorable and brand-bonding experience.
And then came the pandemic.
Quickly, consumers now in lockdown mode and limited in their physical shopping ran to online resources to get their immediate and staple needs addressed. If there’s a choice between a new pair of shoes and running out of toilet paper, the later will always win out. So, for a while, basic needs were the main focus.
But once initial supply chain issues were addressed and pantries began to fill up with all of those necessities, consumers took a breath. And while still in lockdown mode, they turned to online shopping as sort of a venue for entertainment, filling their long hours and days at home with some sort of diversity. Maybe not so much in the shopping experience, but certainly in terms of the new and relatively unknown product offerings they began to become exposed to online and through social media.
So many of the brands showing up on their news feeds and social media pages became the new rising stars. Expressing the attributes of their products in ways they never could sitting on a shelf in Target (even if they made the cut). Using fun videos, influencer demos and fan-generated content, these lesser-known e-commerce brands got consumers attention. And they had a captured audience who still wanted to shop, but preferred to do so in the safety of their own homes.
What big-box couldn’t provide, the online experience delivered. New brands. New products. And the exposure that many of these smaller e-commerce entities experienced quickly elevated them into mainstream retail—without ever needing to touch an in-store shelf. As a result, and not surprisingly, their sales took off.
Brands like Thrive, Ruggable, Wetonic and Vegamour, to name just a few, gained incredible momentum in exposure to shoppers through the sometimes seven or more hours a day spent online while at work and/or at home. And because of this, these brands, along with many others who had never been on store shelves, now became the “faves” of pandemic-weary shoppers.
As shoppers now return to physical retail, their lust for new, independent brands will not fade. To the contrary, that desire to explore, interact with and shop non-legacy brands will grow even stronger.
Enter yet another reason for the pop-up retail experience
While online was everyone’s savior here, it was never meant and actually could never completely replace the joy of shopping physically. So then, what happens when these new followers leave their computers and seek the products and brands they’ve now grown to like online in physical retail?
Pop-up retail once again might be the answer.
As it was prior to 2020, the pop-up approach is still very much an interesting means to a lucrative end. Most especially for those e-commerce brands that are trying to find their footing in a non-digital world after such explosive and unprecedented growth.
According to TheStorefront and Business Insider, “the strategy of opening a temporary store appears to be working, as 80% of global retail companies that have opened a pop-up store said it was successful and 58% are likely to use the tactic again.” And while there may have been a slight slowdown during 2020, its use (and the multiple reasons for its use) is set to grow exponentially while many retailers and brands explore ways to reach different audiences, test locales and gain more consumer insights while avoiding long-term commitments to expensive real estate ownership.
No doubt the list of reasons why temporary/pop-up retailing remains as an attractive and effective approach continues to grow. For brands, retailers, QSR and consumer services alike, pop-up allows for a nimble, unique and memorable approach in engaging with consumers and promoting brand recognition.
Further, and we think important to point out, instead of this form of physical retail being in conflict with online sales, these two channels have the potential of forming a symbiotic and mutually benefiting relationship. Each feeding each other. Pop-up supplies the physical introduction to the brand and this feeds return online sales. Online introduces and debuts brands, then feeds the curiosity to seek out the physical experience (repeating sales online as well).
Now, a whole new mission has opened up for the pop-up approach, creating a phygital omni-channel win-win for consumers, retailers and brands.
So why do shoppers like pop-up retail?
According to Statista.com, the top 6 reasons why consumers shop at pop-up retail are:
27% – Engage with brands/products for the first time
29% – More personalized shopping experience
38% – To get good deals or free items/services
47% – To support local/independent businesses
49% – Curiosity/excitement/entertainment
55% – Unique/exclusive products or experiences
We’ve been writing about pop-up for quite some time now, watching how this channel of temporary retail has evolved over time and how it’s become the springboard for even greater and more innovative strategies in supplying what the public at large is looking for. Greater diversity in product offerings (not just those hand-picked by big-box retailers or legacy CPG) and an unparalleled “at retail” physical experience for the consumer.
If you’ve been on the fence about doing a pop-up installation but might be thinking perhaps the time is right to consider this a bit more seriously, we recommend considering exploring the following questions.
6 Questions to ponder when considering a pop-up venture
As the list of reasons why to do pop-up continues to grow and become more defined, so does the list of those choosing to give this approach a try. Many are jumping onboard. And why not? The most attractive aspect of pop-up is that pretty much anyone can execute it; even those start-ups with limited budgets can be in the game. But to do it right, to successfully deploy, you should consider these 6 important questions:
1. What is your marketing objective?
- Do you want to raise brand awareness?
- Generate immediate sales?
- Test location?
- Gather consumer data?
- Other? Or all of the above?
2. Who is your target shopper? Who else would you like to reach?
- If you are an e-commerce brand, do you know who your audience is and what their wants, needs, lifestyles are?
- Do you want to grow your brand beyond your target audience, and realistically is there an opportunity to do that through a pop-up retail execution?
3. What is the critical message you want delivered to shoppers? What do you want them to remember, appreciate and tell their friends about you?
- Do you have a brand mission to share? Is there more to be seen, a story to be told, a business philosophy to be celebrated? And how does that translate to your target audience?
- When shoppers encounter your brand through a pop-up experience, what is the one thing you want them to remember about you; that they walk away with, motivating them to return to you (online or in store) for more?
- How do you see your pop-up experience incentivizing word of mouth or building brand ambassadors?
4. What tone and voice does your brand want to (or need to) speak in? What is your perceived personality? Is that the one you want?
- Does your brand have a sense of humor? Or aspirational by nature? Will a diverse audience connect with your tone, or is it more important to connect with your direct targeted audience?
- Will you “speak” through visual representation, allowing for individual translation? Or will you be more definitive and more precise in the expression of your brand attributes?
5. What is your budget and how many hands will you need to support the effort?
- Are you willing to trade off other marketing channels and move budget dollars toward a pop-up venue?
- What’s your entry and exit point on spending ($—$$$)?
- Are you willing to project and plan for multiple installations (that can sometimes bring down production costs)?
- How much time have you got to get everything together? What is the level of investment of you or your teams in term of hands-on time?
- Might you consider seeking resources outside of your business that can quickly pull together your vision, reducing overall executional costs and time?
6. What will success mean to you and how will you measure it?
- End of day, how will you go about measuring the success of your pop-up execution? Will you rely solely on online sales data? In-shop data? Increased profile and shares on social media and other platforms?
- Will increased sales be your only measurement, or will you place greater emphasis and tracking on brand awareness and demand (the two being a strong reason when pitching to gain initial entry into big-box retail)?
- Did you get what you came for, and can you adequately measure this in terms of a better understanding of what the consumer wants or the opportunities that might exist in putting down more permanent roots in the neighborhoods where these shoppers work, live and play (and shop)?
There is no doubt that retail has changed. And that the experiences consumers are now wanting to have in the physical sense has changed. With 49% of shoppers seeking some type of entertainment and joy in their encounter with a brand, known or new, the avenues to delivering this just keep expanding.
The pop-up shop experience—let’s call it “surprise retail”—is a perfect blending of experiential marketing, brand interaction and consumer engagement. In this new era of shopper connection, that experience needs to be more than just “good”…it’s got to be memorable.
Maybe it’s time for your brand to create its own memorable and lasting experiences through a pop-up retail venture. Timing is everything, don’t you think?
For over 60 years Medallion Retail has been in the business of helping retailers and brands define their missions and translating this in to the in-store and, now, the retail pop-up experience. If you’d like to learn more about how to get your pop-up vision off the ground, give our very own Chris Gordon a call @ 646.677.5618.