From Shein to Chanel, Skims to Supreme, more and more retailers seem to be investing in temporary brick-and-mortar locations, more commonly known as pop-up shops. The use of temporary retail spaces is certainly not a new concept, it has been around for centuries. But the term pop-up is relatively recent. It can be traced back to the late ’90s, when, in 1997, media entrepreneur Patrick Courrielche launched an event in Los Angeles dubbed The Ritual Expo, bringing together music, fash
ashion, and food in a single consumer experience. In the years following, The Ritual Expo worked with several brands, including Levi’s and Motorola to host pop-ups across the US. And as more businesses embraced the concept, it morphed into a whole new beast. Consider Chanel’s recent repurposing of a Brooklyn diner for the launch of its Chance Eau Fraîche perfume. The luxury fashion brand completely transformed the greasy spoon, covering every square inch in shades of oh-so-chic mint green and pastel pink. Then, there’s Pop Up Grocer, which has taken its retro-inspired pop-up shop on the road, stopping off in Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Denver, Washington DC and other cities, before finally setting down permanent roots in New York City in March. Pop-up shops today are on steroids, and they are everywhere. A report by global research and analytics firm IBISWorld states that pop-up shops generated approximately US$14.5 billion in revenue in 2022. And the market size of this industry expanded by 3.4 per cent in 2022 compared with the year prior. Why retailers should invest in pop-up experiences Marie Driscoll, an expert on luxury retail and the founder and chief analyst at Driscoll Advisors, attributes the recent rise of pop-up stores to a few factors – from retailers wanting to provide new, unique shopping experiences, to the need to continue growing their customer base. “For digital-only brands, pop-ups provide a way to physically meet their customers and express the brand in a palpable way, to provide a brand experience,” Driscoll told Inside Retail. “And for brands already in physical locations, a pop-up provides the opportunity to explore the potential of new geographies with localised strategies, as well as testing new formats, new fixtures, new products and new merchandising.” Pop-ups are also a great way for retailers to lean into the preferences of the Gen Z shopper. Driscoll cited data from Lionesque Group, a leading creator of pop-ups, which showed that nearly half of Gen Z shoppers who primarily shop online prefer to engage with brands through experiential pop-up activations when shopping in person. “They value pop-ups as a place to learn about the brand, and they want to be a part of the narrative and they want to engage with brands in unexpected ways,” Driscoll said. A good example of this, she said, is Louis Vuitton’s ‘200 Trunks, 200 Visionaries’ exhibition, in which the luxury leather goods brand invited global artists, designers, architects and other figures to reimagine its iconic trunk in celebration of founder Louis Vuitton’s 200th birthday last year. The traveling pop-up allowed visitors to “immerse themselves in a multimedia vision and artistic storytelling as well as purchase selected items on the ground floor”, Driscoll said. But as big as the opportunity is, opening a pop-up is not necessarily a risk-free (or resource-light) endeavor, so it’s crucial to understand what separates a successful pop-up from a pop-up flop. Here’s what retailers should keep in mind when planning these ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ shopping experiences. What makes for a successful pop-up shop Madelynn Ringo, founder and creative director of Ringo Studio, has designed pop-up and permanent retail stores for some of the most popular brands of the moment, including LA-based digital-native fashion brand Cider, beauty brand Glossier, and cookware brand Our Place. She believes that the key elements of a successful pop-up are authenticity and engagement. “Retail experiences need to be interactive, not just transactional,” Ringo explained. “Millennial and Gen Z consumers keep high standards with brands they choose to engage with and they are expecting unique and authentic brand connections. Gen Z in particular are very aware when a brand is not being authentic, they can spot it from miles away.” Ringo noted that Gen Z is very comfortable shopping online, so when they do make the effort to visit a physical store, they expect something unique that they can’t get from the online experience. “There is something very ethereal and exciting about a pop-up experience because of its temporal existence,” she said. “A pop-up experience allows a brand to take design risks and try something more daring that is sure to make a splash with the online community. Pop-up designs always tend to be more extravagant than permanent flagship stores.” Retailers should also aim to create interactive shopping experiences that will enable them to connect with their customer base more deeply and build stronger, more sustainable relationships. “Customers also tend to have more authentic brand engagement in stores that are designed to host community-based activities such as…classes or fireside chats with adjacent brands,” the designer added. “When we were working on the design for [sexual wellness store] Contact Sports, there were discussions around hosting speed dating events inside the space.” Another thing brands should keep in mind, Ringo said, is the different ways consumers like to shop. For instance, some people prefer to explore a space solo, while others enjoy a collective hangout session. “It’s important to consider that Gen Z and Millennials like to shop together and in groups. Designing a space that can accommodate a group of friends exploring a store together makes the experience tailored to the generation’s shopping preferences,” she said. For example, the Cider pop-up shop in New York City, which Ringo Studio designed, has flexible fitting rooms that can be reconfigured for shoppers wanting a private changing room experience, as well as those wanting to shop with a group of friends. One of the main benefits of pop-up shops, Ringo pointed out, is that they allow brands to learn more about their target market without the risk of a longer-term lease. “Testing a market with a pop-up is a smart business strategy because it enables the brand to learn the nuances of the particular customers in that market, what their shopping tendencies are, and what they gravitate towards,” she said. “The brand can also gain experience with retail operations. Everything from hiring staff to ensuring inventory management is trialed and the ideal staff-to-customer engagement is tested. Launching in a new market with a pop-up can provide a valuable learning phase before taking the leap into creating a permanent experience, ensuring that the brand invests its money in something tested and allowing its team to have the necessary time to iron out all the kinks.” This story first appeared in the December 2023 issue of Inside Retail US magazine.