The importance of pop-ups to the overall retail experience

Temporary stores are now a permanent fixture in today’s retail landscape. With a growing diversity of brands using the format in different ways, Gareth James looks at why pop-ups appeal to shoppers and retailers alike.

Pop-up shops may be transitory, but as a format they are here to stay. This agile style of retail is well suited to 21st century shopping and has evolved massively in the last decade, now coming in a wider variety of shapes, sizes, locations and budgets! 

A growing variety of uses

The pop-up has long been a stepping stone for small start-ups to test the retail waters with their concept, raise brand awareness and hone the offering. It’s also a natural home for seasonal shopping - exemplified by Noel, a curated festive store that popped up in London’s Covent Garden earlier this month showcasing highly crafted artisan Christmas products.

However, established big brands and retailers are increasingly using them in interesting ways to keep customers engaged. Pop ups can help them launch a new campaign with a bigger bang, reach a new audience and offer limited-edition or customised products.   

Whatever the purpose, the great power of a pop-up is how it gives shoppers a good reason to leave the comfort of buying online at home and get excited about retail in real life again. 

A focus on experiences

Today’s shoppers - particularly Millennials - value memorable and shareable experiences that can’t be bought online and pop ups are the ultimate vehicle for delivering those.

For starters, that ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ concept creates both novelty and urgency, and ‘fear of missing out’ is a great motivator to attend. The spontaneity of pop-ups can drive impulse purchases, especially for customised and limited edition products, although selling more products in-store isn’t always the immediate goal. 

Made to share

Pop ups are rich in social currency and share-ability. People want to say ‘I was there’ and share their experience using social media platforms. If there’s an element of surprise to create a talking point, all the better.

Being such branded space, pop-ups often resemble live mood boards, making them very photogenic and ideal for sharing on Instagram.

You can see this at play with the HermesMatic concept from French fashion house Hermès, which made its UK debut in Manchester last month. Offering professional dry cleaning services and exclusive dip-dye treatments for Hermès signature silk scarves, it gives a new twist to a classic label in a visually impactful way.

A move away from the hard sell

The rise of experience-led retail also reflects how shoppers don’t want to be sold to anymore, but engage with brands on their own terms. Experiences allow brands to connect more deeply and emotively with consumers, to create positive memories that develop a lasting loyalty.

For car brands, pop-ups allow them to reframe their selling proposition away from the hard sell of a forecourt. Volvo recently popped up in Reading’s Oracle mall for an exclusive preview of its new models, as part of a wider Scandinavian experience with an in-store café serving Swedish fika.

Speaking of Sweden, Ikea’s Dining Club is another good example of a great pop-up experience - Ikea kitchens and utensils facilitate the activities yet they stay in the background, as delivering a memorable evening is the primary focus.

A flexible future for retailing?

The upshot of all this pop-up activity is that it’s bringing some hope and new life to the high street. In response to demand, retail centre landlords are offering more short-term leases, to attract new names that refresh their line up.

Larger stores are also subletting areas to compatible brand partners for the same reason. Fashion accessory brand SkinnyDip London is taking advantage of this, appearing as a pop-up in Topshop stores, as well as at intu Watford and Lakeside.

It helps to give shoppers something new to explore and drive footfall. So it’s ironic that some of the online brands that contributed to lowering footfall are also now queuing up as prospective new tenants of physical stores, albeit temporary ones.

They want to connect with customers offline by expressing their brand in a physical space - as seen with beauty subscription service Birchbox, who is popping-up on London’s Carnaby Street until January. So there’s still value in bricks and mortar stores...

Watch this space

The future for pop-ups? Well they are certainly not going away and new potential will surely come from finding opportunities in more unusual spaces, like when pop-up facilitator Appear Here partnered with Transport for London at Old Street Station (one shop was located in an old toilet.) Expect more hidden and unexpected locations to be untapped.

So pop-ups are likely to get more weird and wonderful. But that’s ok… it makes for a great experience!

Gareth James

If you’d like to stay up to date with what we’re up to, our email newsletter contains the latest news, viewpoints and events from the Prosper team and is delivered for free, each month, to registered subscribers.

Subscribe by clicking the link below.

Sign up to receive Prosper’s Insights, News and Views

Areas of interest

We won't share your details with anyone else.
Privacy Policy

back to Insights