In a nutshell what is a pop-up store and what is pop-up retail?

If we had to define a “pop-up” store and understand its true meaning, we could say that it is “a short-lived format that is dedicated to delivering specific brand objectives; whether related to sales, to communications or experiences” (Boustani, 2021b)

Pop-up stores can be presented in different formats and could take different forms. In a physical vacant space on the Highstreet, for instance, a brand’s pop-up store could be installed to sell merchandise, present a new collection or could disseminate information about the brand and its activities. At the middle of a train station’s hall stands a personalized gift box-like shop displaying holiday gift.

The seasonal aspect of pop-up stores influence decisions related to the choice of products or event types. However, it is important to consider not only the season but also the location in which the pop-up store appears. Combining these factors generate a more efficient effect.

One important characteristic of pop-up stores is their agility. Concerning the brand’s desired objective, the pop-up store could be crafted in any form or format, meet commercial, communications or experiential objectives, as long as it aligns with the brand’s identity.

Whether deciding to adopt pop-up stores for one time or repeat the action of adopting pop-up stores several times, brands’ pop-up retail strategies should consider, at all times, the pop-up store and the objective (s) it is willing to meet through its adoption. Pop-up retailing is the process of planning, conceiving and presenting pop-stores that fit in a brands’ overall marketing strategy.

Pop-up stores are important to brands, consumers and the retail environment.

In addition to the advantages to brands, pop-up stores can be “forms of expression” keeping the brand relevant and alive. They adopt pop-up stores to come closer to their customers or target consumers, to connect and exchange with them (Boustani, 2021a).

Customers are attracted by pop-up stores as they expect to discover something, engage in novel experiences and get to repeat that in different places, at different times with the same brand or with different brands.

The retail environment has also benefited from the pop-up retail phenomenon. Highstreets are repainted with new storefronts, shopping malls are animated, small towns and local communities are reenergized (Boussu, 2021). Despite many observations and interpretations of the death of physical retail, pop-up stores have proven that customers still want to “shop physically”; this being said, it crucial to highlight that customer want to do so under the condition that they withdraw value from their shopping experience.

How could pop-up stores be integrated into a brand’s retail strategy and under holistic unified commerce management?

Deciding to pop-up holds different meanings to different brands at their different maturity levels.

For start-up brands, participating in collective pop-up stores or scheduling several pop-up store appearances throughout the year is becoming a common practice. The advantage of doing so is that start-up brands could select locations and time appearances that best meet their objectives, without having to commit to a traditional physical store. Coupled with social selling or presenting their collections on non-complex transactional websites is now looking like the standard way start-up brands operate.

Pure players have highly benefited from pop-up stores as they allowed them to come to meet their audiences and interact with them physically. Depending on the online brand’s needs, the pop-up store acts as a great support system that reinforces the brand’s notoriety and “humanizes” it.

Established brands’ adoption of pop-up stores mainly depends on the objective it wants to meet and the extent to which it aligns with other touchpoints. The pop-up store could serve as a distribution channel, a communications channel, an experiential touchpoint completing the customer journey or a starting point that send customers to other brand channels.

How can brand managers benefit from pop-up stores and pop-up retailing?

Brand managers are invited to consider pop-up stores permanently in their strategies,  integrate and mesh under a unified commerce context and frictionless customer journey. The pop-up store should fit in the global brand strategy and should not be considered as an “add-on” or as a “one-shot” activity.

Pop-up stores could be very beneficial when they support other distribution channels. For instance, a brand can entice customers to purchase online and collect through a pop-up location. On another hand, customers could discover a brand’s product or service through a pop-up store and then purchase it from a physical store or online.

Pop-up stores are the online brand’s physical manifestation. When a pure player is looking at meeting customers from time to time, pop-up stores are ideal cost-effective and efficient solutions. They also help increase the brand’s notoriety and reinforce its image.

Pop-up stores reinforce a brand’s communications through the use of social media. Designed to engage and (more often) to wow customers, pop-up store environments could be digitalized to facilitate offline/online customer engagement and sharing. Social media plays a crucial role as it becomes a conversational hub where brand representatives, customers and their networks all converse.

To conclude, when brand managers are in doubt, they could pop up. Pop-up stores are perfect for testing locations, products or even concepts. Their ephemeral nature makes it easier for brands to test and assess results. If the pop-up successfully meets the desired brand objectives, it could be an opportunity for re-investing in it. On the other hand, in case of unsatisfactory results, the brand will move on. In this case, the core brand’s concept would not be jeopardized as customers tend to forget and forgive.

Ghalia Boustani, PhD, ephemera etailing specialist and author of Ephemeral Retailing: Pop-up Stores in a Postmodern Consumption Era 

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