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3 Qualities of Every Successful Pop-Up Shop

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They appear in once-vacant storefronts, unfold from nondescript shipping crates, and appear in forms ranging from circus tents to igloos.

They showcase designer gowns, provide a space to preview movies, and even serve Cheetos-crusted fried pickles.

They are pop-ups.

Forward-thinking brands and retailers are redefining the idea of the decade-old concept, evolving the retail pop-up from sales-driven trunk show to interactive destination. The focus of these temporary shops is shifting from moving product to moving experiences.

Pop-Up Shop

Because that’s what shoppers now demand. With all the talk of retail upheaval, you might assume that the physical store is dead. Hardly.

“The ‘retailpocalypse’ is exaggerated,” says Mohamed Haouache, CEO of Storefront, an online marketplace for renting short-term retail space. “Our industry is in ‘retailmutation,’ and experience is the new currency.”

While it’s true that eCommerce has never been easier, 62% of American consumers still want the tactile experiences offered by terrestrial stores. According to a survey of 1,425 U.S. consumers conducted by Retail Dive, “the ability to see, touch and feel products […] ranks highest among the reasons consumers choose to shop in stores versus online.”

Pop-up is the solution for brands seeking to cost-effectively make an “in-person” connection with shoppers seeking a hands-on experience. But to work, it has to be done right.

Every successful pop-up, regardless of format, industry, or target audience, shares three characteristics:

  1. A stated objective
  2. Big ideas
  3. Interactivity

1. Have a good reason to pop up

Before digging into the research, before hosting the brainstorm, even before floating the mere thought of a pop-up past the powers that be, there must be an objective.

“Why are we doing this?” “What do we want to make happen?” “What are our metrics for success?” The specific and well-articulated answers to these questions provide the foundation upon which all great pop-ups are built. How can you make it happen if you don’t know what “it” is?

There are five possible objectives for a brand pop-up:

  1. Build the brand
  2. Introduce a product
  3. Test something (a new market, audience, concept, format, partnership)
  4. Create major buzz
  5. Move some merchandise (sales is still a legitimate goal)

Pick one. Maybe two. Having too many objectives results in a pop-up experience that’s watered down, fragmented or confusing. The most effective pop-ups are those that have a clear purpose and a singular intent. This doesn’t mean that the pop-up shouldn’t work hard; it should. And it will, if it’s created around a big idea.

2. It’s the thought that counts

A big idea is emotion-laden (The Street Store), elegant in its simplicity (Coke mini can launch), and insight-inspired (The Period Shop by Kotex). It serves as a touchstone for all communications in and around the pop-up.

This kind of thinking calls for bravery. Our always-on, media-saturated lives are continuously bombarded with marketing images and messaging. The right big idea will push the boundaries and help the brand stand out. The bland, middle-ground of “safe” is not an ideal spot for a pop-up.

A big idea, like the Ghost Store, feels audacious, honest and sometimes risky. That’s OK. The temporary nature of pop-ups supports risk taking. (And note that “risk” is not synonymous with “reckless.”) People’s memories are short, and so is the news cycle. (Does anyone remember Kylie’s Pepsi ad?) Be bold.

3. Put the “action” back into interaction

The pop-up should be a catalyst for active engagement between the consumer and the brand. It must facilitate an exchange, like a conversation or a dance.

In the right setting, with the right prompts and opportunities, the shopper will discover something. And while that discovery doesn’t have to be earth shattering, it does have to be meaningful.

Remember that interaction doesn’t always have to be of the digital variety. In fact, we are seeing a renewed interest in and passion for the handmade and the hands-on. Analog is the new digital—reflect that human touch in the pop-up. Engage the shopper’s senses and build a physical element into the experience.

That being said, remember that tweeting is physical.

It is mandatory to integrate social media into the pop-up. Create a highly shareable experience (that means visual) so that the brand earns reach and awareness beyond the event space. Give the shopper something to post, snap, like and review, provide them with an awesome backdrop for selfies and encourage them to spend their social currency. Help them help you build advance buzz, drive attendance, and tell the brand story long after the pop-up closes.

Marc Jacobs Daisy Tweet Shop

Will a pop-up work for you?

Modern pop-up is an idea that seems to work for everyone. Retailers don’t have to commit to long leases or carry big credit lines to tell their brand stories and connect with shoppers.

And shoppers can experiment with new products or services live and in person. That’s why pop-up is becoming part of a core retail strategy for many brands rather than serving as a one-off product sales tactic.

Looking for Retail Management Systems software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Retail Management Systems software solutions.

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About the Author

Bradley Daves

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Bradley, an idea wrangler, shopper marketing provocateur and pop culture rubbernecker, works with Medallion Retail to build and execute resonant retail experiences. He has been creating consumer-engaging programs on behalf of major brands and retailers for more than 15 years.

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