Pop-up shops that think beyond the storefront

It’s clear to everyone that retail is not what it used to be. Sears is closing over 100 stores. 74% of people base purchasing decisions on social media – and that holds true for B2C and B2B. And brands like Lowe’s and Wayfair are using AR apps to help consumers visualize future purchases.

When you look at the above, two lessons emerge. First, don’t get left behind. Sears was once a leader in retail innovation and efficiency. In fact, “according to Sears’ corporate archives site, Henry Ford made a pilgrimage to this ‘seventh wonder of the business world’ to learn about the company’s storied efficiency.” However, as time went on, the company became accustomed to its dominance. So much so that, according to Barbara Kahn, a professor of marketing at the Wharton School, when faced with industry-disruptive competitors like Walmart, Sears “simply trudged along and thought that was good enough.” It wasn’t.

Second, present-day commerce, in both the physical and digital space, are increasingly interactive with their consumers. Brands of all types are integrating technology and interjecting themselves into consumers’ lives. Innovation allows people to connect with brands in a variety of ways throughout their day. Shopping is no longer a one-time transaction – it is an ecosystem of multiple touch points that allows a consumer to gather information, make a purchase, connect with brand communities, and repeat. Brands who interact with consumers in multiple spaces and meet their needs in a variety of ways will succeed.

Pop-up shops have become a popular element of this multi-channel approach to consumer courtship and engagement. They do double duty as an alternative retail format where brands bond with consumers while spurring sales and increasing brand awareness. Everyone from emerging brands to Amazon are executing on the pop-up trend.

But not all pop-up shops are the same. And we’re not talking about branding or engagement elements. While many people view a pop-up as a temporary brick-and-mortar location, there’s more than one way to “pop-up.”

Mobile-ize your pop-up shops

Mobile units can be an extremely viable alternative to a brick-and-mortar space. A mobile unit allows you to operate in a wide variety of places while maintaining a consistent brand presence and execution strategy. Mobile units themselves are extremely diverse and can include trailers, shipping containers, tents, food trucks, and even “tiny houses.” One great example of mobile pop-up excellence was on display when Italian coffee company Illycaffe got super creative with a five-room customized shipping container. The structure, in addition to being visually compelling, was controlled by a computer and able to fully open in 90 seconds. The mobile structure allows the activation easy travel throughout the US after its initial stint in New York, making the company’s experiential investment scale and continue to produce results in other markets.

Natural settings for pop-up shops

Go au natural

Most companies look to pop up somewhere convenient: a storefront, busy street corner, or a shopping mall or festival. Yet, thinking outside the storefront and heading to a unique outdoor location can be a refreshing alternative. It can also contain a physical element or, in the case of Northface, a physical challenge.

The aforementioned leading outdoor apparel company recently set up shop in the mountains of Italy, almost 7,000 feet up in the Dolomites mountain range. The products in the pop-up included collector’s items donated by noted athletes and adventurers and was available to anyone who visited in person or participated in an online auction. Yet some companies are bringing nature to the masses, like during this year’s Wildflower Week when bikes towed a pop-up forest through Manhattan.

Surprise and delight consumers with unconventional partnerships

One way your brand might think outside the box is to consider a partnership with a host location that could have tremendous benefits, such as a captive audience. Or maybe a place that can provide a delight element that passersby don’t expect. For example, Reebok opened a one-month store called FLASH in New York City’s CVZ contemporary art gallery. How does athletic gear fit into the gallery space? The iconic pop up shop was created in the spirit of contemporary art and showed gallery-goers that the brand was aligned with their aesthetic and affinity for art. The brand also released a limited-edition shoe line with an artistic architectural design, emphasizing the fact that people could both enjoy and wear the art that they love.

The Reebok pop-up shows how brands can surprise and delight consumers by allowing them to “stumble across” a pop-up. Other places could include museums, office spaces, and other community locations that don’t often have a brand presence.

Pop-up shops drive results

Wow with holistic, multi-touch experiences

Not every pop up revolves around driving sales. Some of the most successful activations don’t explicitly sell at all. Instead of stocking pop-up shops with limited edition inventory, many brands and organizations choose to immerse visitors into an experience focused on brand awareness or building the brand’s community. Nordstrom’s new shop Local skips the inventory and features styling, manicures, tailoring, and even a beverage bar. Sephora rolled out Studios, in which sampling, facials, and makeovers replace a shopping experience.

These pop-up shops allow consumers to experience the best of the brand in an intimate setting – no strings attached. And even though both brands are using these spaces to focus on building brand love, they still incorporate some practical elements for existing shoppers, like product returns and online order pickup.

Conclusion: final words of pop-up wisdom

If you’re thinking of marketing your company through a brand activation, remember that there is more than one way to approach popping-up. Taking a more unconventional approach will ensure your brand has its own unique pop-up voice and has a lasting impact on consumers. Whether you are selling conventional products –or not overtly selling anything – individuality paired with surprise and delight is a pop-up mix that will assist any brand in reaching its goals.