How to plan the perfect pop-up
A couple of years ago, thousands of people flocked to Topshops across the country for a physical encounter with their favorite Kylie Jenner lipsticks. SoHo has been featuring a rotating display of rising wellness brands. Shopping malls are becoming revitalized thanks to short-term leases. Yes, we’re in the golden age of the pop-up .
Once the exclusive domain of online brands, these days it seems like everyone is getting in on the game with consumer goods companies like Unilever and Kellogg’s bypassing distributors in favor of ephemeral experiments with brick-and-mortar retail. Even Pantone, the paint company, turned to an interactive pop-up to launch its 2019 color of the year.
From an economic perspective, it’s easy to see why pop-ups are peaking in popularity. Brands can tap into a new market, test customers’ responses and solicit feedback in real-time -- all without committing to a long-term lease. There are even third-party companies that will find retail locations and liaise with landlords for you.
But even as temporary shops become a fixture of modern retail, that doesn’t mean they’re right for every brand. As CEO of an ecommerce agency that has helped many clients bridge the gap between online and offline retail, here are a few key questions to consider before you take the pop-up plunge:
Is your service better than your selfie wall?
From taking a nap in an art gallery to letting your dog do the shopping, much of the hype about pop-ups comes down to creative activations and selfie-worthy settings that seem more geared toward making a splash on social media than making sales.
That’s all fine and good -- building brand awareness is a worthy aim -- but the thing too many brands ignore in the push to open a jaw-dropping pop-up is that customer service, or lack thereof, leaves an impression that lingers long after the Instagram Stories have expired. Just look at how Kylie Jenner’s pop-up got slammed for having unkempt displays and trashed products.
For a pop-up to literally pop off, staffing needs to be the number one priority. This can be a higher bar than expected for online or D2C brands to clear. Those entering brick-and-mortar for the first time need to place extra focus on arming sales reps with extensive product knowledge and the ability to seamlessly handle long lines, extended hours and in-person returns. More importantly, the focus on aesthetics shouldn't overshadow the most valuable opportunity a pop-up shop presents: the chance to forge a real human connection with your customers.
When it comes down to it, a pop-up needs to be more than a showroom; it should be an informative experience -- on both sides.
Is your product truly pop-up-worthy?
Before looking into any of that, however, consider whether your product line truly demands a standalone physical space. If you’re offering something that veers toward commodity rather than novelty, a pop-up treatment may not pay off.
Take PopSockets, for example -- the expandable grip seemingly every millennial and Gen Zer has mounted to the back of their phone. The things are available everywhere -- from the grocery store to the gas station. When a product becomes that ubiquitous, there’s little value in your own retail store. Similarly, digital products like TurboTax can have trouble translating to a physical retail environment.
By contrast, the best pop-up candidates offer something customers can’t find in person anywhere else, be it a product or an experience. Glossier nailed this a few years back with its Summer Fridays pop-up series. After making big waves online, the cosmetics brand had saturated the digital marketplace and wanted exposure to a new customer base that, understandably, was shy about buying makeup online. The company created a penthouse showroom experience that significantly increased its connection to customers (and laid the foundation for the flagship store it opened in 2018). Given that 66% of shoppers prefer to buy beauty products they haven't tried before in-store, this was a smart move on Glossier’s part.
But that doesn’t mean well-known brands can’t benefit from the pop-up treatment, as long as they offer a new twist on the familiar. LEGO, for instance, has used temporary stores to expand its reach in markets where local retailers carry a limited supply with special-edition building sets and interactive displays. So, if you think you’ve got an innovative approach to sell something familiar, then a pop-up could be the push your brand needs.
Is your legacy built to last, even though your store isn’t?
For all the buzz about online shopping, the reality is that 85% of people prefer to shop in-store. Permanent physical locations are still the goal -- and the true mark of success -- for many online retailers.
But too many brands are blinded by the draw of a fixed presence in a big city at the expense of smaller markets where pop-ups can make a much bigger splash. Cleveland, Delaware or Calgary may not have the cachet of New York, Toronto or LA, but setting up shop, even for a short time, in secondary markets can build brand loyalty that lasts long after you’ve moved on.
Take one of our clients, handcrafted bracelet company, Pura Vida, for instance. A few years back, they took their brand cross-country with a traveling pop-up in an Airstream trailer, introducing a wider audience to the brand and gaining trust with customers that are hesitant about buying online. The fact is, pop-ups can have an outsized impact in map-dot towns, where consumers don't get nearly the same attention as their big-city brethren. And while retailers regularly come and go without anyone taking notice in bigger centers, setting up shop, even temporarily, in a smaller setting can be, quite literally, the talk of the town.
More than a decade after they arrived on the scene, pop-ups have proven to be more than an industry trend; they’re part of the new normal. As the landscape becomes more crowded, brands need to up the ante to truly stand out. Taking a strategic approach to temporary retail can help you build a permanent following -- and a customer base that will follow you wherever you happen to pop up next.
This article was originally published in Forbes Agency Council, an invitation-only community fo executives in successful public relations, media strategy, creative and advertising agencies.
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