Pop-up stores: condensed brand experience

Carpe diem, as the Romans used to say.

The Roman poet Horace encouraged us to seize the day and it is a lesson that applies to all of the enjoyable things in life, including the wonderfully frivolous delights of shopping. This is exemplified by temporary shops, also known as pop-up stores. They have introduced new dynamics and desires into the retail world by making everything revolve around the idea that shopping opportunities should be snapped up without hesitation.

First of all, let’s take a look at the definition: pop-up stores are temporary shops that often move around and offer customers exceptional brand experiences. They really shine the spotlight on labels, because while they also sell products and help to increase turnover, their most important role is to boost brand awareness.

It is all done “on the run”: pop-up stores may only stay open for six months, one month, one week or even just one day, depending on the brand strategy.

How do they grab customers’ attention? In order to capture traffic in store, they need to do more than just create a sense of urgency: it is also important to have the right location, a breathtaking store design, exclusive products (such as limited edition items), events, and activities in store that turn simple visits into memorable experiences.

Complementing all of this is the novelty of it all, because pop-up stores are here today, but they may be gone by tomorrow…


Making a virtue of necessity

They spring up like mushrooms and just like mushrooms, you need to get them when the time is right.

However, the pop-up season – in terms of the phenomenon as a whole – has been going on for more than a decade.

Back in 2004, a number of retail spaces on shopping streets in New York were vacant due to the hugely expensive leases, so people started letting them temporarily, just for the short period required to sell off a batch of goods.

Before everyone started talking about temporary shops and they became a widespread phenomenon, they were simply vacant shops. Nonetheless, the idea worked: curiosity, the surprise factor, imitation and fear of missing out on something fleeting (as no one knew when the stores would close) all helped to draw in new customers.

Over time, big numbers started to be recorded. More than ten years later, in 2015, no fewer than 3,000 people flooded into an M&M’s pop-up store (in a New York building dating back to 1910) on the opening day to try new flavours of the sweets and vote for their favourites, in what proved to be a real “event”.

Although they were born out of necessity, temporary shops have become a virtue.


Temporary stores: an Italian success story

What is the situation in Italy?

The first temporary shops appeared in New York in 2004. Just one year later, Levi’s took the concept to Italy for the first time, with an opening in Milan that played a crucial part in its business strategy. The 250 m² space in centrally located Corso Vittorio Emanuele stayed open from July to December. The goal was to “monitor the relationship between the brand and consumers, and assess the affinity between the collections on offer and young target customers”. In other words, Levi’s wanted to try out new models of jeans so that it could decide whether to add them to its range.

The following year, the event organizer Sidecar came up with the idea of turning a space on Corso Garibaldi into a “turnkey” temporary shop that was ready to be let to any company that wanted it. Still today, it attracts brands and passers-by.

New York and Milan were also the cities chosen by Illy to celebrate the ritual of drinking coffee in two pop-up locations. However, it celebrated its 75th anniversary in its home city of Trieste, where it let a historical hall (the Salone degli Incanti in the former fish market) and transformed it into an “Illy Gallery”. It goes without saying that it was a temporary venue: for just two weeks, visitors could not only buy products but also take tasting courses, see a photography exhibition by Sebastião Salgado and take a look at the items in a themed bookshop.



Entering a temporary store takes you on an unexpected journey

If you have an innovative idea and a generous budget, the “wow” factor is a must. The design and decoration of a pop-up store is part of the shopping experience and it provides the brand with a chance to portray itself, making the most of the one shot opportunity.

Fashion house Christian Dior offered a perfect example of a truly breathtaking location with the help of Genser, an international architecture firm based in San Francisco. The main store on 57th Street in New York was closed for renovation work, so it wanted to stay in direct contact with customers by opening a pop-up store elsewhere in Manhattan. The resulting shop was on Madison Avenue, but it had an atmosphere that made customers feel like they were in a luxurious apartment in Paris. The clothes stood out against the spotless white interior design, featuring curtains, period photographs and sophisticated sofas. It was the ideal place for an exclusive, chic all-round brand experience.

Meanwhile, the cosmetics company Glossier decorated a room in its Los Angeles store in Grand Canyon style, providing the ideal backdrop for selfie lovers. The aim was to immerse customers in an unforgettable experience, shifting the focus from the products to the world of the brand. A key part was played by the scope for social media interaction: the highly distinctive desert set had huge potential to go viral thanks to sharing on Instagram.


The perfect match for Instagram

The pop-up store phenomenon has come of age. In the Web 2.0 era, in order to have a lasting impact on the brand awareness front, the opening of a temporary shop must be part of a broader strategy for “portraying” a company and its products.

It is almost compulsory to spread the word through channels such as social media and in particular Instagram, where seven out of every ten hashtags used now refer to a brand of some kind.

“Igers” – and especially influencers with large numbers of followers – are partly responsible for the success of pop-up stores: they tell the stories of visits to shops of this kind with pictures, which then spread and generate interest in the locations.

Diesel is well aware of all of this. During New York Fashion Week last February, it opened a fake shop selling counterfeit clothes (they were actually totally genuine, but they were labelled “Deisel” and displayed haphazardly among plastic coat hangers and boxes). It captured the imagination of influencers, whose endless posts helped to make it into big news. The “temporary fake store” became a trending topic. Those who were unable to get to the shop on Canal Street in Manhattan – which is infamous for its large number of stores selling counterfeit clothes and accessories – looked at pictures by people such as the rapper Gucci Mane (who has more than 9 million followers) and the fashion influencer Francesca Colucci. Diesel may have had to sell off unique, original items at counterfeit prices, but it proved to be a great bit of advertising by the label.



Good reasons to “pop up”

“Popping up” is a great investment if it is done properly. Opening a temporary store can help businesses of all kinds, whether they are small and independent or part of a large chain, specialized in e-commerce or traditional retailers.

For companies that already have their own stores, it provides an opportunity to experiment with new products or showcase seasonal creations. For example, temporary shops are opened for cashmere sweaters and artisan panettoni, swimwear and fashion outlets. It is an alternative to traditional advertising that can get people talking about a company.

Meanwhile, businesses that are entirely web-based may open pop-up stores in order to create direct contact with customers without having to radically overhaul their business models or make huge investments. The strategies may vary, but all initiatives of this kind can make the most of something that marketing experts have called massclusivity: although the products or services on sale are mass-produced, they are perceived as being exclusive. Pop-up stores can also be opened online, as “shops-in-shops” on e-commerce platforms or websites. For example, Yoox uses this approach to push certain products at certain times and to attract niche users with specifically targeted offers.


It is not just a bit of fun and it is not for everyone


Do not get carried away: pop-up stores cannot be opened without careful consideration. Although in some cases opening a shop of this kind costs less than a poster campaign, all of the economic variables need to be weighed up: renovation, decoration, promotion efforts to support the launch and staff expenses can all have an impact on the overall costs, leading to greater expenditure than originally anticipated in some cases. This is something that Target learned with its Museum of Ice Cream: in the chain’s shop/museum in Los Angeles, every day hundreds of visitors opened the refrigerated display cases to take photos of the stunning, multi-coloured ice cream on show. Numerous members of staff had to be given the task of closing the doors, or substantial damage could have been caused.

“Make sure that there is proper allocation in the budget for staff,” suggests Melissa Gonzalez, the founder of the Lion’esque Group, a pop-up store specialist. In addition, remember that decoration can also be very expensive. As Gonzalez notes, “if you go to a regular store, you are more surprised if you get something experiential and immersive, but today when someone goes to a pop-up they walk in expecting something more.”

Astonishment” is the watchword.