Here Today, Gone Tomorrow: Long-Term Lessons from the Pop-Up Shop Phenomenon

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Pop-Up shops keep springing to life, offering retailers fresh, albeit temporary, ways to engage consumers. Here are just some of the lessons pop-up shops have to share with other industries.
Customer Experience

Retail pop-up shops reflect the nature of their industry. Like fashion trends, these shops come and go quickly, staying just long enough to make their mark on the collective consumer mindset. But, while jeggings and crop tops may teach shoppers what to wear (or not), pop-up shops offer customer experience lessons that transcend time and industry.

By nature, pop-up shops are temporary storefronts that allow brands to establish a physical, yet brief, presence within their market. Brands typically pursue such strategies for an array of reasons. Many embrace pop-up shops to test new locations prior to leasing so they may assess whether or not there's enough demand for their goods in the given area. Others seek to generate buzz and attention around their latest product launch. Most do so to better understand their customer base, collecting data they can then use to deepen relationships and improve customer loyalty. Regardless of the initial impetus, however, pop-up shops ultimately create new opportunities to surprise and delight customers and prospects.

Guy Yehiav, CEO of Profitect, notes, "While many shoppers rely on e-commerce or big box department stores, opening a niche pop-up shop allows retailers to highlight their top products and reach an entirely new audience. This allows for retailers to capitalize on impulse buys. Many times, consumers aren't looking for pop-up shops, yet they stumble upon them in an almost accidental fashion. This creates entirely new opportunities for retailers to sell specialized or season-specific products in an efficient manner."

Yet, while many assume that pop-up shops are strictly retail-oriented, the lessons aren't, for these storefronts serve as meeting places, more or less, that allow brands to engage consumers they may otherwise never interact with one-on-one. Pop-up shops reinforce the importance of face-to-face interactions and the impact of having a physical presence in today's world of digital marketing. But what message do these shops have in store for companies across the board? Here are just some of the lessons pop-up shops have to share with other industries:

Human Connection Extends Beyond the First Interaction

Physical space means offering consumers the opportunity to interact with both their products and their people. Thus, as retailers develop their storefronts, leaders must consider how this connection impacts long-term customer loyalty. Russ Miller, founder and partner of Vacant, explains that showrooming poses an exciting challenge, as online shoppers don't have the ability to touch or experience products first hand. Pop-up shops, however, enable online companies to develop showrooms that highlight these goods and engage customer feedback.

Brick and mortar locations also enable brands to establish the human connection consumers crave. Melissa Gonzalez, chief pop-up architect at The Lion'esque Group and author of The Pop-Up Paradigm, explains that pop-up shops aren't just about opening your doors. Instead, it's all about the immersive experience customers are walking into when they come through that doorway. Gonzalez says that many retailers fail to plan their strategies prior to opening their stores, however, underestimating their need for knowledgeable staff because they think they can hire college students to run the temporary location. But consumers come in expecting an experience unlike that they may have had online, which means retailers must train employees to serve as brand ambassadors and share the same mission. "Employees must convey the brand's message and support its viewpoint," she adds. "Otherwise, the in-store experience will probably contradict the underlying goals of the pop-up shop entirely."

Yehiav emphasizes that, once the consumer has connected with the retailer's sales associates, and not just the screen on their smart device, the brand has endless opportunities to create, cultivate, and maintain loyalty. Such connections make the experience personal, offering the highest level of customer service. Pop-up shops, therefore, create another avenue for retailers to physically reach the consumer and formulate that human connection.

Physical locations heighten both the human and emotional connection consumers have with the given brand, but as Gonzalez highlights, "Brands must then maintain this connection once the stores close. Customers are more likely to be loyal and invested in your company because they've interacted." As with any industry, brands must establish steps to sustain this new level of engagement so they may nurture these blossoming relationships into ones that will last for many years to come.

Education Has the Power to Build Brand Awareness and Loyalty

Many brands choose to open temporary storefronts in an effort to educate consumers about a new product launch. By creating an immersive experience, retailers allow customers to engage with their newest goods, cultivating loyalty among those who are familiar with the company and brand awareness among those who've never interacted in any capacity prior. But, when it comes to education, even those organizations that don't traditionally fit under the retail umbrella are using pop-up shops to bring valuable information to the consumer.

Last spring, the National Peanut Board launched its three-day pop-up location to promote its "Perfectly Powerful Peanut" campaign, increasing awareness and consumer understanding on the nutritional value and diverse benefits of peanuts and peanut butter. Teaming with Chef J.J. Johnson, the pop-up shop drew in more than 15,000 people during its brief stay in New York City, teaching consumers about the lesser-known health benefits of the peanut, its global influence on feeding the hungry, and sustainable farming. Each station within the pop-up location enabled the organization to share its message and educate consumers about topics they may never be exposed to in daily life.

Of course, while the National Peanut Board's initiative wasn't specifically designed to boost peanut sales, this example demonstrates how effective pop-up shops can be with regard to learning and the importance of educating consumers in an effort to increase engagement. Companies of all types can utilize the pop-up concept to connect with people in and outside their usual circle and move beyond superficial relationships.

What You Have Isn't Always What You Need

For Jennifer Willemsen, owner of Curl Up & Dye Detroit, transforming her once brick and mortar salon into a perennial pop-up shop demonstrates how the flexibility of such establishments can advance even the most established brands. Willemsen owned and operated Curl Up & Dye's Detroit storefront for seven years, providing customers with quality hair care products and personal care services. However, the desire for change and her impending motherhood caused Willemsen to alter her business model, reducing her workload, while allowing her to remain part of the community.

Now, instead of acting as a full-service salon, the Curl Up & Dye space will serve as the storefront for carefully curated retailers. Under Willemsen's direction, these brands will deliver the retail variety and exposure the community needs, each on a short-term basis to guarantee variety remains constant. Curl Up & Dye's presence will move online, allowing customers to procure the non-toxic hair products they've come to depend on, minimizing Willemsen's responsibilities and enabling her to cultivate an area of the business she wishes she'd had time to activate years ago.

"Not all businesses needor can afford at their phase of businessa brick and mortar storefront," Willemsen notes. "Sometimes just the taste of a storefront can provide the brand exposure your business needs, while also showing you that a storefront just isn't the right way to go at that time, if ever. A pop-up experience provides the ability to discover your path before you spend money you may not have on operating expenses."

Willemsen still has the option to use a small parcel of the space in the future for her hair care business, if she chooses, though she believes her days as a hair salon owner have passed. However, she has learned valuable lessons that she can apply to her current operations, for her familiarity with the community provides her with a unique perspective into which new retailers will resonate best with customers in the area so she can use her role to bring experiences of value to the people of Detroit.

ROI Doesn't Have to Be ImmediateTrue Success Takes Time

Before any retailer commits to opening its own pop-up shop, leaders must carefully plan ahead to guarantee that their goals and budgetary restrictions align with their execution. Miller adds that startups, online retailers, and other brands must determine their requirements and expectations prior to opening their pop-up shops. Their budget must be able to accommodate the high foot traffic location if they wish to increase brand awareness and produce measurable sales successfully. Retailers must also be sure that the space they pick meets their needs and expectations, for renting the wrong location can waste money and hinder profits, thereby negating the benefits of the initiative entirely.

However, because many believe these shops will jumpstart sales, they seek immediate positive ROI results to justify their worth. But, as Gonzalez emphasizes, ROI isn't about sales made while the doors are open. ROI derives from applying the data collected and the information learned to better deliver customer experience moving forward. Gonzalez notes that companies often cannot detect results until two or three quarters out because true success can only be measured by the long-term impact these stores have on brand engagement and loyalty.

Of course, this lesson applies to any and all industries, as all investments require direction and patience. If companies have the budget to invest in such initiatives, then they must also create foundational plans that monitor changes over time. Today's market may be one of instant gratification, but progress and success cannot be established overnight. If brands truly put the customer at the center of all they do, and not just their own financial gain, they will embrace the uncertainty and continue to use the feedback collected to guide new initiatives and deliver constant innovation across channels to advance engagement.

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EXPERT OPINION