The term ‘Pop-Up’ has been around for decades but could the ideology behind these short-lived concepts be the long-term savour of our high streets?
Believed to have started in LA in the 1990’s and quite possibly the first examples of ‘disruptive’ retail, Pop-Ups reflect a moment in time, showcasing newness and innovation allowing brands to build interest with customers and test the market before deciding whether to commit to anything more permanent. They are frequently differentiating thereby creating a strong point of view, invariably targeted engendering a tribal ‘collective’ sentiment, almost always experience driven encouraging customer engagement and by nature ‘nimble’ reflecting current trends and tastes.
Despite their ephemeral nature Pop-Ups are also big business and contribute upwards of £2 billion to the UK economy a year. They have also been identified as one of the largest opportunities for growth in retail today. As such, these temporary retail outposts and their power to resonate, should by no means be underestimated.
With traditional retail in such a state of flux, isn’t it time to think a bit more Pop-Up?
It’s clear that generational changes in shopping habits and the relentless rise of ecommerce are having a profound impact on the state of physical retail. Unlike online only brands, many legacy bricks and mortar retailers lack a direct line of sight to their target customer and are increasingly struggling to justify their relevance on our high streets. Yet while online brands may benefit from an unimpeded relationship with their audience it is often entirely virtual and our interaction with them is usually limited to the cold touch of a screen with ‘customer experience’ often missing from the equation entirely.
Therein lies the opportunity for traditional retailers to play their trump card. By leveraging their physical space on the high street, bricks and mortar stores need to harness the unique DNA of the Pop-Up in order to offer the agility, newness and immediacy which can be found online by a consumer increasingly acclimatised to instant gratification.
Taking this idea to the extreme is STORY in New York which every four to eight weeks reinvents itself in order to showcase a new brand or trend within a Pop-Up ‘retail magazine’ store environment. Since it’s launce in 2011 STORY has become a multi-million dollar business and has partnered with the likes of Pepsi, Target and beauty brand Coty with founder Rachel Shechtman admitting "I don't think in terms of sales per square foot. I think in terms of experience per square foot.”. Given STORY’s recent acquisition by American department store chain Macy’s in May 2018 followed by Shechtman’s appointment as in-house Brand Experience Officer, there is clearly a growing appetite to offer an increasingly nimble approach to retailing even amongst the most traditional bricks and mortar stores.
But adopting a Pop-Up mind-set doesn’t have to be about total store-wide reinvention, it’s about establishing the appropriate proportion of ‘fix and flex’ and building the ability for iteration and change into the store’s DNA, regardless of scale. Most importantly though it’s about giving people a reason to return and leveraging the Pop-Up’s philosophy of presenting an agile, curated and relevant point of view is universally engaging, powerful and (so far) largely untapped by physical retailers.
If the stores of the past were rooted in steadfast continuity and consistency, then the stores of the future must have agility and dynamism at their core. They must look to fulfil the expectations of a demanding consumer whose constant appetite for what’s new and what’s next is being satisfied digitally, but so often missed physically. Thinking ‘Pop-Up’ then and harnessing the dynamic energy of these short-term entities might just be the key to unlocking the long-term potential of our high streets.