Ecommerce Pop-Up Shops: Bringing Online Retail IRL

Once upon a time, the retail dream was to open a store, pour your heart and soul into it, open a second store, and repeat until your footprint had spread across your region, state, country, world, etc.

Times have changed. Today, a retailer can have national – even international – reach just by setting up a single ecommerce platform. The days of having hundreds (or even tens) of brick-and-mortar stores spread across a geographical distance are coming to a close. With the exception of a few established names, that’s a business model that most retailers cannot sustain anymore.

However, ecommerce retailers are finding that there are downsides to an online-only business model when compared to a brick-and-mortar shop. For one, impulse buys are harder to achieve because those shoppers who love instant gratification are left twiddling their thumbs waiting for the mail to arrive instead of instantly holding their prized possession. Some shoppers just prefer shopping in person and dislike (or distrust) shopping online. Often people feel more comfortable when they can “try out” a product before they buy it. And then there are some people who just like to interact with salespeople and those with expertise about the products they are interested in purchasing.

Which leads to one of the biggest, and perhaps surprising, drawbacks of ecommerce retail: a lack of face-to-face interaction. Chats and instant messages can only get so much of you and your store’s character across to your guests, and it does not allow you to engage with them on a personal level.

However, more and more ecommerce retailers are finding the solution for these issues is a return to retail’s roots, but with a twist. A pop-up shop allows online retailers to continue to expand in ways that boosts both their online presence and creates a real-world footprint.

So, what’s the best location if you want to attempt the pop-up route? Try checking your existing customer information. By skimming through the data acquired from online sales, brands can easily discover regions with a high percentage of customers.

Once a general location is nailed down, the true benefit of a pop up springs to life: the specific spot can be anywhere. Target once opened a floating holiday shop on the Hudson River. In the dead of winter, Kate Spade set up a large, igloo-shaped tent in New York City's Bryant Park (and gave out free hot cocoa to help shoppers keep warm). Pop-up stores can be set up in parking lots, beaches, parks – wherever your imagination can take you.

Through a pop up, ecommerce retailers can cultivate brand loyalty, experiment with new products, or promote sales and bargain items while delivering an experience for their consumers that is unique and unexpected.

Let’s take a look at some past examples of how online retailers have broken through to the real world.

Leesa

Shopping for a mattress is usually a pain. Online shopping allows you to avoid searching for a store and the pushy salespeople. However, the one benefit of a physical store is that you can actually lie down and give the product a test drive.

Online mattress-in-a-box retailer, Leesa, recognized this disadvantage when it opened its first pop up in a SoHo art gallery called the Leesa Dream Gallery. The theme of the event was “Everybody has a dream: What’s yours?” The retailer lined the center of the corridors with mattresses for visitors to sit (or lie down) and contemplate the paintings.

The art was provided by ArtLifting, an online marketplace where the works are created by disabled or homeless artists. The pieces could be purchased as originals or prints. Leesa also offered a limited-edition mattress featuring a cover inspired by the art.

This event gave Leesa an opportunity to highlight an important cause while showcasing its products in a compelling way.

Photo Credit: Yelp

Boohoo

British retailer Boohoo used its pop up as research into the U.S. market. The goal was to establish a brand presence while helping them find their place in the crowded clothing marketplace.

Shoppers could try on outfits in a lux-designed, New York City space. Customers were encouraged to post the outfits they liked to social media – and Boohoo kept a record of each, as well. On the last day, customers purchased the outfits they wanted by posting #theboohoostore.

This is an ingenious method of upping their social media status while gathering demographic and product information from New York clientele. 

BarkShop

BarkShop is a subscription box that’s geared toward pets. So, naturally it created a pop up that placed the pet’s experience first – but did offer a pretty cool experience for the owners, as well.

When a pet arrived at the store, they were outfitted with a hi-tech vest that tracked their every movement. An app synced to the vest supplied the owner with information about which toys the pet seemed to prefer and provided the ability to purchase and have them shipped to their house.

The pop up gave BarkShop ideas for a future permanent location, but it also supplied the retailer with valuable demographic information about the end users of their products: the pets. Imagine a future where BarkShop’s subscription offerings are tailored to specific pet breeds and ages.

Photo Credit: Bark

Adore Me

Months before opening a store in New York City, lingerie online retailer Adore Me hosted a one-day pop up at the Oculus (the Greenwich Street entrance to the transportation hub located in the World Trade Center). The open-air store didn’t sell any products (although it did provide discount codes that consumers could use online). Instead it engaged visitors with a continuous, nine-hour photo shoot and a 16-foot-wide selfie wall

Birchbox

Birchbox is an online subscription service that serves up monthly selections of beauty products tailored to a user’s specific needs.

To transition the concept into a pop up, the retailer let visitors belly up to “Try Bars” to check out the latest beauty products and trends, so they could then build their own box of makeup. Customers also had the option of partaking in an astrology reading and getting a manicure (uncertain if those were simultaneous events or not).

Birchbox toured the pop up around the nation, and its success led to the online store’s first brick-and-mortar location in New York’s Soho neighborhood.

Kylie Cosmetics

Kylie Jenner’s first pop up in a Los Angeles mall included a wall of her makeup line’s lip kits. It also had a replica of Kylie’s bedroom where visitors could take a selfie. Approximately 25,000 people visited the shop over its two-week run, and several products sold out.

The success prompted a second run during the 2017 holiday season in a variety of locations: New York, Miami, Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, and Las Vegas. This time the shop had an additional offering of two lip kits that were exclusive to the pop-up shop. The inclusion of the limited product spurred the rare emotion that pop ups are best at creating: FOMO – the fear of missing out.

Photo Credit: Fandom

Pop ups provide an excellent way for ecommerce retailers to bring their stores to life. They are ephemeral and mysterious, while also being fun and make an event out of shopping. Pop ups are a great way for ecommerce retailers to spread their wings and experiment. For even more ideas about bringing your ecommerce shop into the real world and to learn about our modular event structures and how they makes popping-up a snap, give Event Architecture a call at 972-323-9443.

sofia krsmanovic