How to Create a Retail Pop-Up That Wows

Investing in a retail pop-up shop can be a great way to engage new customers. For example, they can allow online-only retailers to get a foothold in the real world. They can also help established businesses to increase their revenue and exposure.

What is a pop-up?

A retail pop-up is a temporary real-world shop, often operated by an online retailer. Usually, pop-ups are in high-traffic areas and stay open from three days to three months.

Pop-up shops attract passers-by with exciting design elements and an engaging look. The limited-time-only aspect can encourage customers to visit sooner since they know it’s a fleeting opportunity. Using high-footfall locations helps retailers engage customers that might not have found them online.

Why pop-ups are important to retailers

There are many reasons why pop-ups are important to retailers. They hinge on the fact that pop-ups are low-cost and low-commitment. They can play a vital role in engaging new customers.

Pop-ups don’t have to be traditional bricks-and-mortar stores. They don’t have to be hosted in traditional buildings. Many successful pop-ups are in temporary structures such as tents and marquees. These are especially popular in the warmer months.

Although pop-up shops are often run for visibility and market research as for profit, they can certainly earn their keep. Some reports suggest that pop-up shops contribute over £2bn a year to the UK economy. And the sector is still growing strongly.

Pop-ups and e-commerce

When we’re talking about retail pop-up shops, we’re talking about creating experiences that draw people into your space and keep them coming back for more.

Recent studies suggest nearly 90% of customers researched a product online before purchasing it in a shop. This is called webrooming.

You need to create an experience that makes your customers feel like they are getting something special—something bigger than just buying another product on Amazon or eBay.

Most retailers will get their best results by combining a strong online presence with a robust real-world presence. In particular, they allow online retailers to target 75% - 80% of retail transactions that still take place in the real world.

Planning a successful retail pop-up

Although pop-up shops are relatively low-cost, they still come at a cost. This means that it’s advisable to plan carefully to maximise your return on investment. Here are some tips to help.

Define your target customer

The whole point of pop-up shops is to go where your potential customers are. Only you can know who your potential customers are. Defining your market is one of the keys to success in business. It’s impossible to overstate its importance to pop-ups.

Define and prioritise your goals

There are three main reasons for running pop-up shops. They are to increase revenue, increase brand visibility, and conduct market research. It’s perfectly valid to do all three at once. You just need to be clear about your order of priorities. If there’s any conflict between your goals, you know which one takes precedence.

Identify your key locations

Pop-ups are a bit like holidays. They may only last a short while, but they need to be planned well in advance. That’s particularly true if you’re looking at a popular destination and a popular time. Keep in mind that you are very likely to go through some kind of selection process with any location you want to use.

For example, if you want to rent a brick-and-mortar store, you will need to find a landlord that’s happy to grant short leases. You’re also going to have to convince them that you’ll be a responsible tenant. If you want to run a pop-up shop on someone else’s property, you’ll need to explain why they should host you.

Mobile pop-ups

Mobile pop-ups (e.g. pop-ups in vans) can help to reduce your dependency on third-party hosts. If you want to go to events, you’ll usually still need the organiser’s permission. It is also vital to make sure that you run a mobile pop up in full compliance with all local-authority rules. These may require you to get a permit before you open.

Think carefully about the practicalities

Your space and its location will define a lot about your pop-up. Understandably, you will want to make it look as attractive as possible. Your first step, however, should be to cover the practicalities.

  • Transport

How will you get your equipment, stock and staff to your pop-up location? Will your equipment and stock have to be transported daily? Will your staff have to stay overnight or for multiple nights?

  • Equipment

Does your site have utilities, including WiFi? How much space is there for display stock? Where will you set up the checkout? How much free space do you have for payment technology such as an iPad POS system or a card machine?

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  • Stock

Once you’ve determined how much space you’ll need for essential equipment, you’ll know how much is left over for stock. Choose your items to suit your space. At a minimum, be sure that you can fit in an appropriate quantity of the item. If possible, think about what items would be most suitable for the area you’re visiting.

  • Security

Sadly, you need to take security as seriously for pop-up shops as for permanent, real-world shops and online shops.

  • Staff

Remember that all your staff are brand ambassadors. This is particularly true of customer-facing teams. This means that you need to ensure staff for your pop-up shops are selected and trained to as high a standard as your regular staff.

Create a marketing strategy (promotions/exclusivity/time-limited)

Pop-up shops typically get a lot of marketing collateral from their location. However, if you really want to maximise your returns from your pop-up shop, it helps to market it effectively.

Given that the whole point of pop-up shops is to go local, it makes sense to market through local channels. In this situation, they are generally more effective than mainstream ones and more affordable. Remember local radio as well as local newspapers. Also, look for local micro-influencers in your niche.

5 brands that have had great success with pop-ups

Amazon’s foray into pop-up shops was a masterclass in showrooming. They used a pop-up at Westfield London to showcase the new developments in smart home technology. These developments have since gone mainstream.

The Coca-Cola Christmas truck has become a festive staple. It travels around the UK, spreading brand awareness at a time when people are buying party supplies and gifts. The brand partners with charities to support their work and emphasise its ethical credentials.

The Glossier pop-up shop in Covent Garden in London, had to be one of the most social-media-friendly pop-up shops ever created. It featured hand-drawn floral wallpaper, mirrors with positive affirmations and floral carpets. Customers flocked to it and happily shared it on their social media feeds.

HOT:SECOND was only in Shoreditch, London, for three days in 2019, but it is still talked about years later. The shop asked customers to donate an item of clothing upcycled on site.

In return, they were allowed to try on an item of digital clothing. They could photograph themselves in it but not buy it. HOT:SECOND both educated customers on digital clothing and provided digital clothing companies with a way to test and develop it.

Jo Malone fragrance exhibition
The Jo Malone fragrance exhibition was another great use of showrooming. The exhibition allowed customers to experience the fragrances in the real world. This gave them the knowledge and confidence to buy these premium fragrances online.