Permanent or pop-up?

Why fledgling brands should look to temporary stores to create flagship experiences that deliver lasting value for shoppers.

Pop-up retail, by definition, is temporary. But the value these temporary experiences bring, for customers and brands, means their role in customer experience strategy should be a permanent one. Many digital-only brands looking to move into the physical realm for the first time, get this. For them pop-ups are the epitome of agile retail and a natural extension of the spontaneous way they have grown. Here at Start, we’ve seen this first hand through our work with street-style fashion brand, The Couture Club and cosmetics brand, Huda Beauty, created by make-up artist and vlogger, Huda Kattan. All brands can learn from their success. Here are five ways pop-up retail can deliver flagship experiences and long-term value for your brand.

1. Pop-ups support going shopping.

Now, more than ever, the retail market is ripe for pop-up stores. Ecommerce may be booming but it still only represents a small fraction of overall retail sales. People don’t just want to shop exclusively online; they increasingly want an offline experience too so they can research before they buy, touch, feel and trial a product, even talk to a real person rather than a chatbot. The actual transaction may not take place in-store, but the experience they get there will make or break their decision about what to buy.

Recent sales figures show a slowdown in online; perhaps inevitable as the current market matures and growth levels out (although the new wave of connected devices, artificial intelligence, virtual reality and social shopping will put a whole new spin on how and why we shop online). But it’s another sign that shoppers still like going shopping, in their leisure time, to have fun, discover, learn, socialise and have an authentic experience. Pop-ups can deliver against these needs with the kind of fresh, engaging, unique experiences that shoppers now demand when they go shopping.

Shopping mall owners are realising the value of pop-ups in bringing in younger shoppers, according to evidence from the US. One of its largest shopping mall operators, Simon, is piloting a dedicated pop-up space called ‘The Edit’ in one of its key locations in New York. With short leases on offer and a mixture of brands taking them up, Simon is hoping it will help to reinvigorate malls (it has 300 of them) with ‘rotating offerings’ to inspire Gen-Z shoppers. It’s not surprising that the big guys are taking these steps when we look at new players such as Platform in the US and Boxpark here, with their unique, blended mix of one-off and smaller, local brands alongside global ones, offering visitors ever-changing experiences they can’t get anywhere else.

The Couture Club chose the Intu Trafford Centre in Manchester for its pop-up – its first physical store – a perfect location for the brand to meet its target customers face-to-face and connect with new ones. The space is designed as a pre-night out destination with resident DJ providing the sound track. Somewhere for guys to meet up and prep-up with new strides and even a haircut at the in-house barbers.

Experiences like the one that Start has created for The Couture Club are designed to support online transactions by creating a buzz around a brand, drawing customers in and giving them an opportunity to see, feel and try on product as a social activity.

2. They drive agile working.

We worked with The Couture Club to create concept designs in just a couple of days which were presented, costed and signed off within a week. The pop-up was built and trading within a month. It was a refreshing way to work and very much in keeping with the pace of development in the digital world. A far cry from the slower design and development process of a permanent store concept for a traditional retail brand. Build costs are scrutinised, regulation compliance must be adhered to, designs mulled over by committee and approval sought from all stakeholders. A time consuming, pedestrian approach that’s totally at odds with the pace of change in the market, and crucially the agile way start-ups can take the lead to respond to this change.

Pop-ups are a fast way to respond to changing customer needs. The process empowers brands to get ideas to market fast; a responsive way of working that many traditional retailers need to get more familiar with. Huda Beauty’s Selfridges pop-up was installed for just 10 days in a prime location within the store. The moments it created for the brand’s fans, however, lasted much longer and the word-of-mouth it generated has created more awareness of the brand in the UK.

3. Temporary experiences demand experimentation.

Pop-ups are a natural extension for innovative, emerging brands that started life online, whether it’s via a social platform (like The Couture Club), a beauty blog (look to Glossier’s recent pop-up in Marylebone or Huda Beauty in Selfridges) or etailer (Warby Parker’s track record is a lesson in how to integrate pop-ups, long-term, as part of its overall customer experience) to name a few.

Their fast approach to creating pop-ups – and their temporary nature – gives them a physical space where they can quickly learn and rapidly test the art of retail. The brand can gauge customers’ responses to elements of the experience, trial new products and services and adapt the space as they need to without the investment and any potential risk of a permanent store.

4. Pop-up process empowers collaboration.

When we presented retail concepts to The Couture Club, brand owners Ross and Scott asked if they could take some video and share work-in-progress on Instagram. A quick chat about which soundtrack would suit the work best and a few minutes later the video was out there, creating a buzz and enticing feedback with the brand’s many followers.

This came as no surprise to any of us in the room. It’s how The Couture Club has grown; spontaneously, collaboratively and fast. It began life only two years ago in the founder’s – reality TV’s, Ross Worswick – bedroom with just three T-shirts and is now a one-to-watch fashion brand with a fully-fledged range of menswear. The pop-up is another organic move for a brand that owes its growth so far to a smart use of Instagram to drive sales and support its ecommerce site.

5. The best deliver rich, relevant content

Some of the most interesting experiences to pop up recently are from businesses that started life not as a product brand but a content brand, such as the one we created for Huda Beauty. Content-rich brands such as these (also check out Glossier’s recent pop up activity) have a massive advantage in today’s physical retail environment, where consumer-relevant content gives life and authenticity to an experience.

Huda Beauty’s pop-up was part of a series of both permanent and temporary physical spaces to be installed in Selfridges. Designed to promote the launch of its much-loved and hotly-anticipated #FauxFilter foundation range in the UK, it featured four fully-kitted out make-up stations with professional make-up artists on hand to give visitors a personalised, foundation make-up session. The experience gave Huda’s make-up obsessed fans a chance to smell, touch, trial and get expert advice on its new range via a hands-on, informed experience, inspired by and mirroring expert content via Huda’s own beauty vlogs. The aim was for it to capture the excitement of the online world where the brand thrives, build anticipation around the launch and deliver plenty of those all-important, sharable, Instagrammable moments.

Similarly, The Couture Club’s pop-up exploits campaign content that ties in with its e-commerce site. The store aims to give shoppers the chance to meet and buy in to the fashion of the favourite reality TV stars. Pop-ups allow brands to put consistency on the back burner and give them the freedom to refresh content as needed to support a local area or specific campaign or product launch. Inspiring content delivered within a temporary setting can deliver impact, excitement and anticipation. It can help reach out to new customers and reward existing ones with an opportunity to see the brand come to life in new ways, in the real world.

Pop-ups are valuable customer experiences.

Pop-Ups are a valuable way of delivering future retail experiences. Ones that are rich in relevant content and primed to respond fast to shoppers’ needs. Future stores are about creating new platforms that create new demand for products and services. Temporary retail can be a strategic part of this, building relationships and loyalty. Allowing emerging brands to own a space and extend its direct to consumer model for a wider audience. These new platforms must be an integrated part of the customer experience and help to define brands (why they should choose you) against the competition.

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Kevin Gill Retail Director, Start