How has the retail world changed in the last few years?
To explain the background of retail, let me take you back to 1994 when Amazon was first created, because that was a watershed moment for all kinds of commerce. During that same period of time, eBay and a few other e-commerce platforms were also developed. Internet was the protagonist in making possible these major changes; what it has built out over the last 20 years has been about communications. When you have this driving digital age of commerce coming to maturity, and communications coming to maturity, you have an evolving retail world of mobility, of choice, of consumers doing a lot more empowered shopping.
What is a pop-up store and how does it fit in the retail world?
A pop-up store is a retail enterprise that has decided to move out of the structure it has for its basic business and bring it on the road. Think of a Halloween store or a Monday Night Football store, for example. These are events and retail experiences that are out of the normal realm of delivery. Stores take their assets, their brands, their technology and they put them in new venues for a specific period of time.
A pop-up store could be a food truck, for example, because it can pull up in downtown Chicago and sell lobster during the weekend. It is where supply meets demand, but in a special kind of way… think serendipity. Think about a unique opportunity. Kanye West has a pop-up called Pablo. It stays in existence for three days: it comes into a physical existence with 30 people who work for him, five iPads for transactions, and 12 items for sale. This gathers communities of people who cluster around the unique ability to buy his branded products. A pop-up store also exists because of seasonality and during short cycles. There is a utilitarian aspect that makes its economics work, as well as the branding strategy. They come up. They’re efficient in coming up. They transact. And then they go back down.
What is the role of branding and marketing in pop-up store equity?
The pop-up is really a unique opportunity for brands to extend themselves, but not in a price proposition fashion; more in a customer intimate fashion. It’s building upon the relationship that you already have. As the brand extends itself out into the arena, you’ve got to be careful that it’s not a tent sale; that it is not an opportunity for a bulk buy. It is more of a unique situation where there might be a new product launch… where they’re trying to move the consumer further into the brand at the right point in time.
How should pop-ups attract and excite current and potential customers?
It is really important that the brand communications extend themselves to that awareness, but to not over market. There is always a crowdsourcing angle to it, but there is also a frenzy angle to it. There is a fine line between how you reach consumers and how to reach them in a special situation; that word serendipity comes up again. How does it become unique? Where these pop-ups are located, in more urban areas or malls or heavy traffic areas, you almost want to stumble upon them. Some of the traffic that is derived from a pop-up is the pure pop-up nature of it. People aren’t expecting to see what’s going on there and that ability to surprise people turns into a commerce transaction. There is something to buy. There is something to draw you into the brand.
How do communications work in pop-up stores?
The communication expansion in tools and linkages has created micro-communities. The consumer perception is basically built out of a local groundswell of opportunities to join in on something that has been stumbled upon. Think about it: as you come out of a restaurant that is located in a mall area, there is a pop-up store surrounded by a lot of traffic. You stumble upon it and you quickly text your friends with your smartphone to tell them about this sale, which rallies your local base. Social media is a real traffic generator of people you know and has the ability to tap into little trusted inner circles. It creates almost traffic clusters of like-minded people, which is really where the brand wants to be. All the folks around that pop-up store have definitely similar attributes.
What was the consumer’s perception of a pop-up store before this era?
I think a pop-up felt more like a clearance. It felt more like an overstock situation and more of a buying opportunity that’s price related. I’ve been part of a company that used to have a summer sale of overstock. It was a premium brand, but it was okay because they had a summer tent sale they rallied around. It was a pop-up, but it had a tent-minded price sensitive feel to it. Today’s pop-up is more intimate, unique, and less price conscious. There is the brand extension from the folks delivering the pop-up and there is a consumer experience that is unique.
How is technology influencing pop-up store development?
To make a pop-up come to life, there are a lot of moving parts involved. It requires the whole ability to put the supply chain to work, to make sure the products and the merchandise are there, that the brand presence is highlighted, that customers will have pleasant retail experience, that the advertising is out there, managing the costs correctly, etc. The good news is technology helps with almost everything and makes all of that come together uniquely. All the technology coming together makes a pop-up more effective.
Interview by Karen Jahncke, Medill IMC Class Of 2017