The Pop Up Store – marketing and retail’s Holy Grail?

Much has been written in recent years about ‘pop ups,’ and how valuable they are for brands. Depending on the stance of the writer, pop up stores are either excellent marketing vehicles, great PR opportunities, a test-and-learn environment for a new product, or a way for start-up brands to take a first step into direct retailing.

What’s bizarre, though, is how rare it is for pop up retail stores to be truly appreciated by brands as all of these things, all together and all at once. Even more strangely in today’s efficiency driven world, pop up stores are rarely appraised appropriately in a scientific and commercially focused way.

Brands should do this– the results are often mind-blowing.

Pop up stores offer some of the best commercial metrics on the market, no matter where you ‘stand.’ As a marketing and PR activation, the pop up model offers some of the best cost-per-interaction and cost-per-acquisition numbers a brand could achieve. Of course in addition, these consumers, who have interacted directly with the brand in a physical space or experience, are also far more likely to be ‘valuable’ contacts than a digital ‘clicker’ or billboard ‘viewer’ who are far less likely to be engaged by content they haven’t actively chosen themselves.

As retail entities, pop up stores capitalise on comparatively low rent costs, cheap (and often subsidised) fit-outs, and total flexibility to run for as long or as short makes commercial sense. With savvy operations, these temporal stores can very reasonably pay for themselves in a fraction of the time it takes for a traditional ‘store’ to deliver an ROI.

With depressingly few exceptions, pop up stores are still approached by brands purely as a predominantly creative-led, marketing activity, designed to generate some headlines or social content. And, by association, as an expense; a cost of activation.

This misses the true value of pop up stores as vehicles for driving commercial return to the businesses that own them. Pop up stores are the only channel with the genuine ability to achieve the Holy Grail – marketing activity which is cost-neutral, or even profitable for their owners.

None of this is new news, or difficult to grasp. So why don’t we see more brands deploying pop up retail activities to drive cost effective retail/marketing hybrid activities?

The main reason – pop up retail stores are viewed as operationally complex. You need to staff them, stock them, sell from them, market them, manage a P&L…. It’s all a bit hard!

Right now this is probably true, where the channel is led mostly by marketing teams with little time or interest in how to run what is essentially a retail business.

But pop up stores are the future for successful brands to drive cost neutral marketing – so that ‘ostrich’ approach can’t last for long!

Over the next few years, the sharpest brands will harness the commercial and marketing power of the pop up…

Marcus Fox

Director