Opinion: The value of pop-up moments

Kevin Gill, founder and head of retail at Start Design, explores how ecommerce brands can push themselves to exist in the physical realm and why pop-up retail delivers long-term value.

It’s common knowledge that the high street has suffered in recent years. Research shows that retail footfall decreased by 3.5 per cent year-on-year in December 2017 – the steepest decline in almost five years. Its’s time for a change and modern retail concepts must take centre stage. The epitome of agile retail, pop-ups are temporary, but the advantages they bring can lead to permanent success. They offer a spontaneous and exciting way to present your brand creating much desired originality for consumers. 

Without social media, online brands would feel the strain. Instagram sits as an ideal hub for brands to begin their journey, considering 80 per cent of Instagram users follow a business on Instagram – fashion brands without a profile are missing out. Instagram has the perfect ingredients; an ever-increasing follower count, high levels of engagement and a flourishing visual appeal.

Working with Instagram-born brand and street-style fashion label, The Couture Club, allowed us to see the benefits a pop-up can bring when experimenting with a physical retail presence. Launching at the Trafford Centre in Manchester, we hoped to create the ideal basis for connecting with consumers. Pop-ups are a great way to test products alongside the necessary elements a physical store brings instead of just interacting via a screen.

Pop-ups in the retail world
The success of brands lies with experimentation. Companies are realising that shoppers want an online and offline experience, take, for example, the pressure Marks and Spencer was under when their market value was over taken by online brand ASOS at the end of 2017.

Despite stats like this, the digital world still only represents a small fraction of overall retail sales, explaining the reason behind many ecommerce brands popping up on the high street. Last year, Yankee Candle opened its first pop-up – a multi-sensory shopping experience in New York, combining the digital with a physical and hands-on experience that was transposed to the high street.

Shopping has an important function in the lives of many consumers, meaning new offline experiences are up for scrutiny under the eye of high expectations. Pop-ups must perfectly place themselves in the retail landscape, as millennials and Gen Z have grown up with the ease of shopping online. They need appealing, fresh and imaginative experiences that consumers can’t get through a computer screen.

Expanding the fan base
The Couture Club’s mantra of ‘creating your own identity’ is strong and was mirrored in the pop-up. Designing an inventive, authentic and engaging store experience is no mean feat. We needed the pop-up to reflect the brands’ identity in the real world. The followers played a big part in the pop-up’s success, as understanding these consumers enabled us to experiment with reaching out to new customers.

The space Start Design helped create, needed to exceed consumer expectations, of seeing and feeling products in real life, as well as support online transactions. The venue housed a DJ and an in-house barber and was dual-purpose; a pre-night out destination and a classic store setting. Prominent tattoo-inspired artwork decorated the interior and echoed the passion and character of the brand’s loyal followers.

Working to a deadline
Working at high speed is energising and in keeping with the digital world. It’s about being adaptable, but also prioritising working to a high standard. Our designs for The Couture Club went from concept to concrete in just a few days, meaning they could be presented, costed and signed off within a week. Ultimately this allowed trading to begin within a month.

This swift turn around wouldn't be impossible for a permanent store. Due to their unique style, pop-ups are a fast and effective way to adapt to changing customer needs and shopper trends and enables ideas to be instantly tested with shoppers, so responses can be incorporated into development.

Make room for experimentation
Traditional marketing approaches can often be a slow process for a pop-up, which is why social media channels can be utilised to encourage the buzz around the brand. The Couture Club’s owners wanted to experiment with ways to create immediate engagement, whilst entwining both the digital and the physical. They both felt that sharing work-in-progress footage of The Couture Club’s first retail store on Instagram would catch and keep the attention of their fans, accentuating the potential further engagement physical retail can generate.

Priceless customer experiences
The Couture Club has grown spontaneously, collaboratively and rapidly – showing the benefits that other companies could gain through investing in pop-up moments. What was originally a tactical or niche response by brands has become an invaluable way to deliver future retail experiences and should start to form part of every brand’s retail strategy.


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