Big Brands Create Interactive Pop-Up Shops & Elevated Retail Experiences with Digital Technology

Retailers big and small are delighting in the buzz of the pop-up shop.

The first pop-up shop – which debuted in 1997 in one of the shopping capitals of the world, Los Angeles – launched a new wave of guerilla marketing and retail mash-ups in the form of the Ritual Expo; a “hipster mall” that welcomed major brands to participate in a one-day-only sales blitz. Five years later, Target set up shop in a long-boat on the Hudson River for two weeks, pioneering the pop-up craze and paving a path towards what is now known as the “retail apocalypse”.

This impending and unforeseen commerce catastrophe has been crumbling businesses from the inside out ever since online retailing took off at the turn of the century, giving the nod to the rise of e-commerce (notably Amazon and eBay) and consumers shifting their spending habits.

This modification in spending preferences led to the inevitable apocalypse, sending big-box retailers like Sears and Toys “R” Us to the goods and services graveyard. Soon, other stores that have recently filed for bankruptcy, including American Apparel, Claire’s, True Religion, Payless, and BCBG Max Azria, to name a small handful, will reside next to those big-box graves.

To offset the challenges that retailers have faced in the last decade, brands have had to either reinvent themselves or think outside of the “brick and mortar” big-box mindset, turning to the fashionable, trendy, and temporary solution of the pop-up shop, giving many failing brands a shot at a revival.

Pop-Up-ShopEverybody Is Popping Up

Big names in retail like Nordstrom and Kotex have all embraced the thrill of popping up unannounced to push product but we have also seen small Mom and Pop businesses embrace the spirit that is pint-sized boutiques.

Brands like Birchbox and Warby Parker – the rapidly-growing eyewear retailer – both started selling their products online, but started playing the pop-up shop game to elevate their brand and connect more with their customers in person. This real-life connection gave those who were “popping in” the excitement of holding something tangible in their hands while also providing them with buzz-worthy content to talk about online.

Even unexpected brands are choosing to pop up to create buzz around their marketing efforts. For example, an ad agency, Solve, hosted the “5 Minute Internship” pop-up office. Netflix led a coffee frenzy all over North America by opening Luke’s Diner pop-ups to promote the Gilmore Girls revival. Obscure colour brand, Pantone, randomly got in on the pop-up craze by opening the Pantone Cafe in Europe; a cafe that uses branded colours to sell everything from eclairs and juice, pushing the phrase, “taste the color.”

One of the primary delights of hosting a pop-up is the fact that they’re short-lived, providing a sense of urgency for experience-seeking consumers and an opportunity for businesses to garner PR and learn more about their customers, market, and brand. However, the new retail model that is the pop-up certainly won’t be temporary.

Mohamed Haouache, the CEO of Storefront – a business built around the need for renting out spaces for pop-ups – says that the shopping industry is experiencing a “retail mutation,” stating that experiences are the new form of currency.

Pop-Up-RetailThe Digital Landscape Is Working In Tandem With Pop-Ups

While retailers are undergoing the apocalypse, everyone from consumers to business owners are experiencing another impactful transformation in the form of the digital revolution. The revolution that catapulted digital technology into the homes and hands of everyone gave consumers the power of the Internet, the portability of the smartphone, and the ability to shop for anything from anywhere.

This rise of digital technology quickly grew the e-commerce industry, but as fast as brands were adding shopping cart icons to their websites, pop-up shops were following closely behind. Combining the consumer preferences of being able to browse and compare products online with the thrill of experiencing a brand in person, the pop-up shop blends the best of both worlds, bringing new harmony to modern shopping and building a harmonious marriage between pixels and product.

Since digital technology has made such an impact on the way we shop – not only changing the landscape but changing the way we browse, pay, and ship goods – it was only natural and expected that tech would weave itself into the pop-up scene, well beyond its online mirroring.

Pop-up shops are fleeting, which means that the set-up and take-down of the physical storefront need to be as painless as possible. Technology is a big part of making this work. It also helps with reaching other business goals, such as promoting the experience, capturing sales leads, increasing foot traffic, and building a loyal clientele.

For example, on-site touchscreen panels can sizably elevate your pop-up experience and make it more interactive. Customers can use them to browse product options, sign-up for emails, reserve and pay for items, or follow your brand on social media. Business owners can use them to process payments, monitor inventory, and quickly engage with customers. You can even prompt in-store visitors to provide their contact info in return for coupons, samples, or other incentives.

While touchscreens are only one piece of the digital-assisted pop-up puzzle, options such as mobile, web, and cloud-based apps, social media campaigns, responsive and engaging touch-points, and the Internet of Things have all contributed to the short-term event that is a successful pop-up shop.


Popping Up is So Mod

One success story of a digital brand finding success with pop-ups is ModCloth; the vintage-inspired clothing brand that got their start online. From the beginning, they engaged with their loyal following through MySpace, asking them about their opinions and preferences and getting them to vote on the styles they wanted to buy. Since then, the brand kicked-up their online-exclusive retail model to launch an app called “Fit For Me,” encouraging users to browse through the clothing that work with their body types. In 2015, they started touring the United States to open their “IRL” – an acronym that stands for “in real life” – pop-ups with personal stylists and shoppers, providing one-on-one consultations to browse for and order clothing from a mobile device, providing what they called a “social shopping experience”. The success of the tech-supported pop-up skyrocketed the brand’s success, leading to their first ever permanent storefront in Austin.

Major fashion retailer, Marc Jacobs, popped-up their Tweet Shop in London and New York City to promote their Daisy fragrance and embraced “social currency” as a form of payment. In return for tweets, photos, and mentions, customers were gifted with free branded swag, while also entering them into larger contests to win items like handbags and jewellery. The pop-up event went even further by offering more experiences to their customers, providing on-site manicures and a selfie station, once again proving that the act of blending digital with physical is rewarding for both retailers and their clientele.

Pop-Up-ExperienceThe Pitch for Pop-ups

Not only are pop-up shops trendy, but they’re also cost-efficient. Reducing overhead costs like leasing, utilities, Internet and telephone connections, and payment processing technology, pop-uppers can cut all of that for one small fee to make quick sales, create brand hype, and learn valuable information about their clients, market, and responsiveness of entering a new city or neighbourhood.

New retailers benefit from the additional foot traffic, sales, and building their brand, whereas the big dogs in retail can also benefit from its ability to act as a testing ground for new products, presentations and aesthetic ideas for product branding, and to integrate with other campaigns to create Instagram-worthy experiences beyond their stagnant storefronts.

Whether you’re a small business or a large corporation, pop-up shops create possibilities by attracting PR, making in-person connections, and leaving a mark on your industry. With the right technology being toted alongside pop-up decor and products, retailers will achieve the sweet spot of balancing tangible with digital.

Want to learn more about pop-up shops and the technology needed to make a newsworthy debut? Our team at Iversoft have the skills to conceptualize, program, and launch your custom tech solution, while our digital services team gets to work on marketing and building hype around your pop-up event. Reach out today to and get excited about elevating your retail experience.

Tagged with: Trends, Technology, Business, shopping, shopper experience, Connected Retail

Shawna Tregunna
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Shawna Tregunna

Director of Digital Marketing Services