Ten years ago, pop-up shops were wholly considered a passing trend. Yet nearly a decade after Comme Des Garçons designer Rei Kawakubo launched her “guerrilla” stores in cities across Europe, the concept is still going strong.
That’s mostly thanks to the influx of retail brands rooted in e-commerce, which use temporary locations as a way to reach brick-and-mortar audiences. Yet their approaches vary drastically.
Zady, the socially conscious e-commerce site that launched in Aug. 2013, decided on NYC’s LaGuardia Airport as the location for its first-ever pop-up shop, which opened Tuesday and will run through Jan. 4, 2014.
“It was an enticing opportunity,” Zady co-founder Soraya Darabi tells us. “It’s in the Delta terminal, which has a ton of foot traffic.”
There’s not only a lot of foot traffic but also a captive audience, many of whom will undoubtedly be in search of last-minute Christmas gifts. What’s more, an airport automatically sets a brand up for exposure to a different sort of shopper, one that a pop-up shop in a trendy spot like New York’s Meatpacking District might not.
“Online, it’s more of a self-selecting audience,” says Darabi. “Here, we’re crossing paths with all sorts of people with a fresh point of view.” A NYC marathoner, for instance, has already purchased from the Zady shop a book about Manhattan as a souvenir of his run.
BaubleBar, an affordable jewelry site that has already hosted two NYC pop-ups over the last year and a half, has two more pop-up concepts in the works. In the coming months, the company will debut one pop-up shop for holiday shopping, the other in time for resort collections. (Other details are still top-secret, although the company will say that one of the projects is not happening in New York, the city favored by most brands when it comes to temporary retail.)
For BaubleBar, pop-up shops have become more than a way to market to a brick-and-mortar audience — they’ve become a driver of sales. “After people have the opportunity to touch and feel the product, they’re definitely more likely to shop on the site,” says Julia Straus, Bauble Bar’s director of partnerships. “It’s become about customer acquisition.”
The company refuses to share specific customer acquisition figures, so it’s difficult to determine from the outside how successful these projects have been. However, it they must be at least moderately successful, given BaubleBar’s desire to take more on.
For Indochino, the Vancouver, BC-based maker of made-to-measure suits, its “Traveling Tailor” concept was simply a reaction to the needs of a predominantly male customer. After all, buying a custom suit — even when it can be done efficiently online — is something that many men still prefer to do in person.
“The business is designed [so] that you and a buddy can measure at home in 10 to 15 minutes,” says Indochino CEO Kyle Vucko, who co-founded the company in 2007. “But there is a group of guys who like the convenience of pre-booking an appointment, getting measured, swiping [their] cards and heading out the door.”
For those who might not be so sure about what style of suit they actually want to buy, it’s even more important. “It’s a safe place where guys can ask seemingly silly questions about fashion,” Vucko says.
Indochino held its first Traveling Tailor pop-up at the end of 2011. In 2013, there will be 12 pop-ups in cities across the U.S. and Canada, and that number is set to double in 2014.
Not every brand is using pop-ups to increase awareness — or even sales. At least directly. Everlane, the vertically integrated maker of high-quality basics, hosted a traditional pop-up in New York’s Meatpacking District over the 2012 holiday season. This year, however, its “Secret Garden,” which is open Nov. 7 to 16 in an undisclosed NYC collection, will only welcome 20 invited guests at a time. They’ll get to view the brand’s new Black Collection, which features pieces made in the same factories that luxury brands use. The invite list consists of editors and influencers, but more importantly, it includes many of Everlane’s top customers.
“We pay a lot of attention to our customers, so we chose to invite evangelizers of the brand,” says Everlane founder and CEO Michael Preysman. The hope is that those who are afforded the chance to experience this intimate event will continue to spread word in the digital world. “We want to put our resources and energy into making the best possible experience online,” he says. “Physical events are less about sales for us, and more about connecting.”
Regardless of how they’re using pop-up shops, brands seem to be convinced that they are a necessity, particularly during the holiday season. Christina Norsig, founder of PopUpInsider, a company that hooks brands up with temporary real estate, sees pop-up shops not only becoming more necessary, but also more driven by technology.
“The Kate Spade Saturday pop-up windows reflected the future to me,” Norsia says of the spin-off brand’s temporary Manhattan windows, where shoppers could order what was in the windows via touchscreens and have it delivered to their doors that same day. “It blurred the lines between retail and e-commerce.”