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What You Need to Open a Pop-Up Shop This Holiday Season

14 min read

Nike is doing it.

So is Toys “R” Us.

Even online-only brands like Bonobos are jumping into the fray.

We’re talking about running pop-up shops, those tiny retail “stores” that offer a sample of your brand’s products.

Pop-up shops used to be limited to small brands in suburban malls and farmers’ markets. You’d see them “pop up” in a small corner of the local mall, sell you some trinkets and wrap up the operation within weeks.

This has changed radically in the last few years. Pop-up shops are now a $10 billion business in the US alone. Big brands like Nordstorm and Best Buy have jumped in, offering customers a new shopping experience outside their bigger stores.

Adidas pop up store

Adidas pop-up store, pictured by www.neatorama.com

Can your e-commerce operation benefit from a pop-up shop this holiday season? If yes, what do you need to set up your own pop-up store?

Read on to find out!

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The Rise of Pop-Up Shops

In the US, pop-up stores have quickly ballooned to become a $10 billion industry (food trucks, in contrast, are just a $1 billion market). Across the pond in the UK, telecom company EE estimates that there will be 3.4 million new pop-up shops over the next two years.

Why are entrepreneurs and retailers, big and small alike, so keen on pop-ups?

There are three reasons:

  • Low cost:pop-up shop only costs 1/5th of what it would cost to run that store at full scale. This low cost is particularly attractive to entrepreneurs who want to test out new ideas.
  • Experiment easily: Pop-up shops allow retailers to experiment with new experiences. Instead of creating a store from scratch, a retailer can test out a new idea and see if it sticks without having to make a high-impact commitment.
  • Business marketing:pop-up shop puts your business right in front of your customers. This is great for increasing brand visibility.

According to Melissa Gonzalez, author of The Pop-up Paradigm, a pop-up shop adds a “human” element to your brand marketing. Instead of a conventional store, it helps you interact directly with customers, which is of course a necessary ingredient for success in our intimate, social-first world.

Before you can start you own pop-up shop, however, it helps to first understand the key goals you should have for your pop-up store.

Related: Think Local: Corktown Soap’s Journey From the Beginning to 70+ Pop-Ups in a Year

Key Goals for a Pop-up Shop

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a new startup or an established brand—your pop-up shop must meet at least one of these goals:

Increase brand awareness

Bonobos, the popular online-only men’s clothing retailer wanted to expand its footprint in the physical world. Instead of renting out expensive retail space, Bonobos put up a pop-up shop in its office building manned by two salespeople.

Within a year, the two salespeople brought in $250,000 worth of business by themselves, mostly from customers who had never heard of Bonobos.

This is one of the core goals of any pop-up shop: to expand your brand’s reach to new customers and engage them on a personal level.

Test new markets

A street fashion and surf wear line from Southern California called “After Eleven” wanted to expand into San Francisco, except there was a problem: San Francisco is noticeably colder than LA.

Instead of spending thousands of dollars to put up a complete store, After Eleven decided to test the San Francisco market by putting up a pop-up shop at online retailer Storenvy. This helped them gauge demand and alter their retail strategy for their new market accordingly.

Engage customers

A child apparel line called “Little Vida” often sets up pop-up shops in malls with lots of kid activities like games, music, and face painting. While the shop keeps kids busy and happy, the brand wins over their parents, who are of course happy to have some free time on their hands to finish their shopping in peace.

This is another key goal of any pop-up shop: to engage customers at a personal level. By offering rewards, games, and other activities, you can often get them to be a part of your brand experience, and that’s marketing that will leave a lasting impression.

Generate revenue

Last, but not the least, running a pop-up shop is a credible way to generate revenue. This is particularly important for small startups that need constant cash flow to keep the lights on.

When done well, a pop-up shop can also drive revenue through user sign-ups. ZipCar, a car rental company, opened a pop-up shop in Harrington Galleries, San Francisco. Its only goal was to give out $30 coupons to potential customers, who could either use this $30 as a driving credit or join its membership program, both of which directly drove revenue for the company.

Now that we’ve got these essential metrics out of the way, let’s take a look at everything you need to start a pop-up shop this holiday season.

Things You Need to Create a Pop-up Shop for the Holidays

Opening a pop-up shop is decidedly less work than starting a standalone retail store (another major advantage to this type of lower-impact storefront). That said, there are still a number of things you need to take care of before you start a store for the holidays.

A budget

Pop-up shops are designed to be cost-effective. Creating and sticking to a budget will go a long way in ensuring that you don’t spend more than you can afford.

Some of the things you should account for in your budget are:

  • Furniture
  • Merchandising fixtures
  • Lighting
  • Inventory
  • Marketing and promotion
  • Rent
  • Utilities

Depending on the size and features of your shop, and the duration you set it up for, you might also have to arrange for:

  • Checkout counter
  • Window display props
  • Internet
  • Insurance
  • Paint
  • POS
  • Credit card fees

Besides this, you’ll also need to budget for food and drinks for both salespeople and guests.

A shop location

If you are just starting out, a store or a booth within a larger shopping center or mall that complements your brand is the best way to reach out to your target demographics. The foot traffic and credibility of such spaces can bring the right kind of exposure to your brand.

A viable alternative is to keep an eye out for vacant commercial property in street-level retail markets, then set up your shop there.

You can also check out upcoming events in your area and choose to be part of galleries and events that match your business area. Minimalistic set-ups and open-concept floors are great for high-end fashion lines and jewellery brands to show off their elegance.

There are a couple of online services that help you find pop-up shop space. Some of these are:

While there are a number of things you’ll need to factor in when deciding on a location, existing foot traffic and presence of other prominent brands are most important.

It’s also a good idea to figure out your target customers’ demographics. At the very least, you should know their:

You also need to target your customers well. It’s a good idea to know their exact demographics, including their:

  • Age group
  • Gender
  • Income level
  • Education level
  • Areas where they might be living
  • Type of occupation
  • Relationship status
  • Ethnicity
  • Interests & hobbies.

This will help you find a shop location that matches your target demographics. For example, if you’re targeting baby boomers, a space at the local mall between Abercrombie & Fitch and Forever21 won’t really help you get the foot traffic you need.

Interior design and visual merchandising

Remember that your pop-up shop is essentially an exercise in experience marketing.

This is why a large part of your budget should go towards your interior design and visual merchandising.

When you are positioning your pop-up shop, you need to answer these questions:

  • What is your store? What brand message do you want your customers to know?
  • How you are different from your competitors?
  • Why are you in this business and how can you make a difference to your customer?
  • Which colors, words, values, and logo you want to be associated with your company?
  • What values do you want to convey to the customer? Are you fun and youthful? Graceful and mature?

Once you know these two things, you will have better insights into how you want your pop-up shop to look; what kind of wall, floor, and ceiling treatments you’ll need to implement, the lighting and fixtures to install, the shelves and display props to use to make the customer’s experience a fulfilling one.

When you’ve decided these elements, it’s time to design the actual shop. Typically, a pop-up shop has a:

  • Decompressing zone: The first 5-15 feet of space in your store. This is the first impression of your shop on the visitors where they decide whether you are cheap or expensive, organized or shabby, and so on.
  • The power wall: The wall to the right of your store. This is the wall where you position your best products or arrange things that you want to highlight.
  • The pathway: Most visitors turn right when they enter a store. Hence, this is where the pathway to your entire store should have its entry point. You can employ a circular path to take your visitors to the back of your aisle and direct them back to the front door. You can put bright, attention-grabbing displays here and there to catch the visitors’ eyes and create “speed bumps” in areas where you want them to spend more time.
  • Cash wrap zone: It is usually placed at the end of the pathway or to the left side of the store. This is where customers pay for purchases.
  • Customer’s comfort zone: To make your visitors linger longer, make sure they are comfortable in your store. You may place comfy seats and chairs or allow them adequate space to stand. Looks can attract, but it is the actual experience of your store that will cinch deals for you.

A way to collect payments (and bring your online store offline)

The final step in the pop-up shop experience is to give customers a way to buy merchandise. Lugging an expensive, cumbersome POS system isn’t exactly the best idea.

Not only is it difficult to set up in a small, mobile space, but it also doesn’t tie your pop-up shop to your online store. For an e-commerce store, it is crucial that your offline store merge with your online presence. You ideally want customers to get a preview of your offerings in person, then head to your site to buy more. A smart way to do this is to use Ecwid POS integrations:

In the end, remember that while a pop-up shop can go a long way towards building a brand, you also need a strong push from your marketing. Reach out to the influencers in your niche, brainstorm on event programming, chalk out an effective media strategy, and use social media to make your efforts viral. If you execute the four steps above and complement them with a strong marketing strategy, you’ll have little trouble finding success.


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About the author

Jesse is the Marketing Manager at Ecwid and has been in e-commerce and internet marketing since 2006. He has experience with PPC, SEO, conversion optimization and loves to work with entrepreneurs to make their dreams a reality.

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