New technology and digital experience make temporary retail stores really pop

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Shoppers took tutorials and practiced using Adobe's software at a two-week pop-up shop
Shoppers took tutorials and practiced using Adobe's software at a two-week pop-up shop

When LIDS Sports Group launched a pop-up store for Super Bowl XLVI, it followed a popular sports maxim: Go big or go home.

The sports apparel company leveraged the fact that the game was in its headquarter's city, Indianapolis, when it opened a 25,000-square-foot temporary store that saw one million shoppers come through in 10 days. The store housed a video game area where shoppers could play on huge screens and an interactive area with Fathead oversized posters that let shoppers take pictures of themselves with their favorite player, then upload it to Twitter or Facebook.

“We definitely raised the bar with this one,” said John DeWaal, director of marketing at LIDS. “We wanted to make sure we made it an experience.”

Marketers are elevating their pop-up store strategy, as the concept of the temporary store matures. The tactic is evolving into a more sophisticated experience, partly thanks to new technology like interactive displays and mobile shopping.

“This is not: ‘Let's put [up] a glass wall and show the product.' It's: ‘Let's open the glass wall and let people experience what the product is like,'” explains Susan Liao, VP of digital solutions at MKTG INC. The agency created a two week pop-up store for Adobe Systems last year to promote the Photoshop brand, offering shoppers tutorials and product demos.

Pop-ups now need to provide a compelling user experience, something different from what shoppers get online, Liao says. “If you're not keeping up with technology in your store, they will just whip out their phone and do the research on their own.”

Retailers can't just replicate the product and store experience in the pop-up any more; they need to offer something extra, agrees Doug Stephens, president of retail consultants Retail Prophet.

“As the novelty of pop-up wanes, the quality of the design and experience will become increasingly important,” Stephens says.

When the pop-up store first gained popularity a decade ago, it was seen as a novelty vehicle for introducing new concepts. Target pioneered the concept with a holiday shop on a barge anchored off New York's Chelsea Piers in 2001, and eBay used it to promote its fashion offerings and shed its flea market image.

As the concept has matured, pop-ups have added high tech features. When eBay opened pop-up stores during the last holiday season in several cities, shoppers could scan quick response (QR) codes to order items on their mobile devices. In New York and San Francisco, shoppers could interact with the storefront via QR codes.

Target added social media elements to its recent promotions, such as the Missoni tie-in, which included a popup store and live blogging from New York's Fashion Week.

There is no specific formula for a pop-up, but Target picks what makes sense for a collection, says Target spokesman Joshua Thomas.

“With the advent of social media, we do look for opportunities to extend the life and reach of our activation so consumers around the country can get in on the fun,” he says.

It's not that shoppers are becoming blasé about pop-ups, these marketing experts say. But the same pressures to engage time-pressed shoppers that pervade all of retail are alive in pop-ups, too.

“The main trend that is driving all shopping locations is ‘anytime, anywhere,'” says Michael Brown, partner in consultant A.T. Kearney's consumer retail practice.

New technologies allow for new types of pop-ups, Brown explains. For example, Toys “R” Us put holiday 2011 billboards in airports where travelers could scan QR codes and order toys to be delivered to their homes. Brown also notes that U.K. supermarket chain Tesco tested a virtual pop-up in Korea that let subway commuters scan QR codes on wall murals made to look like store shelves and have the groceries delivered directly to their home.

New technologies such as near-frequency communications (NEG) and radio-frequency identification (RFI) offer additional opportunities for multichannel retailers to personalize pop-ups when shoppers walk into the store — or just nearby, marketers say.

As more shoppers adopt smartphone and tablet technology, the pop-ups will continue to evolve and bridge the gap between brick-and-mortar and digital experiences, Stephens says. He notes Nike has tested a virtual popup in two locations in New York and California for its Airwalk brand; it used an augmented reality app that let shoppers at those spots capture a limited-edition pair of shoes and order it on their phones.

“I foresee a day when Fifth Avenue, Michigan Avenue and other high traffic shopping zones will have virtual stores on them as well,” he says.

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