What Is a Pop-Up Shop? Your Guide to This Retail Trend

Deirdre O'Donoghue
Deirdre O'Donoghue  |  July 16, 2019

There’s something special about the experience you get in-store.

Brick-and-mortar is still alive and well. Sure, online shopping can be convenient, but only 14.3% of total retail sales are represented by e-commerce. However, with the e-commerce industries’ rapid growth it can be difficult to justify the cost and commitment of opening a physical store.

Pop-up shops are most common in big cities because of the high volume of foot traffic. Now that you’re aware of their existence it’s going to seem like they’re everywhere if you’re walking around New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, or London.

Until then, I’m here to give you all of the information you need to start your very own pop-up shop. If you’re here for some specifics, feel free to use the links below to jump ahead.

What is a pop-up shop?

A pop-up shop is essentially a marketing strategy put forth by an e-commerce website to increase awareness and drive sales in a more direct manner. While pop-ups can look like any run-of-the-mill retail store, companies usually take this opportunity to make their pop-up shop a distinctive experience.

Aside from a marketing tool, pop-up shops are used to determine if it will be worth it for an e-commerce company to invest in brick-and-mortar stores. If their offline sales are through the roof, they might have reason to consider investing in a permanent store location.

There are several types of pop-up shops. Before you jump into planning, determine what type of pop-up shop will work for you. 

types of pop-up shops

You can choose one of the above, or combine them into a pop-up store that best serves your brand’s needs.

How to organize a pop-up shop

There are many working parts within a pop-up shop. Depending on your vision, you may need to hire an experiential agency to make the experience exactly what you imagine.

Things like experiential agencies make the process easier, and software like retail management systems combine several useful tools to assist in running a retail store.

See the Highest-Rated Retail Management Systems, Free →

Now let’s cover some of the imperative things you do before opening your pop-up shop.

Cost of a pop-up shop

Of course, prices vary when totaling the cost of a pop-up shop. You need to consider the following when estimating the cost:

  • Rent
  • Licenses, permits, and insurance
  • Maintenance and design
  • Employees
  • Store hardware and software
  • Marketing and advertising
  • Shipping and logistics

The shorter duration of the pop-up, the lower the price. The type of pop-up can also affect the price. A sponsored event will be in-part paid for, while an experiential pop-up will be entirely out-of-pocket costs for the shop.

Since the shop is only temporary, try to cut prices with the design and in-store hardware since it doesn’t have to withstand wear and tear.

TIP: Don’t skimp on software that makes your shop more functional, such as retail POS (point of sale). This software provides easy-to-use tools for employees and customers while completing transactions.

See the Easiest-to-Use Retail POS System →

Picking the perfect pop-up shop location

Location, location, location.

This may be the most important decision you make for your pop-up shop. You need to ensure the area you choose has a high volume of foot traffic while aligning with the vibe of your brand.

You wouldn’t put a parka pop-up in Miami, and you wouldn’t put a swimwear pop-up during a Chicago winter. A good way to pick the right place is to determine where your customers already are. These are your biggest brand ambassadors and they will spread the news more effectively than any marketing team could do.

Once you narrow down your location or locations for the pop-up shop, you can pick a space. Choose from a pop-in store within a bigger retailer, a vacant storefront with temporary leases available, a mall, or even consider doing mobile pop-ups so you can take your store wherever you need.

Pop-up shop licensing

This often forgotten part of organizing your pop-up shop will ensure you are legally operating.

Licenses and permits differ per location, but generally speaking, you will need a license to sell and occupy a space, and a business permit. If you’re selling any food or alcohol then you’ll need to investigate the plethora of permits required for that.

Lastly, you’ll need business or commercial insurance to protect your physical store, the goods inside as well as your employees.

Pop-up shop benefits

The end goal of a pop-up shop is sales. Money is the oil that keeps the machine going, but there are some other noteworthy benefits of opening a pop-up shop.

Customer interaction

People want sensory experiences. It’s hard to trust, let alone buy, something you can’t touch or sample. Yes, e-commerce is convenient, but only after you know and trust a brand.

Pop-up shops provide an opportunity for you to engage with your shoppers. If you provide them with a memorable experience, they’ll come back for more and hopefully become brand advocates. Look into environmental graphic design options to make your pop-up store really pop.

The look and feel of the space is only half of it. Be sure to train your employees to provide exceptional customer service.

Brand awareness

If you make a buzzworthy shop, there will be lines down the block waiting to experience your pop-up. Generate media coverage through pitching to news publications in the area.

Going offline is a surefire way to gain media attention. Another way is through making it a shareable experience. Encourage people to take photos, tag you, and share them. Maybe even make an Instagram or learn how to create a Snapchat filter to further your reach.

Increase sales

Not only is a pop-up shop a good test for new markets, but it’s also an opportunity to take advantage of the large retail market that is still offline.

Who knows? Maybe your shop is meant to be offline. Test it here while increasing sales.

Cheaper

It’s much cheaper to open a pop-up shop than a traditional storefront, simply due to the shorter length of operations.

Best pop-up shop examples

Confession time: I am a pop-up shop fangirl. In that spirit, I’ve decided to give you a list of the best pop-up shops that I’ve actually attended.

Because pop-up shops are all about the experience, take it from someone who’s been there, done that.

Mejuri

This jewelry brand had a 2-week pop-up shop in Chicago this spring featuring a very simple, yet chic showroom. What made this pop-up special? A piercing studio. How cool is that? You could get your ears pierced on the spot and walk out rocking your hip new pair of earrings.

Mejuri pop-up shopSource: Moda Chicago

Tovala

Yum. This Chicago-based brand brought their smart oven to a pop-up store, providing entire meals to customers for free. People love free stuff, so this was definitely a hit and gave you a taste of what it’d be like to buy one of their smart ovens.

Tovala pop-up shopSource: Medium

Glossier

Walking into a Glossier pop-up makes you feel like the trendiest basic chic in the game. Glossier is an e-commerce cosmetics brand that provides an Instagrammable experience through their pop-up shop.

glossier pop-up shopSource: Glossier

Parachute

Parachute opened a pop-up during the 2018 holiday season to boost sales, and it worked. This bedding, bath, and homeware store partnered with a malaria-prevention foundation and donated a portion of sales to the cause. Parachute also provided free monogramming on site.

parachute pop-up shopSource: Patch

Clare V.

The Clare V. pop-up shop provided a different experience from the white and millennial pinks you typically experience in stores. This handbag and accessory brand featured products from other local brands throughout the pop-up shop you could buy, like art and furniture, making it a truly holistic and authentic experience.

Clare V. pop-up shop Source: Clare V. 

Pop quiz

Are you ready to open your very own pop-up shop? Be true to your brand and focus on the customer experience and your pop-up shop will be a success.

Amazon is always one step ahead of the retail game. Learn more about Amazon Go stores and the future of retail.

Deirdre O'Donoghue
Author

Deirdre O'Donoghue

Deirdre O’Donoghue is a Senior Content Marketing Specialist at G2. She brings her passion for research and creativity to her writing. In her free time you can find Deirdre fostering puppies or exploring the Chicago foodie scene.