Once You Pop, You [Shouldn’t] Stop

An interview with Pop-up architect Melissa Gonzalez of The Lions’esque Group

“Once you pop, you don’t stop.”  Sure, that’s the Pringles slogan, but it’s also the [unofficial] motto of pop-up shop dynamos everywhere.

It’s no secret that retail is undergoing an evolution of sorts, as the continued shift to digital is resulting in less foot traffic to brick and mortar locations. Naturally, this is a bit of a sticky wicket for brands that have multiple physical locations. But this “problem” has a solution, and the remedy comes in the form of pop-up shops.

Pop-up shops are becoming increasingly popular due to the aforementioned declining state of retail in brick and mortar locations. The retail bubble, much like the real estate bubble that burst in 2006, has popped. This is evidenced by the some 3,000 stores that have closed in Q1 of 2017 alone, more than double the amount of locations that ceased operations in Q1 of 2016. These figures have led Credit Suisse to estimate that upwards of 8,600 stores will close in 2017, almost 25% more than 2016.

CS square footage

Even more telling is the fact that, on a square footage basis, nearly 50 million square feet of retail space has closed YTD. If this trend continues, the yearly footage reductions would total roughly 150 million square feet, an all-time high that would surpass the historical peak of 115M recorded in 2001. Even locations on NYC’s prestigious Fifth Avenue are experiencing an increase in vacancy rates, and the reason is pretty simple: “[Rents] are at a price point now that exceeds what retail sales can perform,” explains Spencer Levy, global head of research for CBRE.

The retail bubble left a void that was quickly filled up by eCommerce. But this migration to digital was always going to be unavoidable. It’s simply evolution and technology doing what they do best. But the question remains – what does this transition mean for the future of brick and mortar retail?

Enter the Pop-Up Shop — defined as a “temporary use of physical space to create a long term, lasting impression with potential customers.”

We spoke to pop-up architect Melissa Gonzalez, founder of Lions’esque Group — an experiential marketing firm that specializes in unique pop-up experiences. She filled us in on the crucial role pop-up shops play in our increasingly digital world.

“You can’t fully ignite all 5 senses when selling online or via mobile; but you can in-store. You can educate and connect with customers on a deeper level and immerse them into the lifestyle and promise of your brand.”

This presents a unique opportunity for retailers, who are witnessing first-hand that brick and mortar locations are no longer the shopping destinations they once were. As technology has changed, so too have consumer expectations. Today, as opposed to product destinations — which are available to us online — shoppers are looking for experiences.

Take for example the Glade Museum of Feeling pop-up shop, “an interactive experience built to showcase the beautiful connection between scent and emotion… where Glade® fragrances act as the muse to inspire visitors to explore their emotions.”

inside Glade's pop-up location[Photo by Pinky Guest, The Village Voice]

The difference between the Glade pop-up shop and the typical experience shopping for Glade products in store lies in the experience.

The new challenge for brands today lies in identifying how they can best use physical space they already have to create experiences that represent their products and services. Equally important, if not more paramount, is the need for brands to understand the multiple purposes their brick and mortar locations serve.

Angela Ahrendts, SVP of retail at Apple, says that Apple locations are being rebranded as “communities” instead of “stores,” with employees being more service-focused and education-oriented.This is very much in line with the way Melissa approaches physical retail locations, as she explains that, “it’s about building mind share, not market share.”

“This is powerful because if you approach it with the mind share being your mission, then market share will organically follow. Furthermore, we can click to buy anywhere today, so brands need to differentiate themselves among ‘the noise.’” She continues.

Standing out in a crowded competitive landscape is imperative today, especially considering loyalty is labeled as “dead” and younger generations find it difficult to trust brands. As such, it’s increasingly important to deliver new and unique experiences that build not only trust, but enthusiasm.

In fact, according to Ms. Gonzalez, “Customer service is one of the most important ways a brand can build relationships with their customers and differentiate themselves.” When you treat your customers well and provide them unique and seamless experiences, you’ll forge lasting relationships and establish a positive brand identity.

So, as brick and mortar becomes a diluted channel that needs to reevaluate its structure, pop-ups can take advantage of the semi-void left by fleeing retailers. However, one should tread carefully when speaking to the future of retail, as absolutely nothing is set in stone.

“The retail format will continue to shift in multiple ways,” Melissa explains. “The footprint will be smaller due to technology integration; the methodology to space will continue to evolve – ie: mix of properties that serve as distribution centers and showrooms; spaces leased as revolving storefronts will become more commonplace. . .”

Ultimately, these consumer-initiated shifts are unavoidable. And if brands don’t keep pace, they’ll be left in the dust. It all boils down to creating consumer-centric marketing strategies, constructed through the lens of the customer – regardless of whether that customer is looking through Google Glass or Snapchat Spectacles. It’s up to the brands to find the void in their customer experiences and fill it accordingly.

Today it’s pop-up shops, tomorrow it’s virtual reality. It’s just a matter of keeping up.