December 6, 2021

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Pop-Up Shop Ideas: Lessons From 16 Successful Shops to Help You Get Started

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Pop-up shops are a great way to get your products in front of new customers. They’re a low-investment business strategy to engage your customers, boost brand awareness, and get valuable feedback.

Launching a pop-up shop isn’t a straightforward task. There are hundreds of moving parts—including choosing a venue, promoting your shop, and evaluating its success

Sure, there are best practices for running a pop-up shop, but learning from others who’ve hosted successful pop-ups can be helpful as you launch your own.

We’ve compiled a list of 16 brands that got it right, plus a few creative ideas for pop-up shop newbies.

Table of Contents

Why launch a pop-up shop?

Connect with your customers in person

Today’s technology, such as chatbots, social media, and virtual appointments, enables retailers to connect with customers online. Yet nothing quite replaces the face-to-face customer relationship.

Pop-up shops let digitally native retailers meet and get to know their customers. Pop-up shops allow customers and fans to “put a face with the name,” through a tangible brand experience. 

Moreover, at pop-up shops, customers can test products and give real-time feedback on merchandising. 

Test new avenues for your brand

Perhaps you’ve been considering launching a brick-and-mortar location for your business. A pop-up shop is a perfect way to experiment with a potential expansion. 

Warby Parker is an ecommerce eyewear brand that initially tested physical retail through pop-up shops. Its experiment was so successful that the company opened several storefronts and now has nearly 90 retail locations.

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Maybe you’ve been tinkering with a new product line or with the prospect of targeting a new audience. Launching a pop-up shop can help you validate demand before you permanently invest. Pop-up shops also let you test new pricing, product bundles, and merchandising ideas.

Build brand buzz

Pop-up shops employ two powerful levers for your business: scarcity and word-of-mouth marketing.

The temporary nature of a pop-up encourages customers to stop by and shop. Market both the start and end dates of your pop-up to enhance the feeling of scarcity.

Pop-up shops can also double as content creation studios, where customers take photos and share content about your products. This user-generated content and referral marketing can build valuable buzz for otherwise “intangible” retail brands. 

Pop-up shop trends

More digitally native brands experimenting with retail

Retail space is cheap right now.

According to CRBE, commercial rent has dropped by as much as 37.5% in parts of popular retail areas like New York City.

Fewer consumers are spending their afternoons and weekends browsing stores, and a decline in tourism has affected major shopping hubs.

While this economic and behavioral change was concerning at first, many retailers are now excited to experiment with brick-and-mortar space.

Right now, in a post-COVID world, this is, historically, one of the best times to get into retail, in terms of the price points

Moreover, landlords and property management companies are also becoming less restrictive about short-term commercial leases for pop-up shops, widening the scope of possibility for retailers.

Digital ad costs rising

When asked “Which of the following do you expect will hinder your commerce team from achieving its goals?” 34% of brands reported “rising customer acquisition costs,” according to a commissioned Forrester Consulting study conducted on behalf of Shopify.

Ten years ago, it was much more affordable to connect with customers online versus paying rent for a storefront. Today, this isn’t the case. With rising digital ad costs, it’s pricey to acquire new online customers

In light of this, 32% of brands said they’d be establishing or expanding their use of pop-up and in-person experiences in the next year, while 31% said they planned on establishing or expanding their physical retail footprint.

Nowadays, pop-up shops may be the affordable way to snag new shoppers.

Consumers are hungry for in-person experiences

After 18 months of browsing from their couches, consumers are hungry for in-person experiences. Online shopping is convenient, but it’s not always fulfilling.

Pop-up shops provide customers a unique brand “event” to attend without requiring retailers to make a permanent commitment to brick-and-mortar.

According to a commissioned Forrester Consulting study conducted on behalf of Shopify, over the next year, 59% of consumers will likely look at a product online and buy in-store, and 54% will likely look at a product in-store and buy online (webrooming and showrooming, respectively).

Types of pop-up shops

Permanent pop-ups

Sometimes pop-up shops work so well that they become permanent fixtures. Permanent pop-ups result from experimental or short-term pop-ups that drive enough traffic and sales to justify the long-term cost.

Oakland-based Storefront (recently Popuphood) is a social enterprise and retail incubator. What started in 2011 as a way to bring more economic support to downtown Oakland has now become a nationwide effort to help retailers find footing in urban communities.

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Storefront operates a pop-up to permanent program that helps retailers locate pop-up venues to test temporary retail spaces and discover if brick-and-mortar is right for them.

Other brands, like Chicago Makers, opt for semi-permanent pop-ups. Co-owners Anna Romo and Monica Little launched their first pop-up during the 2020 holiday season. In early 2021, they started a semi-permanent site in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood. 

Transitioning to a permanent or semi-permanent model can also be the result of seller demand. 

The latest expansion was driven by a steady interest from local artisans and creatives eager to sell their wares.

Anna Romo, Co-owner of Chicago Makers

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Marketing event pop-ups

Brands often use pop-up shops as marketing events to generate buzz around a new product launch, rebranding campaign, or company announcement. 

According to the Event MB blog, “there’s a marketing component to all events, but few events are so uniquely positioned to cultivate word-of-mouth marketing [as pop-up events].” 

Similar to how you craft a marketing plan for your pop-up shop, your pop-up shop can also serve as a marketing strategy for your retail business. Launching a pop-up shop is as much a marketing strategy as a retail strategy. 

Seasonal pop-ups

Seasonal pop-up shops leverage seasonal characteristics to drive traffic and sales. The most common type of seasonal pop-up is the holiday pop-up shop. These shops tap into peak shopping season, which, for some businesses, accounts for one-third of their annual revenue

Chicago’s Chriskindlmarket is an example of a seasonal pop-up shop. Offered from mid-November through the end of each year, the Chriskindlmarket offers consumers an interactive holiday event featuring locally made goods from dozens of vendors to purchase as gifts.

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Experimental pop-ups

One of the main reasons that brands launch pop-up shops is to experiment with new products, markets, merchandising, or retail experiences. Experimental pop-ups typically deliver something slightly different than a business’ main offering so that business can gather valuable data around customer reactions and feedback.

If you’re considering expanding your ecommerce business into brick-and-mortar stores, launching a new product line, or pursuing a new target market, a pop-up shop may be the best way to run your experiment. 

Virtual pop-ups

Virtual pop-up shops offer your customers the opportunity to browse your products in a digital storefront. They allow your customers to virtually walk through your store and browse your products, similar to how they’d engage with your brand in person. 

Unlike a traditional ecommerce website, virtual pop-ups are an interactive, 360-degree shopping experience. 

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Pop-in stores

A pop-in store is a shop set up within an established store. Retailers typically rent a portion of a store or boutique as a place to sell their products. Launching a pop-in store markets your business to the shopping traffic of the larger store and helps you save money on rent and decor.

Plant Man P, a streetwear brand for those who love houseplants, recently hosted a pop-in store for its products at a New York location of The Sill. 

“We decided to do a t-shirt design reading ‘Plant Care Is Self Care’ in the infinity symbol layout, because we believe that plant care is self care and vice versa,” shares Plant Man P founder Jon.

“We love that we’re able to go out and meet people in the community and help out in any way we can, whether it’s plant care or self care and anything else in between.”

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Examples of pop-up shops

1. BarkShop Live

BarkShop is an online subscription box and pet gift store. It opened a pop-up shop called BarkShop Live in Manhattan’s Soho neighborhood and invited pet owners to bring their four-legged friends to “shop.”

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Once inside, the dogs were outfitted with tech-equipped vests that tracked their movements. An app provided insights on their dog’s toy preferences as well as a way to purchase items that would be shipped directly to their homes.

By treating the pop-up shop as a testing ground, BarkShop gathered valuable data about its products. The event also served as an experiment for future expansion into brick-and-mortar retail, tapping into the experiential marketing trend.

“To create really great experiences for dogs, we’ve realized that we need to create really good experiences for their humans, too,” Henrik Werdelin, co-founder of Bark & Co., told Digiday. “There aren’t too many cool things you can do with your dog right now, except maybe going for a walk or to the park.”

2. Birchbox

Beauty subscription brand Birchbox used the idea of a pop-up shop to test its brick-and-mortar concept. The retailer went on a national tour, visiting several cities across the United States, to let shoppers experience its brand in person.

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In addition to building their own box of makeup, customers could visit Try Bars, where they tested the latest beauty products and trends. They were also treated to manicures and astrology readings—activities that were an added incentive to visit the shop. After the success of its pop-up shop tour, Birchbox opened its first permanent location in New York’s Soho neighborhood.

3. Penguin

Penguin Living, the lifestyle division of Penguin Random House, set up a pop-up bookshop in London on International Women’s Day—leveraging the idea of seasonal pop-up shops.

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The sale offered titles by female writers, honoring “the way that women contribute, often under the radar, to every facet of society,” according to the company.

In addition to selling books, visitors attended workshops and author appearances. Proceeds from ticket sales were donated to Solace Women’s Aid, a charity that provides support to domestic violence survivors. Customers could also purchase books that were donated to nonprofits.

Penguin’s pop-up took advantage of the power of cause marketing. Nearly two-thirds of millennials and Gen Z express a preference for brands that have a point of view and stand for something, and 92% of customers have a more positive image of a company when the company supports a social or environmental issue, according to Canadian Business.

4. West Elm

Home decor retailer West Elm invited local business owners to set up pop-up shops in their stores on weekends. The opportunity, called West Elm Local, gave artisans a chance to expand their brand awareness and potentially their customer base.

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Paper artist Megan Alchowiak participated in five West Elm pop-up opportunities. She demonstrates her work, which makes her display intriguing. “My work is dimensional and hard to photograph,” she told Craft Industry Alliance. “Many people don’t know what paper quilling is. Once they see it, they purchase it immediately.”

Dallas illustrator Molly Lam used the West Elm pop-up opportunity to grow her following and build her email list. She leverages the retailer’s strong brand. “Ultimately, West Elm is giving you a free opportunity to talk to their customers,” she says.

5. IKEA Play Café

Furniture retailer IKEA has a café in its stores that serves its famous meatballs. It held a pop-up café in Toronto to spotlight its food, giving diners a chance to enjoy its meatballs, chicken balls, and veggie balls without trekking through the giant store.

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In addition to the dining experience, houseware products related to cooking, eating, and entertaining were also available to try out. “For us, it’s really about defying the conventions,” IKEA’s Corporate Press Officer Stephanie Harnett told the Toronto Star. “For the past two years we’ve had a really big focus on food, so life in and around the kitchen—the growing, the cooking, the storing and the entertaining, from a food perspective.”

6. Blamé

The YWCA leveraged the popularity of pop-up shops to draw attention to the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. It set up a boutique called Blamé that displayed women’s clothing. When guests read the product signs and price tags, however, they realized that the pop-up wasn’t about sales.

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One tag said: “She’s 16. Why was she that drunk where she doesn’t remember? It could have been much worse. She’s lucky.”

The pop-up was meant to draw attention to how victims of violence are treated. “Victim blaming is sometimes something that you stumble into. Normal, decent people could be in that role and just arrive there without thinking,” said Terry Drummond of Juniper Park\TBWA, the marketing firm that helped the YWCA create the event.

7. Kylie Cosmetics

Kylie Jenner teamed up with Shopify to take her cosmetics brand from ecommerce to IRL. The pop-up store in Los Angeles mall had a minimalistic design and included a replica of Kylie’s bedroom.

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Customers could use the selfie station and shop the wall of her famous lip kits. About 25,000 people came out to experience Kylie Cosmetics in person, and several products sold out.

The successful two-week event prompted Kylie Cosmetics to open seven pop-up locations across the country during the 2017 holiday season, with locations in New York, Las Vegas, Miami, Chicago, Atlanta, and Houston. This time, Jenner added two lip kits that were exclusive to the pop-up shop.

8. Leesa Dream Gallery

The online mattress-in-a-box retailer Leesa gave customers a chance to try its product in person. To make it memorable, the brand turned the experience into a statement by holding the pop-up shop in a SoHo gallery filled with art from ArtLifting, an online marketplace of works created by artists who were disabled or homeless.

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The Leesa Dream Gallery exhibited artwork that centered on the theme “Everybody has a dream: What’s yours?” The artwork was for sale as originals or prints. Leesa also offered a limited edition mattress that featured a cover inspired by one of the artists.

The event was billed as being a “no-pressure environment,” without pushy salespeople. Customers could lie down on the mattress or simply enjoy a cup of coffee and discover up-and-coming artists.

9. Pantone Café

During Paris Fashion Week, global color expert Pantone set up a pop-up event called Pantone Café, selling food in the same vivid shades as its colors. Shoppers could enjoy beverages, such as Jolly Green juice and espresso, and food that included éclairs and croissants, each labeled with a corresponding Pantone color number.

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The café was set up in a bright red shipping crate that was also reflective of a Pantone color (Monte Carlo red), and paper goods were printed in Pantone shades. By turning colors into food, Pantone Café let shoppers experience Pantone through a variety of senses.

10. Glossier

Glossier is a popular best-in-beauty brand that stemmed from Emily Weiss’s blog, Into the Gloss. The brand recently launched a pop-up shop in Boston’s Seaport neighborhood. (Seaport is well-known for The Current, a pop-up village that’s hosted the likes of Booty by Brabants, Studs, and Klayvio.)

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At its pop-up, the first for the brand in New England, Glossier dressed up nine shipping containers outfitted with the brand’s top-selling cosmetics and skincare products. Customers were able to sample new products and talk with Glossier consultants to learn more about how to choose and use the products.

11. Modify Watches

Modify Watches (now Custom Ink) launched its pop-up shop as a way to not only increase watch sales but also gather real-time customer feedback. The brand sold one product—watches—yet those watches came in more than 300 variations. The pop-up served as a way for the Modify Watches team to better understand how customer interests and tastes varied.

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At the pop-up, Modify Watches also showcased how it made its watches, giving customers a unique brand experience alongside the retail event.

12. ThredUp + Madewell

Madewell is a well-known retail brand with nationwide locations—likely the reason why online consignment and thrift store ThredUp teamed with it for a pop-up shop.

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The Brooklyn-based collab is a limited-time physical pop-up of the online Madewell Forever resale project that sources Madewell products from ThredUp’s second-hand stock.

This is a great example of a pop-up that benefits both brands: ThredUp saves on the cost of a physical store, and Madewell benefits from increased foot traffic from the pop-up. Moreover, the pop-up is a chance for both brands to promote their shared values: “To extend the life cycle of clothing and challenge the traditional structure of retail.”

13. Nike

Pop-up shops aren’t reserved for digital-only brands: companies like Nike, which has been a brick-and-mortar brand much longer than it’s served customers online, can also leverage the unique nature of pop-ups.

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In 2017, Nike popped up across four cities—New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Toronto—to celebrate Air Max Day. The pop-up showcased past and present Air Max models and gave attendees special access to new products, including customizable iD Air Maxes.

Although Nike stores are spread across the country, limited-time pop-ups like this leverage scarcity to help the brand drive more sales and build a loyal customer base.

14. The Street Store

The Street Store is a non-traditional pop-up shop: it’s a rent-free, premises-free pop-up where homeless people can shop for clothes donated by others. Moreover, anyone can host their own Street Store.

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The Street Store concept is a great example of cause marketing. By leveraging the pop-up concept, the brand can leverage volunteers to host events that serve homeless communities nationwide. 

15. Dolce & Gabbana

Pop-up shops go where the shoppers are, which is why luxury brand Dolce & Gabbana set up a traveling pop-up shop in the Hamptons in 2021. For the month of July, The Sicilian Cart was available to Hamptons locals and visitors alike as both a shopping and cultural experience.

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“Designed to not only tell stories through the use of images and historical symbols, but to also completely immerse consumers into the history of the Italian island,” the luxury pop-up offered summer clothes for men, women, and children as well as cultural activities as a nod to the brand’s Italian roots.

Pop-up shop ideas

Celebrity guests

Special guests like celebrities, influencers, and experts can bring in customers who want a chance to meet them. 

If you have special brand ambassadors or celebrities who simply love your brand, host a pop-up around their attendance and encourage them to share your shop with their audience, too. This can bring in customers outside your typical demographic.

Collaborate with other brands

When you collaborate with other brands for your pop-up shop, you expand your reach while saving on costs. Before collaborating, though, ensure your brand partners align with your goals and values and that your audiences are compatible.

Exclusive discounts

Perhaps your pop-up shop offers exclusive discounts and sales available only to physical attendees. This could increase the draw to bring in more customers and make those customers feel special.

Contests and events

Hold contests or raffles to encourage customers to visit, and have them enter via social media to spread the word about your pop-up shop. Reward winners with free products, limited-time merchandise, or a special shout-out on your social media channels.

Better yet, host a contest and announce the winner on the last day of your pop-up, as this could encourage customers to return to your pop-up multiple times.

Complementary services

Alongside your products, offer complementary services that make your pop-up shop customers feel special. For example, if you sell cosmetics, offer free application services by makeup artists.

Product demos

If your business sells products that require extra education, consider hosting a product demo at your pop-up shop. You can also ask existing customers to demo your products and explain their use cases, doubling as user-generated content.

Mobility

Like food trucks for restaurants, pop-up shops make retailers uniquely mobile in a way that neither a brick-and-mortar location or online store can provide. Consider hosting your pop-up shop in a truck or trailer so you can visit different parts of your city.

Free samples

Free samples, whether food, cosmetics, or other consumables, can spur valuable impulse purchases. Attract customers to your pop-up shop with complementary products that build trust and encourage them to buy more.

Exclusive releases

Save new product releases or launches for your pop-up shop. Not only will this increase demand for your pop-up, but it will also make attendees feel special and appreciated.

Customization

Like the Nike Air Max Day pop-up, consider making your shop an opportunity for customers to customize your products to their liking. Not only will this differentiate your pop-up from your regular product offerings; it will also incentivize customers to share their custom products on social media, thus promoting your pop-up.

Interactive elements

When done right, pop-up shops can be playgrounds for consumers. Ecommerce stores don’t give customers the chance to touch, feel, and experience products. Leverage your pop-up shop as a way for customers to interact with your brand, learn more about your products, and have a little fun.

New product previews

Not ready to release new iterations of your product? Let your pop-up shop be a place to preview or explain upcoming releases to customers. They can still shop your current products and get a sneak peek of what’s to come.

Charitable tie-ins

Use the buzz generated by your pop-up to benefit charities that align with your brand values. Donate a portion of your proceeds to a nonprofit, co-brand your merch, or offer to collaborate with an organization so they can leverage your audience and foot traffic to raise awareness of their cause.

Get started with your own pop-up shop

Pop-up shops provide unique ways to connect with your customers, bring tangibility to your brand, and generate buzz around campaigns, new products, or other causes. The benefits of a pop-up shop far outweigh the low investment required to launch one. 

Consider the examples above as inspiration for your pop-up, and use the ideas to create a unique experience for your customers.

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