If you’ve been thinking about adding a physical presence to your online business but have been put off by the cost and commitment, a pop-up shop could be the solution.
A pop-up is an accessible way for businesses of all sizes and budgets (digitally native brands in particular) to test the waters of physical retail before making a large investment.
Having a physical space allows you to meet your customers where they live and put your brand in front of new shoppers. It’s also a direct way to encourage sales—despite the rapid growth of online shopping, only about 11% of U.S. retail sales happen online, according to digital research provider eMarketer—without pouring more money into online customer acquisition.
In this guide, we’ll look at the steps, costs, and logistics involved in opening a pop-up shop, as well as how to evaluate its success.
What is a pop-up shop?
A pop-up shop is a short-term, temporary retail space where brands—usually ones without a physical presence—can interact in person with current customers and communicate their message to potential new ones. A pop-up can look like a regular store, but many brands use them to create a unique, engaging physical shopping experience.
Online-only brands often use pop-ups to help them decide whether exploring the world of offline sales makes sense for their particular business, without having to make the financial commitment of a full-on permanent storefront.
How much does a pop-up shop cost?
Location, duration, and size are just a few of the factors that can determine the total cost of a pop-up. The sky’s the limit as far as how much you can spend, but you also can pull off a short-term pop-up for as little as $1,500.
Popertee, a retail analytics firm, estimated the total cost of one 30-day pop-up at €29,085 (about $33,000), while Inkbox, an online temporary tattoo brand, totalled the cost of its 2016 two-week pop-up to about $15,000, plus $3,000 in furniture that it will be able to use for other purposes.
Why run a pop-up shop?
Sales are just one of the benefits of opening a pop-up shop, albeit and important one. Here are a few others to consider:
Create an in-person connection with customers
According to Retail Dive, the majority of consumers want to see and touch a product before they buy it, even if they’re purchasing online.
A physical store allows you to connect with your customers on a human level.
Technology might make purchasing more economical and convenient, but there’s no replacement for face-to-face service and immersive in-person shopping experiences.
A pop-up shop can also play an important role in the omnichannel experience offered by your brand. Consumers learn about products on social media, search engines, in print, and everywhere in between. Complementing your established online experience with an offline experience to match is an excellent way to build a network of loyal, engaged shoppers.
Build buzz and awareness
Scarcity is a proven sales tactic that drives action through a customer’s desire to purchase exclusive or otherwise limited products. A temporary pop-up shop with a definite end date encourages shoppers to visit before missing out.
This approach works especially well when promoting new products or collections, kicking off major campaigns, or simply looking to increase overall brand awareness.
Create a strong sense of urgency by letting your customers know the exact dates your pop-up begins and ends. Create a Facebook event page or send a broadcast to your email list. If you have a limited inventory and want to make your shop feel especially exclusive, consider promoting the closing date as whenever all items are sold out.
Test offline selling as a sales channel
Pop-up shops require little upfront investment, which makes them a great testing ground. A successful pop-up can be a good indication that your business is a candidate for expansion into physical retail. If your shop doesn’t end up as successful as you’d hoped, you might need to regroup and find a new way to test your expansion plans. (We’ll look at some post-mortem metrics later.)
Eyeglass brand Warby Parker is a one-time digital-native brand that initially tested physical retail through pop-ups. Its experiment was so successful, the company opened several storefronts, and now has nearly 90 retail locations.
Drive more sales during busy seasons
Black Friday Cyber Monday and any other peak sales periods are excellent times to open a pop-up. Introducing your brand into holiday action and excitement is a smart move—in 2017, 84% of holiday sales happened in-store, reports Retail Dive.
A pop-up can drive retention long after your shop is closed and the holiday season is over, turning seasonal shoppers into lifelong customers. If you host seasonal pop-ups regularly, you’ll build a sense of anticipation among your most loyal customers. Denver’s annual Christkindl Market is just one example of a pop-up locals and tourists alike bookmark the date of every year.
Test new markets and gain traction in existing ones
One of the most important things for a new business to do is validate demand for its products—and real product validation only happens when money changes hands.
Manufacturing a small batch of merchandise to test at a pop-up is one way to validate customer demand before investing in a larger number of units. If you have an idea for a new collection or product line, for example, start with just one or two items to see if they have traction.
Pop-ups can also let you test different pricing, product bundles, and merchandising ideas.
Selling in person gives you the added benefit of receiving direct, unfiltered feedback from customers by seeing their initial reactions and finding out if they’re willing to spend money on what you’re selling (and how much).
If you’ve already established your business online and know you have a strong customer base in a specific region, a pop-up shop can help you literally be where your best customers are. It can also assist with word-of-mouth marketing in an area where you know your target demographic resides.
Unload older inventory
Holding on to dead stock is more expensive than you might think. You’re not only missing out on sales, you’re also paying for carrying costs and tying up money that could be invested elsewhere in your business. Plus, that inventory could eventually age out and no longer be sellable, which means lost revenue and capital.
Pop-up shops are a great way to breathe new life into aging stock—especially seasonal merchandise with a short shelf life—by using fresh displays and enticing visual merchandising elements to attract new shoppers. Encourage impulse purchases by offering special deals, such as buy-one-get-one-free, or bundling items together.
How to pick the perfect pop-up shop location
It’s important to find the right spot for your pop-up. There are a number of factors to consider, and one of the most important is determining what type of space makes the most sense for your event. There are a few common spaces used for pop-up shops:
- Vacant storefront. An empty storefront is a retail space just waiting to be used. All you have to do is customize it to your brand. Look around for vacant storefronts in your ideal area or contact a local real estate agent for help.
- Shopping center or mall. Many shopping malls have kiosks, booth space, or vacant in-line stores available to rent. Mall space may be less cost effective than other venues, but it can put you in front of the best kind of foot traffic—consumers who are looking to spend their money.
- Pop-ins. Pop-ins are stores within a store and a great way to piggyback off an existing brick-and-mortar brand’s success. Pop-in@Nordstrom, for example, is a series of pop-in shop collaborations with other brands, like Away luggage. Hotels are also a great location for pop-ins.
- Gallery/event space. Gallery or event spaces, unlike pop-in shops, offer a blank canvas for translating your digital brand into a physical space with eye-catching displays. These venues are also primed and ready for events, unlike some typical brick-and-mortar retail environments.
- Mobile. If you don’t want to limit yourself to one location, consider going mobile and renting a truck or bus to host your own traveling pop-up shop. In 2017, Casper’s Nap Tour traveled from Vancouver to Toronto, offering customers throughout Canada the chance to test out its mattresses.
How to choose your pop-up location
After you’ve determined what type of pop-up you want to have, you can begin deciding on a location. Knowing what your shop’s goals are is one important factor to consider. If you’re looking to launch a new swimwear collection, somewhere tropical or near a beach might be best. If you’re trying to decide whether to make a permanent move into physical retail, use current sales data (if you have it) to figure out where most of your existing customers are.
Once you have a general area in mind, look at some other factors to help you zero in on an exact spot.
One major consideration is foot traffic. Is the neighborhood or street you’re considering a high-traffic area? Are there plenty of people walking by the location you’re scouting—and, most importantly, are those people your target customers?
Nearby retailers and events occurring in the vicinity are other important considerations. Look to see if surrounding retail stores are complementary or competitive to what you’re offering. Complementary is good, but you may want to steer clear of direct competitors.
When established shops feel threatened by competing stores, you lose out on making a potential ally. Take the time to introduce yourself and establish a rapport with other shop owners in the area. From them, you can glean valuable information on what makes your shared target demographic tick.
Things to consider when choosing a pop-up shop venue
Here are a few more factors to help you narrow down your venue options:
Type of pop-up shop
First things first—you need to figure out what type of event you’re having and understand what specifically makes that appealing to a pop-up shopper. There are a few common types of pop-ups:
- Press preview. Usually an invite-only/exclusive look at your shop for local journalists and bloggers who can help you spread the word about your store.
- Launch party. Pop-up shops make for great launch parties, whether it’s your pop-up debut or the launch of a new product line. Remember, if you’re billing it as a party, you need to deliver on your promise. Consider hiring a DJ, serving food and drinks, and promoting social sharing to further your reach.
- Experiential. Entice visitors with immersive experiences they can’t get anywhere else. Think about what types of featured workshops, speakers, and individuals work best for your brand. For example, HutchLA once ran a pop-up shop with a tattoo artist on premise because it aligned with the brand.
- Influencer party. Tap into an influencer’s audience in your niche by allowing them to host, curate, and be the “star” for the night. Ask them to build anticipation before the fact by posting about it on social media, and view the opportunity as a collaboration that ends up paying big dividends for both parties.
- Sponsored event. While even a one-off piece in the media can be advantageous, investing in a sponsored event can land you even more coverage. A partnership with a local magazine in your niche, for example, can provide you with coverage before, during, and after your pop-up happens.
- Signage. Check to see if the location you’re looking at comes with signage and, if so, whether you’re allowed to customize it. Some spaces may already have branded entrance or storefront signs, which could prevent people from noticing your shop. Other spaces may not allow signage at all. Determine what you need and how customers are going to find your pop-up.
- Cleanliness. Landlords typically ensure the interior of a pop-up space is pristine, but the exterior can be susceptible to the elements. You'll likely have to assume responsibility for its cleanliness. Get out there with a broom, bring your own potted plants, or invest in a bottle of Windex to get every last face smudge off of the venue's windows.
- Parking and access to public transportation. The easier it is to visit your store, the more customers you’ll have. An on-site parking lot is ideal, but not always realistic. So create accessibility any way you can. Research public transit routes, check on parking meter rates and times, and look for nearby paid parking lots.
- Stock space. Visible inventory not on display can make even the largest spaces look cluttered, so make sure you have a storage area. Many spaces won’t have a back stockroom, so see if it's possible to create a makeshift separation or partition using curtains or a room divider. This will make the space seem more professional and tidy.
- Lighting. Proper lighting sets the mood and makes your merchandise stand out. The right lighting for your store ultimately depends on the mood you want to create. If your brand is more modern, brighter lighting may work. Soft lighting pairs well with brands that feature a classic aesthetic. Ask to see if the bulbs are on dimmer switches or if lamps and portable lighting are available as an alternative.
- Anti-theft features. Tyco Retail Solutions estimates that 34% of retail shrinkage is due to shoplifting and crime. Find a space that has adequate loss prevention measures in place. Surveillance cameras and alarm systems are both great tools for preventing shoplifting. If a retail space doesn’t have cameras, see if other tactics were employed by previous pop-up vendors.
- Internet access. WiFi is usually included with most spaces, but double check with the leasing agent to make sure high-speed internet access is available. This is important both for your point-of-sale system as well as front-end customer interaction. When customers can connect immediately to your online presence, they can navigate all of your selling channels. You don’t want to give them the chance to forget about you once they’re out the door.
- Display space. Every space is different, so make sure the spot you’re considering is equipped with whatever you need to display your products or materials.
Where to look for pop-up shop venues
You can contact realtors directly to see if they have any pop-up shop venues. There are also many online databases you can search to book properties yourself. Here are a few:
Tips for closing the deal on your pop-up shop venue
There are several legal documents pop-up operators need to be familiar with before securing a space:
The lease is the most important document. Under a lease, the renter is considered a tenant and given exclusive possession for the time agreed to by both parties, otherwise known as the “term” of the lease. The term will outline what you’re allowed to do in the space, such as modifications, hours of operation, and several other key aspects.
Depending on your geography and the length of your pop-up shop, you may need a license rather than a lease. A license gives you, the licensee, the legal authority to use the landlord's asset. In some cases, without a license, using the property is unlawful.
Generally, licenses are given out for short-term occupants and come with a limited arrangement that sometimes doesn’t guarantee exclusive use of the property.
Each region has its own legal regulations and business permit requirements. Many cities, for example require a permit to sell food and alcohol. So, if you plan to serve champagne at your opening, you'll need to secure the appropriate permit.
To ensure you’re set for opening day, check with your real estate agent, landlord, and/or the city to make sure you’re doing everything local law requires.
Business insurance (or commercial insurance) is different from personal coverage. Without the proper insurance policies in place, you’re not only putting your business at risk, but your employees and customers as well.
Some rentals include insurance coverage, but you may want to look into consulting a risk management expert or firm.
Questions to ask before you book a space
To make sure you have a complete understanding of what you’re getting into, have the following questions ready for your property manager or real estate agent:
- What’s the rental cost? Find out the daily, weekly, or monthly rate (depending on how long you plan to be open). Be sure to check out multiple spaces and weigh your options, and don’t be afraid to negotiate on price before you sign.
- What’s included in the rental cost? Drill down on what you’re getting for your money. Make note of specifics like square footage, amenities, and occupancy dates—and get everything in writing.
- Are there any additional utility costs? Clarify any additional costs and how they’re split up. Make sure you determine which expenses you’re responsible for—and whether they’re reasonable. Utility costs for a pop-up rental can become a major unexpected expense.
- What’s the layout of the space? Have a good grasp on the shop’s current layout so you can visualize what your final presentation could look like. It might help to sketch out a scale drawing to make sure the space will work for your needs.
- What are the specific dimensions of the ceiling, windows, doors, counters, pillars, etc.? Know exactly what you have to work with—and work around. This information is good to have when you start designing your displays or printing signage, and it’ll give you a sense of how much or how little you’ll need to dress the space up.
- Can the space be modified? Know how much control you have over the space. If you’re sharing a gallery with multiple vendors, you might not be able to drill holes into the wall or make significant changes. Determine the landlord's dos and don’ts and whether they'll work for you.
- Who’s liable for what? Property owners typically will attempt to limit their liability, so read the fine print on your lease. If something happens, like a fire or a plumbing issue, it's better to know ahead of time who’s responsible instead of disputing or creating a claim down the road.
- Is there internet or WiFi? You’ll need an internet connection to process transactions and accept credit card payments, whether you’re using Shopify POS or a mobile card reader. So determine if it’s included or if you need to set it up yourself.
- Will you need insurance? Getting property insurance is often a prerequisite when signing a lease agreement. This kind of coverage protects you from a number of things that could go wrong, including, but not limited to, theft, venue or glass repairs, and merchandise damage.
- How much of a deposit is required to secure the venue? Often, if your pop-up shop will span multiple months, the rental deposit is equivalent to a month’s rent. For shorter timelines, you might be expected to put down a third of the total rent payment. Be sure to find out how and when you’ll get your deposit back after the pop-up is over.
- What’s type of foot traffic you can expect? It’s a good idea to do your own research on foot traffic, but sometimes the property owner will have numbers they can share with you. This becomes even more pertinent if you’re getting a booth at a trade show.
How to market your pop-up shop
When determining your promotional strategy, remember what consumers go to pop-ups for: an authentic, in-person brand experience. According to Retail Touchpoints, most consumers want unique services and products, localized assortments, and optimal pricing. If your pop-up offers any of those things, spread the word!
There are plenty of ways to go about getting PR for your event, including targeting traditional media, leveraging influencer marketing, and pitching your pop-up to local bloggers.
Targeting media and influencers
Keep your target customer in mind when creating a list of media outlets to contact, thinking about where they most likely find information on local events and what publications and websites they might regularly read.
Audience size isn’t always the most important factor when it comes to promoting your pop-up.
Micro-influencers may have smaller followings, but dismissing them completely could mean missing out on a potential partner who doesn’t have a large geographical reach but is influential in your pop-up’s area. Here are a few other tips to consider:
- Understand who you’re pitching and what their needs are. There’s nothing wrong with using a template (you can find a few here), but you’ll still have to customize it to elicit a good response rate.
- Give media enough advance warning about your event to leave them time to do a story. Aim for two to three months before launch for local print, and two weeks for online media.
- Keep your pitch short and simple. Be considerate, and make sure all of the important information about your event is prominent and easy to find.
- Open your pop-up shop on a high note. Throw a launch party and invite an exclusive list of who’s who in your local region. For example, when apparel brand Kith opened a pop-up in Paris, it had a fantastic turnout and received great coverage from influential local blogs read by its target demographic.
- Create a list of the key target influencers and bloggers you want to see at your pop-up and reach out, highlighting different incentives for them to get involved.
Writing your press release
Increase your odds of getting coverage by publishing a press release, and include it as a link to your media and influencer outreach.
Build buzz for your pop-up shop with social media
Be ready to maximize your exposure through social media before, during, and after your event—not only with the editors and influencers whose interest you’ve piqued but with your current and future customers as well.
- Keep any buzz you established with your initial outreach going. Including a branded hashtag in your press materials and other collateral will help you find and curate content posted about your event online.
- Ask hotels and restaurants near your pop-up to mention you on their social media feeds, offering them some free promotion in return. Tourists love to return home with a unique product and story they discovered on vacation.
- Post behind-the-scenes content on your own social channels, showing your pop-up being built and set up. Give users a sneak preview of the products they can expect to see. Host an online contest and announce the winner at your pop-up.
Evelyn & Bobbie used a mural to aide its guerrilla marketing by painting the outside of the building being used for its pop-up with an eye-catching, branded design to help it stand out against the surrounding businesses.
During the pop-up
- Remind visitors to your shop to share their experience online. Continue incentivizing social media sharing with contests, and add a few touches to your space to make it more Instagrammable.
- Keep the space clutter-free, post inspirational or on-brand messages on the walls and floors, and create artful product displays.
Frozen foods brand Birds Eye stepped up its Instagram game, allowing customers to use posts as currency to purchase products, while the Museum of Selfies pop-up was quite literally fueled by social media and the infatuation with posting selfies with impressive and creative backdrops.
Consider setting aside some of your budget to gift influencers products they can touch, feel, and use publicly—and, ultimately, post about. You can also offer them an exclusive discount code to share with their audience.
- Don’t let the conversation stop once your pop-up is over. Keep up the buzz you worked so hard to build and continue engaging with people talking about your brand and the pop-up experience.
- Leverage user-generated content on your website, social feeds, product pages, and other online channels. One Yotpo survey found that more than three-quarters of consumers prefer to see photos of products in real use, not just on display. Interesting product page photos can increase conversions by as much as 24%.
- Use your point-of-sale to collect email addresses and run targeted social media ads to drive shoppers to your online store. The lessons you learn from your pop-up can inform future digital campaigns.
Evaluate your pop-up shop’s success
Among the first things you should do when planning a pop-up is identify your shop’s goals and set specific key performance indicators (KPIs). This will help you understand what you’re trying to accomplish and eventually help you determine whether your venture was successful.
Conducting a postmortem will show you what you can do differently next time and whether selling in person is an effective channel for you.
Be sure to closely analyze your pop-up’s metrics, such as sales, foot traffic, brand awareness, and new email leads.
Examine sales metrics
There's more to retail than just sales, but strong sales is the ultimate end goal. When you dig into your data, consider the following sales metrics:
- Sales by date. Sales by date can help you determine the best timing for your next pop-up. Knowing which days or hours were particularly busy is also useful information for planning special promotions and giveaways and for knowing when you need to add more staff.
- Sales by customer. Sales by customer can be broken down to both the average total items and total dollars spent. You can use this data to create refined customer profiles, which you can then analyze to segment your customers. You’ll also gain insights into price sensitivity, purchasing habits, and product preferences that can inform online promotions and campaigns.
- Sales by product. Zooming in on things like sales by stock-keeping unit (SKU), variants (color, size, etc.), and vendor can help you evaluate your products themselves. This information can tell you which product lines to invest in and which to consider scraping. Your bestsellers will also inform your visual merchandising and window displays.
- Sales by employees. Knowing which of your employees generate the most revenue can provide insights you can incorporate into the hiring and training of future employees, even if you’re not running a traditional commission-based compensation structure.
Track foot traffic
In the past, measuring foot traffic was hard to do and often yielded less-than-accurate data. Now, there are foot traffic counters that make it easy to learn not only how many people are walking into your store, but who they are and what preferences they have.
Once you have a grasp on how many people entered your pop-up, you can drill down into other metrics, like conversion rate (the number of sales divided by the total foot traffic).
Measure social media mentions and engagement
What happens offline is only half the story. Just as important is how an offline experience impacts your brand online. One way to look at this is by analyzing your social media mentions and engagement before, during, and after your pop-up.
Look at how many conversations your promotional hashtag inspired and how customers engaged with it via user-generated content. If you used a branded a hashtag, track and measure impressions or conversations. And if you ran a contest or specific giveaway, look at how many entrants you had and how many emails you gained.
Here are some tools you can use to get a clear picture of just how much traction your pop-up shop brought to your brand:
Qualitative analysis for your pop-up
Perhaps the most meaningful information you can take away from your pop-up isn’t a metric at all—it’s in-store customer interaction and feedback. Seeing customers react in real time to your products can be an eye-opening experience, especially if you've previously sold only online.
Being able to talk to your customers about everything from your branding to displays to products to layout can be vital feedback for thriving in a retail environment.
Examples of successful pop-up shops to inspire you
Here are five real-world examples of successful pop-ups shops you can look to for inspiration.
The Museum of Ice Cream
The first “museum” pop-up launched in 2016 as a limited engagement in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. The Museum of Ice Cream, a.k.a. MoIC, sold 30,000 tickets to its 2016 opening and waitlisted another 200,000.
MoIC, is now a cultural phenomenon, looked up to by brands wanting to create the next popular museum in the trend. From a retail perspective, MoIC paved the way for product creation opportunities with the launch of its ice cream brand.
Learn more: Want an in-depth look at the Museum of Ice Cream’s success? Read our interview with Maryellis Bunn, the founder and CEO of the Museum of Ice Cream.
Glossier, the online skincare and beauty brand, opened its Glossier You pop-up in conjunction with the launch of its debut fragrance of the same name. The Instagrammable space, which Glossier referred to as an “offline experience” rather than a store.
The shop was decorated with lush pink carpets and magenta furniture—shades matching the Glossier You fragrance bottle—and featured interactive moments, like a gloved hand holding a jar of perfume that emerged from a mirrored closet and sprayed the Glossier You scent.
Learn more: Find out what made Glossier You go viral, along with three other pop-up success stories.
BarkShop.com, the online subscription box and pet gift store, opened a pop-up called BarkShop Live. Visiting dogs were outfitted with tech-equipped vests that tracked their movement, while an app provided insights on each pet’s toy preferences and instructions on how customers could purchase and ship items directly to their homes.
BarkShop collected lots of data on its products by treating the pop-up shop as a testing ground. The event also served as research for future expansion into brick-and-mortar retail by tapping into the experiential marketing trend.
Learn more: Check out these 10 lessons from successful pop-up shops, including BarkShop Live.
Ikea Play Café
Ikea used a pop-up to showcase and allow customers to interact with a lesser-known facet of it business.
Many Ikea shoppers love the meatballs served in its eateries as much as they love its furniture. The brand opened a pop-up café in Toronto spotlighting its food and giving diners a chance to try its meatballs, chicken balls, and veggie balls. In addition, houseware products related to cooking, eating, and entertaining were also available for testing.
Learn more: Check out these 10 visual merchandising ideas from Ikea Play Café and more retail examples.
Louis Vuitton X Supreme
Luxury label Louis Vuitton and cult streetwear brand Supreme shook the fashion world with their partnership, which they launched with a pop-up tour. About 600 people lined up for the mobile shop’s grand opening, and the collaboration earned Louis Vuitton and Supreme second and third place, respectively, in Google’s Top 10 Most Searched Fashion Brands of the Year.
Kylie Jenner has risen from reality TV star to global business mogul. Kylie Cosmetics, a partnership with Seed Beauty that turned into a global cosmetics brand, launched its first pop-up shop to connect with customers and learn more about them.
Over the two-week span, the L.A. pop-up saw 25,000 visitors in pursuit of the perfect pout. It was so successful that Kylie Cosmetics opened up a pop-up at New York Fashion Week just two weeks later.
Learn more: Get to know the success behind the reigning reality TV darling and makeup mogul. See how Kylie Cosmetics pulled off their first pop-up.
Moving forward with your pop-up shop
A pop-up shop isn’t just a way to generate quick sales. Pop-ups can be part of your overall brand strategy. They’re a powerful customer acquisition and retention tool, an accessible way to test ideas and gather data, and a great way to build buzz and awareness for your brand.
Now, you’re ready to plan, execute, analyze your own pop-op, no matter what form it takes.