Pop-Ups vs Permanents; The “Uberisation” of Retail

Pop-ups have become a ubiquitous presence in the retail environment in the past few years. As a retail concept it has evolved from the temporary shop or smaller brand’s travelling roadshow (think festivals and markets, rustic rather than smart) to catnip for major corporations who see an opportunity to promote, collect data and appear cool to millennials through PR stunts and events.

Providing the ultimate in location flexibility, a pop-up can generate value from (or “uberise”) an under utilised asset – the physical location – and enable a peripatetic brand experience.

There are a number of factors in play here.

  • Brands need new ways of reaching their customers and creating connections
  • Developers and retailers need to be creative about giving shoppers reasons to visit bricks and mortar stores
  • The “experience hungry” millennial craves all things new, tactile and different

Pop-ups can provide an opportunity for a traditional retailer to test the waters and are often the most practical way to explore a new location. Perhaps most important is the feeling customers have when they have “discovered” a limited-period brand experience and can share something newsworthy and different with their own networks.

For mainstream brands it can provide buzz around their brands and an opportunity to connect directly with customers and generate sharable moments, something that is normally relinquished to the retailer.

In high rent locations such as London and New York, pop-ups are abundant. London Pop Ups lists all of the pop up restaurants, bars, shops, galleries and gigs on any given week in the city as well as a handy back catalogue.

Pasta company La Ramiglia Rana recently ran An Italian Grocery pop-up in London’s upmarket Marylebone. Over a 5 week period in late 2018, the brand promised a “feast for the senses” in a part grocery, part workshop and part photo studio where shoppers were actively assisted in their photo taking against a backdrop of greenery, fresh flowers and marble. The pop-up even featured masterclasses in photography and Instagram from well known influencers Food Feels and Giulia Mule.

For a temporary pop-up to be really successful, harnessing the power of the visual is essential, a tactic regularly used by luxury brands. For brands such as Gucci, Dior, Burberry, Armani and Ralph Lauren, food and beverages increasingly form an integral part of the overall experience and pop ups can help to fine tune the offer or provide a limited-time experience.

Chanel’s exclusive 12 day pop up café in Shanghai a couple of years ago aimed to promote a new range of beauty products – Rouge Coco Gloss – and resulted in three hour long queues, some frantic selfie taking by the select few who made it in for the exclusive desserts and coffee and of course bucket loads of conversation and sharing on WeChat. A marketers dream.

Combining hard to get products with limited durations, pop-up stores are a textbook example of “hunger” marketing, which is particularly effective in a country like China. Queues here generate excitement, rather than a sense of inconvenience. Pop-up retailing has grown by over 100 percent since 2015 in China and it’s estimated that by 2020 there will be over 3,000 pop-up stores in the market.

Food pop-ups are particularly stretchy, and include supper clubs and food trucks as well as the more traditional shopping centre format. Mexican grocery shop Picado on Dublin’s Richmond Street hosts an intimate themed Supper Club for a small number of customers one Saturday a month. The appeal lies in the authentic experience and nomadic-like flexibility on offer.

Cultural immersion with great food. Check. Something different. Check. (Relatively) good value. Check.

Some food pop-ups are just plain preposterous. The Misunderstood Heron – a funky food truck located on the shores of the beautiful Killary Harbour – serves locally sourced food against the stunning backdrop of the Wild Atlantic Way during the summer months. A few weeks ago it made it onto Lonely Planet’s list of the Top 10 Coolest Food Trucks in the World. It shouldn’t work, but it does.

Are pop-ups the future of retailing? With all kinds of online/offline permutations possible, pop-ups will be limited only by people’s imagination.


(1) Cakes

Baked With Love
Baked with Love, Marshes Shopping Centre, Dundalk, Co Louth

(2) Chocolates

Butlers Chocolate Cafes
Butlers Chocolate Café Kiosk, Upper Concourse, Blanchardstown Shopping Centre, Dublin

(3) Cookies

Dublin Cookie Company
The Dublin Cookie Company, Arnotts, Henry Street, Dublin


Author: orladonohoe

I love to follow the latest food trends. I started this blog to share what I find interesting - I hope you do too.

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