Reinvigorating Retail through Pop Up Stores

Pop up stores are here and they may be reinvigorating retail throughout the United States.

As a teenager in the 1980s, I spent an inordinate amount of time at the local shopping mall. Roosevelt Field Mall became my home away from home. My sister worked at Macy’s. She would drive to work, drop me off to roam the mall, then I’d meet her several hours later for the drive home.

Pop up stores back then were kiosks. Small, self-contained kiosks in the central aisle of the mall’s corridors. Some sold only items during peak gift-giving seasons: I remember the bonsai tree concession, another that sold crystal pendants during the pendant-wearing craze of the late 1980s. Another etched personalized messages, monograms and the like on silver picture frames, mugs, etc.

Each of these tiny stores focused exclusively on a single them. They differ from today’s pop up stores the way your grandfather’s Chevy differs from the Volt parked in your garage and recharging from the household current.

Linda Niehm, professor of Apparel Events, and Hospitality at Iowa State University stated in a recent press release, “What we’re seeing is in part of a natural evolution of the retail cycle, and old formats are replaced with something more relevant.”

Retail is a dynamic industry. It is constantly evolving and changing. Stores evolved from single-category shops (the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker) to the grocery store and supermarket (with butcher and bakery counters along with thousands of other products) and the department store (which sold everything including candles in one convenient space.) The internet added pricing competition along with an intense focus on fresh new goods; if I can get a pair of jeans from Amazon at a lower price, why should I bother driving to the Gap in the mall to buy a pair?

Enter the pop-up store. These stores take over small retail spaces for short amounts of time – weeks, perhaps – with a themed experience. Vacant stores or unusual structures such as disused cargo containers are transformed into a retail space.

Niehm and colleague Ann Marie Fiore conducted a study in 2010 that indicated that retail consumers like novelty in their shopping experiences. The same old stores in the mall bore consumers; the novel experience of discovering a new brand, product category, or style in a pop-up store may invigorate the shopping experience and draw customers away from their computers to shop on the internet and back to physical retail spaces. Millennials especially are interested in brands that resonate with their values. They eschew large, traditional stores.

Brands are experimenting with pop-ups in unique ways. Bonobos khakis opened pop-up stores in the lobby of an office building and netted $250,000.

Technology offers another way for pop-ups to succeed. Although the small space prohibits stocking multiple colors or sizes, with the touch of a tablet, shopkeepers can order items from their online store to be sent to the consumer. No hassle, no additional steps for the customers, and an easy in-person shopping experience that lets them see and touch the items in person.

Are pop-ups right for you? They may be a passing fad, but anything that can reinvigorate retail offers additional methods for small business owners to sell more. It may be the right time for you to explore pop-ups for your retail business.

Walmart Thinks It Can Tell if You’re Happy

Last night I read an article in Direct Marketing News which literally made me LOL (for those not familiar with online acronyms, that’s laugh out loud – LOL for short).

Walmart is exploring installing facial recognition software to install in their stores to assess how happy their customers are with their shopping experience.

Are you laughing yet?

Because I am.

First of all, shopping at Walmart is never a happy experience. It’s mostly neutral with a bit of stress and exhaustion thrown into the mix. I shop weekly at Walmart for groceries (don’t just; it’s one of only two choices in my tiny rural town). I feel as if I have walked several miles by the time I have found a cart without wonky wheels that spins me in circles, passed the endless center aisle displays of sugar and fat laden junk food, and reached my destination aisle.

Half the time, the shelves look as if a tornado has cruised through, and the other half of the time they’ve moved what I know should be in that aisle to somewhere else in the store and I spend an awful amount of time playing hide-and-seek with the laundry detergent or whatever it is that I want.

According to Inc., Walmart’s facial recognition software will assess your happiness level as you search for the last non-crushed box of graham crackers and if it detects you aren’t ecstatic will staff up accordingly.

As if lack of staff makes anyone unhappy at Walmart.

Listen, Walmart, if you really want to make customers happy and not creeped out that big brother is watching them with facial recognition software – which may or may not violate several rights to privacy I have, I’m not clear on that yet – let’s get a few things straight.

There are stores people shop at for pleasure and stores people shop at for necessity. You fall into the latter category. Therefore, few people are going to grin from ear to ear when they look at, say, the crumpled blouses on the floor in the clothing aisle or the whirlwind of jumbled cans in the soup aisle.

The expression of unhappiness on my face may be caused by a thousand things outside of a store’s control. I may have just had an argument with my spouse and stomped off to do the grocery shopping. I may have realized I am almost out of gas and have to stop for more if I want to make it home. My shoes may hurt because they’re pinching my feet. Who knows? Who cares? Who made it your prerogative to assess my happiness, anyway?

There are four places where staffing matters in any given Walmart and you are already failing miserably in most of them. So fix these before buying happiness software, please:

  1. Registers. Thankfully, our Walmart in Farmville, Virginia, has some of the nicest cashiers around. But for goodness sake, OPEN MORE REGISTERS.
  2. Fabric counter. Anytime I’ve wanted to purchase fabric, it’s an ordeal. I wait. And wait. And then a clueless person shows up who can’t stop to cut my fabric because he or she is a manager or something. If you’re going to have a fabric counter, have a button or something customers can press to call help over to cut their yards of felt or whatever.
  3. Online order pickup. Oh, what a nightmare. What an awful, time wasting, soul sucking nightmare. I order online. It ships to the store. I then wait at an empty counter for 15 – 20 minutes while employees run by on their way to jolly old breaktime and I grow gray and stooped and old waiting to pick up my water filter or whatever I ordered online. Then, someone does show up, and THEY CAN’T FIND THE THING IN THE BACKSTOCK. One time, they lost an archery target on us. Let that sink in. A freaking three foot by three foot archery target box was somehow hiding itself in the backstock area. Fix this, please.
  4. Stocking shelves. See above – my comment on shelves that look like a tornado breezed through them once, twice, or three times. Restock. Stock again. Then, check your stock. Because you can’t sell what you don’t have.


Do you know what these four areas have in common? Low tech, low touch solutions.

I’m all for high tech. I love high tech. I love technology in all of its wonderful forms. But the area where Walmart and many other ‘big box’ stores needs to improve is not in their use of technology but in their use of people or the current staff and resources they have on hand. Scanning my scowl won’t make a difference.

Writer Jeanne Grunert


About the Author

Jeanne Grunert is the President of Seven Oaks Consulting, a company focused on making customers smile (but not through facial recognition). She helps marketing agencies, publishing companies, and technology businesses with client-centered marketing strategies and content marketing that helps them acquire, retain, and create loyal customers. Visit Seven Oaks Consulting or Jeanne’s Amazon Author Page for her fiction and nonfiction books.





The Convergence of Retail Marketing and Mobile Marketing

One of the most fascinating trends I’ve encountered recently is the convergence of mobile marketing and traditional bricks and mortar retailing. When I left graduate school a decade ago, retailers were admonished to synchronize their online and offline channels; it was confusing to customers when they couldn’t return internet purchases to their local retail outlet, for example. Customers today are pushing the envelope even further and demanding more from their favorite retailers.

For example, a recent survey stated that 64% of customers took out their mobile devices to look up product information and reviews while shopping in a bricks and mortar store. Think about it! They’re standing in your store, staring at the flat screen televisions, and looking on their smartphones for reviews.

What if you added a QR code to your store signage so that customers could easily access glowing reviews of YOUR store’s service and flat screen TVs? What if by scanning that code, customers could easily access tons of useful, relevant information that would encourage them to buy from your store?

Can you see how the convergence of mobile marketing and retailing is changing how you need to think about your bricks and mortar store?

My latest article for Decoded shares even more revelations from a recent report – and how you, as a retailer, can capitalize on it.  Read: Enhancing In-Store Retail Sales with Mobile Options.