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For years, pop-up stores seemed like an impossible dream. It was just too challenging, too expensive, and too demanding to keep finding and moving to new locations and then ensuring that customers knew where to find them. But the financial crisis and related drop in rents in many major cities has given new life to the innovative idea.

The benefits accrue not only to the retailers but also to the cities in which they are located. For example, Oakland, California, offered free rent for six months to sellers that would move into downtrodden urban neighborhoods—the “Pop Up Hood.” The idea was that by demonstrating how retailers could survive, the city ultimately would benefit from a revitalized area and future rent and tax revenue.

Although Jay-Z and Kanye West probably do not need the rent break, they still turned to the pop-up concept to release their Watch the Throne in New York City. The appeal of this form of pop-up retailing stems mainly from its exclusivity and hip image. Because the store was open only for one weekend, only consumers in the know were able to take advantage.

Urban locations also appeal to retailers whose usual formats usually do not fit the setting. The epitome of big box retail Walmart thus has used pop-up stores to reach customers who normally would have to make a massive commute to reach one of its larger format stores.

Finally, it appears that technology is helping make the pop-up more creative and interesting. When Net-A-Porter launched a line by Karl Lagerfeld, it pasted its pop-up store with an “augmented reality” interaction for customers who connected through their smartphones. Thus it appears that trends are converging, making pop-up stores a potential wave of the future.

Discussion Questions

1. What benefits to pop-up stores offer for (a) retailers, (b) cities, and (c) consumers?

Source: Doug Stephens, “The Future Is Temporary: Retailing in a Pop-Up World,” Retail Prophet, February 21, 2012.

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