As Christmas draws near, is the purpose of the pop-up store changing and is this to be welcomed?

Boots opens a pop-up store on Oxford Street. Penhaligons opens a pop-up store in Spitalfields. HMV opens a pop-up store in One New Change. It would actually be relatively straightforward to fill the rest of this column with news that another major retailer has opened a pop-up store somewhere metropolitan and that this will usually be in London.

There was a time when the arrival of a pop-up store was cause for mild celebration. Praise would be heaped upon the retailer or brand that was bold enough to make this kind of move with the expectation being that boundaries were going to be pushed and that we would see something different. Think back to the days of the Dr Marten’s pop-up (which stayed the Spitalfields course for more than a year), the Marmite store on Regent Street, or even The Gap pop-up off Carnaby Street, marking that retailer’s 40th birthday. These all had their heyday in 2009 and have since disappeared. And what marked them out was the fact that they did something that you might not have expected of the brand - something that made you want to take a look.

At the risk of considerable generalisation, the latest crop of pop-ups seem rather less about surprise and more about enterprise. Everyone’s aware that empty units are plentiful in almost every location and that landlords like to keep schemes looking busy, even if it means receiving virtually no rent while a pop-up takes the space.

For retailers looking at the ‘golden quarter’, it makes sense to open pop-ups in places where they wouldn’t normally get a look in. The temporary shops that result will look, in many instances, pretty much like their more permanent equivalents and are less an exercise in brand-awareness building (always the reason that was trotted out for a pop-up in the past) and more to do with the mundane matter of shifting stock.

You can’t blame retailers. Times are tough and anything that’ll add to the sum total is to the good - but this Christmas seems to be marking a shift in the status and raison d’être of pop-ups. In a way, they are coming of age - no longer retail’s angry young things taking a pop(-up?) at branded norms and being instead welcomed into the more general retail fold. This is a positive at the moment, but it would be a real shame if the sense of adventure that formerly characterised the pop-up as retailing’s bad boys and girls were to vanish altogether.

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