The long-term IT strategy behind a retail pop-up shop

It may be a way to save costs and get closer to consumers, but there should be nothing temporary about the technology supporting these locations

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We might have round-the-clock access to online inventory, but we still like to window shop, touch and feel products, and maybe even discover that unique, one-of-a-kind item we didn’t know we were looking for. Pop-up shops are fulfilling that need in the market — not just for consumers, but also for retailers.

An online retailer might be looking to find new customers and build brand recognition through a temporary physical presence. A bricks-and-mortar retailer might be looking to test new products or experiment in new markets. And a startup that can’t afford rent can open a temporary storefront through a service such as

Sure, pop-up shops are trendy right now, like beards and mismatched layers. But it looks like they’re here to stay. According to a recent article in the Financial Post, the trend got a boost in 2012 when Target opened a pop-up shop in Toronto to promote its Jason Wu designer collection in advance of the retailer’s first Canadian store opening. The pop-up attracted 1,500 shoppers, snapping up cat scarves and black cocktail dresses.

It’s also become a smart way for larger retailers to showcase new products and gauge consumer interest. Last year Holt Renfrew launched H Project, an in-store pop-up shop, to highlight “culture, craft and artisans from around the world,” such as eco-friendly beauty brand The Detox Market.

But pop-up shops aren’t just for beauty and apparel retailers. During the last holiday shopping season, Amazon, Google and Microsoft, among many others, opened pop-up shops in malls, showrooms and even tour buses.

If you’re setting up a temporary physical location, the need for seamless communications and mobile work solutions is critical. And so is a focus on the omni-channel customer. Clearly, not all pop-ups have taken this approach — but they should be.

Pop-ups as retail extensions

Pop-up shops are essentially an extension of the retailer. And thanks to mobile POS systems and cloud-based apps, it’s easier than ever to create one. As an extension of your business, however, a temporary location should still provide customers with a seamless shopping experience. After all, why are you setting up a pop-up shop? Are you trying to attract new customers and ultimately drive more traffic in-store or online? If so, then your “pop-up channel” needs to be seamlessly integrated with other channels (in-store, online and mobile).

So, if a customer is checking out your pop-up shop, she should be able to buy a product via her mobile phone and make a return or exchange at a bricks-and-mortar location.

You also want to collect this data for analysis and reporting — just like you would in any other channel. If your pop-up shop has attracted new customers, you want to be able to build on those relationships and keep in touch about future deals, promotions and pop-ups. And you may even want to provide customers with the ability to “check in” at your pop-up location and post to social media sites.

Similar to food trucks, pop-up shops tend to rely on social media to spread the word about their location and hours. Not only is this a cheap way to disseminate information, it also helps to create buzz about your “event.” L.A.’s uber-trendy Aether Apparel, for example, has a pop-up shop on wheels — in an Airstream PanAmerica trailer — and uses social media to let customers know where it’s heading next.

The future is about consumer choice — the omni-channel is about giving it to them. And an omni-channel retailer using pop-up shops and social media will leave their single-channel competitors in the dust.

photo credit: elod beregszaszi via photopin cc

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