Pop-up stores, particularly for online retailers, are an increasingly popular retail trend and when executed, especially during the hustle and bustle of the holiday shopping season, there’s a lot e-tailers can learn about what consumers want. Both Shop.ca and Shopify have recently taken wares into the real world and come away with some interesting insights.
Shop.ca’s Toronto Pop-Up Shop
Shop.ca’s pop-store, located in a former condominium sales centre at the busy King and Peter intersection in downtown Toronto, is still going strong, having opened up shop at the end of November. Through its temporary real-world location, this online store has been treating Toronto holiday shoppers to a selection of items from a few featured brand partners, including John Varvatos, Sand, Strellson, Ted Baker, Spiewak, Juicy Couture, G Star, BCBG and True Religion, at prices 50% or more off retail.
“The store has given us a chance to acquire new customers that we hope to have as lifelong customers.”
The holiday season provided the e-tailer the right opportunity to test out the pop-up shop (its first). It’s a concept Shop.ca’s been contemplating for some time and one that has allowed it not to deviate too far from its online model – they don’t buy or hold any inventory until they sell it – because all the inventory is coming from their marketplace partners. So far, the shop’s been a success, resulting in “multiple wins,” says Shop.ca Founder and CEO Drew Green. The company is ahead of its sales goals, having transacted hundreds of thousands of dollars in less than a month. There’s still a ways to go yet. The pop-up shop’s slated to remain open through January with a significant Boxing Day sale looming the week after Christmas.
One of the store’s significant benefits, says Green, is that it’s helped to put a physical face behind the Shop.ca name.
“The core advertising from the pop-up store, I’d say, has been a big success,” says Green. “King and Peter is one of [Toronto's] busiest intersections. It’s a district that we felt that our core demographic certainly walks and drives by a lot, so we feel good about the exposure that we’ve received from the venture.”
Shop.ca’s also been diligent about driving foot-and-wheel-traffic online by capturing email addresses and doling out gift cards – thousands so far, says Green. Its efforts around the pop-up shop have helped to double its Facebook likes in the last month to almost at 24,000.
“The store has given us a chance to acquire new customers that we hope to have as lifelong customers,” he says.
The pop-up has also already brought to light several key insights, including the fact that a wider range of products will be beneficial to any subsequent offline stores.
“When we launched the store we really stayed focused on apparel – a lot of high-end apparel brands at really great prices,” says Green. “I think as we look at the venture next year and we look to do, perhaps, version two, we’ll have a more multi-category approach to the store.”
Green says that Shop.ca will also devote more budget to advertising future pop-ups to help spread the word.
“I think we, as Canadian retailers, are going to be better off if we look at all channels as simply commerce.”
Probably the most important lesson for Shop.ca, however, has been affirmation of the notion that it’s important to embrace all forms of commerce not just as an e-tailer, but as a Canadian retailer, particularly given the current shopping habits of Canadian consumers.
“I think it’s important for all of retail in Canada to really embrace commerce, whether it’s online, mobile, or in-store, and I think this pop-up store, in a way, shows our commitment to that,” says Green. “I think we, as Canadian retailers, are going to be better off if we look at all channels as simply commerce, and really meld them together and not try to be distinctive within one channel.”
Shopify’s most recent pop-up store experiment was located in Toronto’s Kensington Market area, selected because of its large artisan community and weekend foot traffic. It wasn’t around very long (four days from December 5 to 8), but proved as successful as a previous pop-up experience it executed in Ottawa, helping the e-commerce company achieve roughly two times the sales it would have otherwise during the same period. Thanks to involvement from BlogTO, including content and ad space on their site, as well as Facebook ads, it was able to drive significant traffic back online.
Both Popify experiences helped Shopify achieve some significant learnings of its own. Like Ottawa, Popify Toronto was an experiment in retail that brought online-only retailers into an offline storefront in order to help Shopify learn more about the offline commerce landscape.
“When merchants don’t need to send salespeople and inventory they are almost always interested in participating, no matter where in the world it is.”
Popify Toronto, however, was an experiment conducted in a different vein from Popify Ottawa, says Andrew Leek, Director of Product Labs at Shopify. The Toronto experiment involved 12 curated Shopify merchants from around the world (as selected by blogTO), that were invited to display at Popify.
The merchants and their inventory weren’t physically present, rather only a single display unit was available for customers to interact with products. The framework made it such that a creator or maker in any city could participate without incurring huge costs. On the other hand, Popify Ottawa’s merchants and inventory were brought on site into a retail location and the event lasted a single day instead of four.
“Both experiences were designed to test different things,” says Leek. “The learnings from the first didn’t necessarily impact the second. We are running multiple tracks of experiments with regards to retail to help us understand the converged experience.”
The Toronto experience helped Shopify to learn about how consumers interact with technology in the real world, he adds.
“When merchants don’t need to send salespeople and inventory they are almost always interested in participating, no matter where in the world it is,” says Leek. “Also, consumers are interested and intrigued by technology they can use in the retail experience, but it needs to be incredibly simple. Finally, consumers want choice and want to shop in the way that is most convenient to them.”
“What we believe is that the future of retail is all about consumer choice and merchants need to offer that.”
Ultimately, both Popify experiences were manifestations of Shopify’s desire to learn as much as possible about the consumer experience across all commerce. That mantra is one that Shopify’s very familiar with and has embedded into its vision for the future of retail:
“There’s this concept that the future of retail is online versus offline, or just online. We don’t believe that. What we believe is that the future of retail is all about consumer choice and merchants need to offer that. Whether that’s ordering online and picking up in store or buying in store and having it shipped somewhere else, consumers are looking for flexibility.”
As for other e-tailers looking to execute pop-up experiments of their own, Leek has some advice:
“Create a pop-up kit that is simple, straightforward, and can be shipped to any city on the drop of a dime,” he says. “Also, provide benefits like ‘free shipping and guaranteed delivery times.’ This goes back to the notion of giving consumers choice. Finally, use Shopify of course (we tend to bring our merchants opportunities like these).”