Discover more from Fashion Strategy Weekly
How to Create Retail Pop-Ups that Connect
FSW explores the art of retail pop-ups and why getting your content right is key to connecting with customers
Fashion and luxury retail pop-up stores can be understood as a form of dynamic, immersive content designed to drive client engagement towards a specific brand vision.
For retail pop-up stores, content needs to align with brand DNA.
In the pop-up store setting, customer experience and staff communications must be coherent with brand identity.
Mention retail pop-ups in a conversation nowadays about fashion and the Chanel Lucky Chance Diner inevitably comes up. For a branded retail space, this temporary installation has proven surprisingly divisive among both fashion insiders and the public.
The Chanel diner pop-up space, which is housed in a former Mexican diner in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, was created for New York Fashion Week (NYFW) to celebrate the Lucky Chance fragrance and the launch of the Chance Eau Fraiche eau de parfum. The celebrity-filled opening of the Chanel diner pop-up space made the 1950s-theme experience look highly authentic, complete with versions of diner foods like burgers, fries, and pink milkshakes, and plenty of atmosphere. While the Chanel Lucky Chance Diner pop-up was free and open to the public through Sunday, the public-facing experience had no food or beverages and was exclusively a product-focused experience. This disappointed many attendees, many of whom were turned off by the fact that the consumer-facing pop-up experience was nothing like the well-publicized launch event.
While we’re all used to the social media vs. reality bait-and-switch, this is likely not part of the strategy brands set out to implement when crafting consumer-facing experiences like a fashion or luxury pop-up store. So, what strategies engage consumers for fashion retail pop-ups and what tools do brands need?
Like so many parts of the brand-consumer relationship, the keys to success for fashion pop-up stores are not just about product marketing or sales strategy. In the era of TikTok and the creator economy, fashion and luxury consumers crave authenticity and want to participate in the brand experience.
As we will explore, creating retail pop-ups that truly connect with consumers requires the right combination of brand storytelling and content strategy to empower and bring product and sales strategies to life.
The Why of Fashion Pop-Ups
At a high level, retail pop-ups are branded retail experiences that last for a short time, usually no more than three months. Capital One Shopping Research found that retail pop-up shops generate up to $80 billion in annual revenue and are set to exceed $95 billion by 2025. While these numbers include markets outside of fashion and luxury, there is a reason so many fashion and luxury brands opt to launch retail pop-ups.
For fashion and luxury, pop-ups allow brands to create and test out a focused vision for an IRL shop without the overhead or expense of a full retail store. There is a major seasonal component to most fashion and luxury pop-ups, with temporary brand shops cropping up in crowded luxury destinations, including activations like Dior’s Diorivera installation at the Beverly Hills Hotel this summer or Louis Vuitton’s yurt-styled pop-up in St Moritz earlier this year. Fewer distractions means more staff and brand resources to create meaningful consumer-focused experiences. According to one study, 66% of retailers create a pop-up store in order to raise brand awareness and 63% do so with the goal of improving customer connection with 46% out to introduce a new product.
And, on the whole, fashion retail pop-ups can work, if handled “strategically, not tactically,” as Ana Andjelic recently noted. A recent study by MG2 and the Z Suite found that Gen Z shoppers prefer pop-up stores to other kinds of brick-and-mortar experiences, particularly because these temporary stores are more likely to feature shopper-friendly technologies like augmented reality and self-checkout.
The “why” of fashion pop-ups then is straightforward: to raise brand awareness for a specific purpose. What the purpose is depends on the brand, the situation, and the location. Sociologist and Esprit chief brand officer Ana Andjelic recently outlined four approaches fashion and luxury brands take when launching a retail pop-up store. These approaches include:
When introducing a new product
When entering a new market
When showcasing a collaboration
When demonstrating a company’s values
When offering a service
However, the “how” of fashion pop-up stores is a different matter. Gauging “success” on a retail pop-up that is not necessarily out to drive sales is challenging. But, from a certain point of view, it’s really all about consumer brand sentiment. Even if foot traffic is good, many fashion and luxury retail pop-ups fail to connect with consumers simply because they feel off-brand, uninteresting, or lack the expected basics of customer service.
For most shoppers, when it comes to retail pop-up stores, it’s not so much about immersive brand experiences as it is ensuring the pop-up concept and vision in execution feels appropriate and consistent with other brand efforts as well as getting the consumer clienteling strategy right. All of this requires content at its most foundational level: it is all about in-store marketing and real-person interactions and relationship-building between staff and consumers.
Why Retail Pop-Ups Need Content Strategy
When we think of content strategy, most discussions center on omnichannel digital content because it encapsulates the bulk of modern brand marketing. Yet, as we recently reiterated in reference to the idea of Fashion Week as content, our favorite definition of content for fashion and luxury is:
Content is any touchpoint where consumers encounter your brand messaging, both digital and IRL.
Based on this admittedly wide-ranging definition, a fashion or luxury retail pop-up store is a form of content. In fact, a retail pop-up is best understood as a form of immersive, dynamic content designed to drive client engagement towards a specific brand vision. A pop-up store is real-time, top-of-funnel content marketing wherein ROI is all about how your physical branding, your products, and your staff engage with consumers and communicate your brand messaging.
Case Study: Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue Aventura Pop-Up
Let’s look at an example of an actual pop-up the FSW team encountered this summer and explore why it worked from a content perspective.
In July, the FSW team attended Miami Swim Week and had the chance to visit Aventura Mall. While we were there, we wandered by a Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue pop-up store that was set up in the middle of the mall. From a design perspective, the installation had an attractive open floor plan decked out in the Mediterranean blues and whites of the Light Blue fragrance brand. The first time we passed the pop-up, a sales associate asked politely if we wanted a sample of a Mediterranean summery day to go with the hot Miami summery day outside. When we said yes, she handed us a paper strip with an identifiable Light Blue scent on it. The second time we passed, another sales associate saw the paper strip we were still holding and asked if we were having a Mediterranean experience in Miami.
From a brand strategy perspective, this Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue pop-up store worked because the look and feel were on point and reflected the vibe and quality for which the brand is known. From a content perspective, it worked because both of our encounters with the pop-up, albeit brief, conveyed strong, consistent messaging combined with well-timed, appropriate customer service.
In the context of this retail pop-up store, Dolce & Gabbana nailed the basics of content strategy and customer engagement:
The content aligned with their brand DNA.
The customer experience and staff communications were coherent with the brand’s identity.
The sense of the unexpected helped to strengthen the brand-consumer connection.
The communication offered something unique, not just a replication of the regular store experience.
Taking a personalized approach to clienteling is more effective than generic communications.
Some Parting Thoughts on Propping Up Your Pop-Up
Like all content strategies, content for retail pop-ups isn’t about the strength of your brand bible, the cleverness of your marketing, or even the friendliness of your staff. It’s in the integrated approach to brand storytelling and the concomitantly product-led but consumer-focused content and communications. Creating a retail pop-up that truly connects with consumers begins with a holistic content strategy that is aligned with your corporate vision as well as with the needs and preferences of your target audiences.
Fashion and luxury pop-ups don’t happen overnight and neither should their content strategy. In spite of the name “pop-up,” most retail pop-up stores take at least six months to plan, right down to the last detail. One retail expert told us anecdotally that even smaller elements like shopping bags require extensive advance planning. He also noted that in spite of a brand’s best efforts, the real work comes in retaining the connection with clients in the post-pop-up period, especially in unfamiliar markets.
Thanks for reading FSW. Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support our work.