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Why pop-ups may be the saviour of the high street by Phil Pawsey

In what seems like a fundamentally counter-intuitive move, Notonthehighstreet is now set to be…well, on the high street. This month, the online retailer announced plans to open two pop-up stores in London, which will showcase its best-selling items in the run up to Christmas.

Of course, the festive season has always been a sweet spot for pop-up shops. Now, however we are seeing more and more pop-ups spring up throughout the year, with the likes of Amazon (and its pop up fashion shop in Baker Street) and Instagram having joined the pop-up party in 2018.

With the UK’s pop-up industry being worth an estimated £2.3bn, and responsible for the employment of nearly 30,000 people, it’s clear that the pop-up shop is more than a novelty. In fact, it may even prove to be the saviour of the high street.

2018 has shown us how volatile a place the high street is, with mass store closures from the likes of Mothercare, House of Fraser, Marks & Spencer, and Debenhams. Recent research has suggested that an estimated 1,218 shops have been closed or earmarked for closure in the UK since January, potentially putting almost 25,000 jobs at risk.

The traditional high street is in decline partly because of its predictability. There’s a danger of certain shops feeling stale and uninspiring if retailers fail to update their in-store layout and comms on a regular basis. The high street becomes a less enticing place to visit if shoppers feel like they get the same thing every time they visit, especially when compared to the online retailers like Amazon who update their home page and suggested product lists with ferocious frequency. 

To feel relevant, the high street needs versatility, and one effective way of delivering this is through the pop-up store. Pop-up stores offer a chance for the high street to be more dynamic, and offer shoppers unique, limited experiences which will help the high street to stave off predictability. This is especially important in an era of shorter attention spans and where the consumer is constantly on the hunt for new products and experiences.

A regular and constantly changing selection of pop-up stores will allow high streets to harness the best of both the online and offline shopping worlds. It will allow them to pair the versatility of online with the personalised, more human touch of traditional shopping.

When it comes to competing with online retailers, the pop-up shop will be key in luring younger shoppers away from their screens and their swipe-up purchases. This is because the younger shoppers have been shown to crave ‘experience shopping’.  

It’s commonly accepted that millennials are driving the experience economy with their desire for instagrammable ‘newness’. Research across the pond shows that more than three in four millennials would choose to spend their money on an experience or event, rather than buying something desirable. Whilst in the UK, contrary to public expectations, it has been shown that millennials prefer the physical shopping experience to shopping through websites or apps.

Pop-up shops and limited in-store experiences offer retailers the perfect chance to target an audience that is clearly hungry for fresh, event-led shopping experiences.

The pop up store may prove to be the high street’s saviour because it offers a great opportunity for brands to activate their offerings. Ultimately, the innovation of the high street will be down to brands as well as retailers, and the pop-up shop is proving increasingly attractive to brands who want to have a more direct relationship with their consumers.

Cases in point include a pop-up vending machine from Mulberry, a part of a larger immersive pop-up light installation, not to mention recent audacious pop-up activations from the likes of Guinness, Harrods, and Hugo Boss. These brands are entering the world of pop-ups because they have the potential to deliver long-lasting brand experiences which are effective at securing customers’ loyalty.

The more brands that invest in providing these experiences, the better it will be for the high street – but also the brand. Pop ups - like Notonthehighstreet – are already bringing the agility which the high street needs; and for brands like Mulberry and Guinness, they’re offering a new and versatile engagement platform.

The pop up shop is more than a novelty. It’s the natural evolution of a changing high street.

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