5 ways pop-up shops are influencing retail design

June 13, 2018 Sarah Opila

Minimal, flexible, temporary, and cool—pop-ups create a buzz


Picture yourself walking past a storefront that looks just moved-in-to. The front door opens and closes excitedly. You peer through the unadorned windows and see interesting merchandise so geometrically placed on pallets that it looks like art. The shop bustles with people.

Inside, the walls are bare, and the floor is unfinished but offerings—from pencils to tea towels—are deliberately placed to create an intriguing shopping experience. The clean lines of the product vignettes provide a chance to interact with the goods. This shop is in a popular and trendy retail neighborhood, but it wasn’t here last month. And it will be gone soon. MUJI, a recent pop-up shop celebrating Japanese craftsmanship, showed me the power of retail to excite and delight. I can still recall the unique thrill of discovering this unique pop-up for the first time.

There are good reasons that pop-up shops are exciting to us—they combine people, place, and event in a compelling and invigorating way. When successful, they have a buzz, letting us know we may see something that’s unavailable elsewhere—not online or in the regular stores. They draw a crowd, but an air of exclusivity helps, too. Here are five ways retailers are taking pop-ups and their lessons seriously in 2018.


A pop-up at Faneuil Hall in Boston, Massachusetts.


1. Tease a brand

New retailers want to see how well a new brand will be received by testing a market before investing in a lot of product. A new pop-up shop design can be branded with bold colors, clever imagery, and strong merchandising techniques to test the waters. If successful, the brand may look for other pop-up opportunities or to sign a lease in a long-term retail space.


2. Fill the (unused) space

Brick-and-mortar retail has experienced volatility as omnichannel sales flourish resulting in a rising number of vacancies of retail space in malls and elsewhere. Retailers and real estate agents are open to renting these spaces as pop-up shops. This opportunity can turn a dark storefront into a thriving retail experience.


_q_tweetable:There are good reasons that pop-up shops are exciting to us—they combine people, place, and event in a compelling and invigorating way._q_

3. Market advantage

Big city department stores are looking for ways to create an exciting destination. Why stop with one pop-up when they can create an entire market? At Macy’s Herald Square in New York, an entire floor is dedicated to in-store designer shops from luxury brands. The smaller footprints focus on the specialty retailer’s look but also adhere to the larger store design guidelines to drive order and cohesiveness. Similarly, Dover Street Market (with locations in London, New York, Beijing) brings various high-end fashion boutiques together in one chaotic cool destination—with a market vibe.


4. Keep it raw (and save)

Because these shops are only meant to be temporary, retailers need not invest in long-lasting interior finishes and furnishings. The pop-up look tends to be minimalistic, combining simple materials and finishes with a limited, highly-curated assortment of goods. The previous tenant’s décor package can be refreshed to compliment the new retailer or stripped down to its bare components.


5. Short-term, high-season

Retailers may want to offer the latest trends to their customers during a limited season like summer or the holidays without the commitment to a long-term lease. Pop-ups are a perfect solution. Venues for these seasonal shops include temporary tents, retail on wheels, and knock-down modular (with building blocks that can be easily dismantled and reused).


In an age where people make their purchases with a tap of a button, pop-up retail continues to offer a sense of discovery, inspiration, and novelty.


About the Author

Sarah Opila

Sarah Opila has been designing stores for over 25 years. Her expertise helps retailers develop a brand-centric store design that provides a state-of-the-art, service-oriented, hands-on experience that online shopping can’t.

More Content by Sarah Opila
Previous Article
[With Video] Your community needs a BMX track—here’s why
[With Video] Your community needs a BMX track—here’s why

A BMX track can be a great complement to athletic and recreation fields and continues to grow in popularity

Next Article
Microgrids: An energy solution for small towns with big aspirations
Microgrids: An energy solution for small towns with big aspirations

A solution for the “chicken and egg” conundrum of smaller municipalities that lack the grid capacity to att...