Ah, the ease of online shopping – seamlessly browse through hundreds of items in minutes, before even getting out of bed. If that’s so convenient, why bother creating a pop-up shop?
Pop-up shops were the topic of discussion at “Online Goes Offline,” an event hosted by Third Wave Fashion, a consulting company for fashion startups. In conjunction with Internet Week, Olga Vidisheva, founder of Shoptiques.com, Laura Choi, Retail Operations Coordinator for Warby Parker and Jie Zheng, co-founder of Material Wrld were invited to come and speak about their experiences bringing their online startup offline.
Pop-up shops let online retailers showcase their merchandise in a temporary physical location. While each business represented at the panel thrives online, they have all found unique and beneficial uses for pop-ups.
Representatives from Lionesquestyle.com, a site showcasing emerging brands and Anthemwares.com, a site promoting independent luxury brands, also presented tips on how to kick-start a pop-up, should it be appropriate, before the panel spoke. The takeaways from their presentation as well as the points stressed throughout the evening were:
1) Consider the neighborhood – As Vidisheva noted, a pop-up in San Francisco was particularly successful because they included the added benefit of letting customers order online and sending out an assistant to deliver the item at their car door. It was a welcomed gesture in a city where parking is always a big issue.
2) Feedback both offline and online is invaluable – While services such as Google Analytics provide helpful insights, in-person interaction gives more of a subjective feedback. “Nothing beats customers coming up and saying, “Hey I really wish you had a review system,” said Zheng. When not offline, however, Choi notes that Warby Parker makes sure to frequently survey people and always reach out immediately to customers with a question or concern.
3) Finding the right partners is crucial – Look for partners who will elevate or complement your brand. Warby Parker is known for its give back program which means that one pair of glasses is donated for every pair bought. Thus, when partnering, Choi says they look for companies that are Bcorp certified, which are corporations that want to benefit society.
4) Stand out to get those partners – A marketing strategy that generated huge buzz for Shoptiques.com was their “free hugs” event in which hugs were given by models, who also handed out cupcakes and t-shirts. Definitely an attention-grabber.
In addition to its unique online business model, Warby Parker also provides many services in-house, such as on-site optician and optometrist, which, though more expensive, is more convenient for customers.
Material Wrld is standing out by gaining a reputation as a company that hosts many entertaining events, which is what a pop-up should be.
5) Understand who you’re partnering with – As Vidisheva noted, boutique owners are artists who have a passion for curation and are not salesmen. Understanding where their strengths lie will help you understand how you can best help each other. While stores may be good at merchandising, they might need help with services such as professional photographs or analytics.
6) Be ready to put lots of time and effort into a pop-up: Although it may be temporary, there are many logistics to consider with a physical store that range from acquiring a space to figuring out who’s best at interacting with customers, especially since that person will spend a lot of time educating first-time customers about the brand. Also consider if you’re main goal with the pop-up is to simply raise brand awareness or large profits?
For Zheng, whose company lets people resell designer items from their “closets”, pop-ups have allowed them the opportunity to partner with designers in a unique way. This includes Kikka Hanazawa, CEO of VPL who loved the site’s eBay-like concept and decided to offer up store space for a temporary showcase. Steven Alan has also partnered with Material Wrld to run a 4-day large-scale clothes swapping event.
Warby Parker’s offline presence, said Choi, developed more organically. As the site grew in popularity, it became harder to keep inventory, in stock so customers would ask to visit the Warby Parker office, which at the time meant the co-founder’s apartment. Their flagship store is now in Soho.
From the start, Vidisheva had the idea of letting customers feel like they were shopping in their favorite foreign store, which is why customers can browse through “neighborhoods” on her site.
If your fashion company chooses to blend offline and online, remember that you’ll be exploring a new frontier. As Choi noted when asked what her favorite and least favorite thing was about this emerging combination: “The challenge and reward are the same… We’re all figuring it out as we go.”