What Is Pop-Up Retail?

Pop-up retail is a retail store (a "pop-up shop") that is opened temporarily to take advantage of a faddish trend or seasonal demand. Demand for products sold in pop-up retail is typically short-lived or related to a particular holiday. Pop-up retail stores are found most often in the apparel and toy industries.

How Pop-Up Retail Works

The term "pop-up" refers to the short-term duration of the retail stores, which "pop up" one day and are gone the next. Halloween costume stores are a common example for October, as are fireworks stores leading up to the fourth of July.

Pop-up stores are also beneficial to retailers; in a down market, sellers can take advantage of lower rents and shorter leases if they are looking to generate sales but have a limited amount of inventory. Pop-up stores may appear under short-term leases in abandoned retail spaces, which also provides landlords some reprieve.

A Brief History of Pop-Up Retail

Temporary pop-up retail establishments find their origins in the Vienna December market in 1298 and in the European Christmas markets that followed. Seasonal farmer's markets, holiday fireworks stands, Halloween costume shops, consumer expos, and event-specific concessions are other examples of pop-up retailing.

The Ritual Expo was one of the first iterations of the modern pop-up retail store. Not yet referred to as pop-up retail, the 1997 Los Angeles event was created by Patrick Courrielche and was later called a one-day "ultimate hipster mall.” The pop-up retail concept quickly caught the eye of large brands, which saw the potential of creating short-term experiences to promote their products to target audiences. AT&T, Levi-Strauss, and Motorola later worked with Courrielche to create pop-up shopping experiences across the country to market their products to young demographics.

Pop-up retail began extending into other genres around 2009 when temporary restaurants started popping up in various locations. Interest in pop-up retail continued growing from there. Newbury Street in Boston has recently become a center for pop-up retail, hosting temporary storefronts for Martellus Bennett, Cotton, Kanye West, and other local brands.

Key Takeaways

  • Pop-up retail refers to temporary retail stores that open for a short period of time in order to take advantage of a passing fad or seasonal demand.
  • Holiday markets, Halloween stores, and limited engagement experiential retail are all common examples of pop-up shops.
  • Pop-up retail has a long history but has recently become a trend in and of itself.

Examples of Pop-Up Retail

Trendwatching.com claims to have coined the term "pop-up retail" in January 2004. Below are several key examples of pop-up retail:

  • In November 2002, discount retailer Target took over a 220-foot boat at Chelsea Piers for two-weeks on the Hudson River that coincided with Black Friday. 
  • Vacant, a Los Angeles-based business specializing in pop-ups, arrived in New York in February 2003, and they worked with Dr. Martens on developing a pop-up space at 43 Mercer Street. 
  • Song Airlines opened a pop-up shop in New York City in 2003. 
  • Comme des Garçons opened a pop-up shop in 2004 with the "Guerrilla Shop" tag. It remained for a full year.
  • In November 2013, Samsung opened a pop-up shop in New York City's Soho area that worked as a brand experience space. The temporary pop-up space was extended and eventually became a permanent retail space. 
  • In July 2015, Fourth Element opened the world's first underwater pop-up shop at a depth of 19 feet at TEKCamp.2015 in Somerset, England. 

Other brands that have developed pop-up shops as part of their campaigns include Kate Spade, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Colette.