The Art of Pop-up Marketplaces

By Loralyn Mears PhD Loralyn Mears PhD has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team
Published on August 29, 2019

Generally, as marketers, our collective perception is that we’re constantly creating new channels and modalities to engage a prospective customer. However, the reality is that what’s old is new again. Specifically, we are perpetually reusing and upcycling old to ancient tactics and applying them to meet the demands of our modern world. Simply stated, pop-up marketplaces are today’s answer to the retail apocalypse and a contemporary version of peddling wares in the street.

Pop-up marketplaces date back over 700 years

Peddling dominated sales in the United Kingdom as early as the 12th Century. Peddlers skilled at storytelling, aka “pitch-artists,” achieved high success rates hawking their wares.  Here’s a factoid tidbit: Vienna is regarded as the original pop-up marketplace. Its Christmas markets date back to 1298.

Farmers’ and seasonal markets soon went mainstream across Europe. Then, by the mid-1800s, Chicago, New York, London, and other major cities established market villages. Assigned stalls enabled peddlers to pitch and sell. Not much has really changed in the seven centuries or so since pop-up marketplaces made their debut. Today, brands today are still dependent upon storytelling and an artfully crafted pitch.

Spurred by the retail apocalypse

The collapse of the shopping mall and flagship retail stores has been well documented. These losses have largely attributed to skyrocketing rents. In the last two years in the US alone, more than 15,000 brick and mortar stores have been shuttered. Moreover, analysts forecast that an additional 75,000 stores will be closed within the next 5-6 years.

It’s unfathomable to think that harrowed stores on Manhattan’s prestigious 5th Avenue have recently closed. Others, like Tiffany’s, have invested hundreds of millions of dollars and more than three years of extensive renovations to update their brands. They’ve done so in a desperate appeal to attract a younger audience. Some of the more recent closures include Polo Ralph Lauren, Henri Bendel’s plus Lord & Taylor. Not only has the glamor and glitz that characterized these stores disappeared, but so has some of the magic of Christmas in the city.

Pop-ups are popping up everywhere

Enter the pop-up marketplace. The goal? Find an affordable, ideally neglected and low-cost space that is well-located and will attract sufficient foot traffic. Then transform it into a temporary outpost for your brand.

Hire masters at their craft, like BlackHouse, an NYC-based event planning and production agency owned and managed by a diverse and deeply talented team of women. And then poof. Just like that, your customers will be immersed in a whole new ‘grammable experience. The fleeting nature of pop-up marketplaces further underscores the sense of urgency for customers to visit it. Visitors take photos then slam them up on Instagram. In so doing, they propagate your brand’s new label as a trendsetter.

Pop-ups provide numerous benefits. Landlords can utilize any empty property. Even abandoned sites in a state of ruin are fair game so long as they are safe to operate in. Truly, just about any space can be converted into revenue dollars. Brands benefit by controlling their expenses. Although a pop-up may be a splurge, the resulting splash, if done correctly, gives them the adrenalin shot they need to put them on the path to commercial success.

Foodies catalyzed today’s appetite for pop-ups

Food carts are a perfect example of a  pop-up. Boston, a city acclaimed for its innovation in biotech and digital convergence, has one more thing to boast about. It spawned today’s pop-up marketplace boom when it debuted temporary restaurants on Newbury Street back in 2009. Shortly thereafter, Kanye West, a controversial and provocative celebrity, launched his Yeezy fashion line with a pop-up shop.

And now pop-ups are everywhere having rapidly evolved from something trendy into today’s new marketing standard. In fact, many startups and brands are using pop-ups as a vehicle for launch. To put the pop-up industry into perspective, it’s currently a $10B market. Industry and hence, consumer adoption, has been swift.

Pop-up marketplaces afford brands with numerous desirable outcomes. These include direct interaction between the brand and its consumers and in situ data collection. Customers are ecstatic about automated check-outs which expedite and minimize the hassle of buying. Not to mention the benefits of technologically-enabled advancements towards personalization which have spurred this marketing vehicle along. And now, fully autonomous kiosks are becoming commonplace in airports and street corners.

Unique examples of pop-up marketplaces

Some of you may know that I write a weekly Monday motivation column as well as a weekly wine down and chill column. As a science geek by training and a writer by trade, you can imagine my delight when I had the opportunity to bring all my “loves” together. Specifically, I toured the Rosé Mansion, located just south of midtown in NYC.

It’s one of the most postable pop-ups on the scene today. Rosé wine tasting is a guise for an endless photo opp but it’s fun. After all, everything looks better through rose-colored glasses! But act soon if you want to be one of the 100,000 people who will tour the mansion before it closes September 30th.


Big brands have taken notice

Last year, Macy’s launched pop-ups within its Manhattan store. Consumers can now visit a marketplace within a flagship retail store within a mall. It’s a rather unique spin on shopping. And it’s working. People are returning to the store regularly to see what’s new, lured in by the prospect of discovery.

Nike and Levi’s have recently launched epic versions of pop-up marketplaces, right in Time’s Square, New York City. And here’s the interesting twist. Nike’s pop-up, albeit a permanent or at least long-term installation, isn’t a store at all. In contrast, it’s branded as Nike’s “House of Innovation” which doesn’t have any provisions to buy anything! Consumers can walk through a gallery-like exhibit of mannequins sporting various clothing items then snap the QR code. Doing so triggers an instant order which is then shipped to their home with a single click.

Similarly, Levi’s offers onsite customization which enables consumers to select patches and tags that can be sewn onto their purchased items. Tailoring is also provided. All customized items are then shipped to their homes. Clearly, the caché once afforded by touting a branded shopping bag has gone the way of the cassette player.

Parting comments

In a nutshell, if you’re a big company looking to do a splashy product launch or a startup seeking to get noticed, consider a pop-up. They’re hip, offer unlimited latitude for creativity and can put you in direct contact with your customers. Not to mention that they can – and should be – really fun!

By Loralyn Mears PhD Loralyn Mears PhD has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team

Journalist verified by Muck Rack verified

Dr. Loralyn Mears is a Columnist at Grit Daily and a podcast host (The Grit Files, which aims to shine the spotlight on female founders). She is a content marketer, founder of the WORKtech startup, STEERus, specializing in personal and professional development to address gaps in soft skills - communication in particular. In her consultancy practice, she helps clients with content and strategy. Loralyn spent over a decade playing with mosquito DNA, got her PhD, decided she would rather market science than be at the bench and has never looked back. Along the way, she’s wined and dined her way around the globe. She's authored two books, including the 2018 Gold Medal Indie Book award-winning, One Sip At a Time: a Memoir and the hard science thriller, "The Battle for Humanity: How Science Saved Us." 

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