Mindful giving: The rise of the pop up store

by WSNXT Team

By Jade Scott

The inventive nature of pop-up and the intrigue that it creates as a platform is almost too compelling to resist, offering a sense of theater wherever it lands.  
The ingenuity of the small space format, the adaptable nature under budget restraints and sense of collaboration and innovation in its offering is a welcome break from the traditional retail format and allows for a certain discernment of choices from its audience (the consumer).  
As the season of giving is upon us, it is the pop ups that provide pergolas of treats and gifts that speak to our inner (and outer) curious consumer. Plus, this year we’re seeing ever-more digital pop ups, providing a curated edit of fine gifts, all from the comfort of our homes, meaning those with an eye for something unique, can still invest in the one-of-a-kind pieces and support independent brands.

Image courtesy of CottonBro via Pexels

It’s evident that this form of buying is on the rise, as over Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend shopping reported huge profits for independent stores and brands, showing that customers are increasingly looking towards more personal and thoughtful gifting and aiming their spend at independent businesses. On December 1, Shopify, which largely hosts merchants from small and independent brands, released its report showing that from 27 - 30 November, sales grew 76 per cent compared to the same period in 2019, with sales upwards of $5.1billion. Furthermore, it revealed that more than 44 million of us purchased from independent and direct-to-consumer brands.  
You know what they say, when you buy from independent businesses, a real person does a little dance every time you do. And now, it seems, we’re dancing on this end of the cash register too, as the ritual of independent shopping brings us joy on many levels. 
This shows so much more about consumers than just spending appetite. It is indicative of how we feel about spending our money and where we are content to do so. Far from being a flash in the pan, pop-up stores now form a core part of our shopping experiences and offer an insight into the world of small businesses and their mighty impact. 

London love Pop Up culture. Image courtesy of DrimaFilm via Shutterstock.com

On the streets across Europe, markets and fairs have long been a staple, an added attraction, particularly during the festive season, when artisans and makers take to towns and cities to present their crafts and connect with those looking for gifts with more thought and meaning. In London retail icon, Selfridges, HURR is the UK’s first luxury rental platform in pop up form, aiming to transform fashion ownership. It is doing so, led by Victoria Prew, to demonstrate a new kind of value in consumerism. Furthermore, the stylish retail behemoth has spilt out onto the street for this festive season, extending its offering with an open-air Christmas market, entitled ‘Christmas Market on the Mews’. All this has been achieved through the prowess of pop up, and within a department store setting no less. 
Speaking of which, WB friends, House of Fluff, held their own pop ups both in the uber-trendy Bowery and then within Saks Fifth Avenue, NYC, when they were in start-up mode, creating luxurious animal-free, eco-conscious furs. Founder, Kym Canter, recalled how much fun it was ‘the mother of invention’ when pulling together the components that would realize their pop up vision. Stayed tuned for much more from House of Fluff and Kym as we reveal our in-depth interview in 2021.

Image courtesy of Tembela Bohle via Pexels

It’s not only the newer brands who are on board with pop up culture; Google’s pop up in New York back in 2016 was successful in creating a stage setting for its product releases at the time. The tech giant didn’t even sell anything, it was, quite literally, a shop window. Yeezy himself went all pop up couture, offering fans public space apparel set up, offering show merch for those not lucky enough to bag a ticket to one of his shows. Using the platform of pop up to reach an audience who would otherwise have missed an opportunity proves that extending reach in more personal ways is aligning with our new consumer values. 
In Hong Kong, K11 Musea, the self-styled ‘Silicon Valley of Culture’ is indulging in the festive spirit with its own Christmas Village Pop-Up. This is a global movement and a joyous one at that. 
Our Good Life Editor caught up with Emily Schildt, Founder, Pop Up Grocer, a new form of traveling grocery store, featuring products from super innovating and exciting brands. Emily said, of her venture, “I've spent my entire career so far working with food brands, and in doing so, I'm acutely aware of how many incredible new ones come about each year. Though, I was challenged to find a physical location (or online destination, for that matter) that housed them all. The vision for Pop Up Grocer was to create this space for consumers to enjoy and discover, while simultaneously offering a launchpad for these emerging brands' products at retail.”

Emily Schildt portrait. Image courtesy of Aaron Bernstein

This is the beauty of pop up in a nutshell and Emily articulates it perfectly. Where do you find the products you covet under one roof, that speak to your soul? It seems, more and more, the answer is pop ups. 
On bringing the grocery store concept in-line with inventive, pop up culture, Emily used her knowledge of how products sustain in the mind “I've worked with small food brands in a brand marketing capacity, which requires that I understand how they live on shelf, to a certain extent, but more importantly, how products live in the minds of today's consumer. And I've always been an avid grocery store visitor, they're like museums to me, hence my creation of an actual grocery store museum.” 
A museum! That’s it, museums offer that allure and, of course, inevitable gift shop purchase (which no one can resist), because it’s something so far removed from the mainstream. It’s unique to the moment and feels all the ‘chicer’ and more sophisticated. It ranges from food and beverages to vegan beauty products. It can be artisan bread, handcrafted jewelry or art. This is the future of retail and its theater. 

WSNXT HK retail concept

There is an honest beauty in the pack away store concept and Emily and her team have been able to deliver a podium for nutritious food brands, as well as an immersive museum experience like no other.  
Pop Up Grocer is on a proverbial roll with its stores, “Williamsburg was our fifth opening most recently, and our third in New York. Our previous two were in Manhattan, and we've also visited Austin, TX and LA with our concept. We chose Williamsburg this time around due to its more residential nature and the stay-at-home behaviors particular to these times, amid the existence of Covid-19.” Further proof that pop up does not mean short-lived. Quite the opposite, PUG is able to bring different geographical demographic a slice of the pop up pie.

“We're lucky in that we're able to operate safely at this time (during COVID-19), and that grocery shopping, while we may not offer it in the traditional sense, is a behavior that has sustained, and people remain relatively comfortable with. However, we've had to reduce capacity inside our doors, and thus operate a line outside, in addition to implementing the standard operational measures such as our staff wearing masks and the sanitization of the space and the products it shelves. We also launched an e-commerce arm, with our curated boxes available for purchase on our website, and now, exclusively through Nordstrom.com, earlier than we'd previously planned.” 

Pop up culture, here to stay

Something which supports the beguiling nature of these modes of operation is the business heart at the center of it. You can feel it almost instantly, that there is a person or group of people working, innovating in their field to offer something unique. Emily agrees “I'm a sucker for novelty; the ingenuity of founders, specifically, and their ability to reformulate products we've consumed for centuries into better-for-you versions, made of ingredients you'd never expect.” 

And, it seems that this kind of searching for gifts to give, not only delights the receiver but enriches our minds as well, making it a much more mindful form of shopping, as Emily puts it, “I greatly enjoy the creativity that comes with the challenge of a new-to-me ingredient. It's part of my 'to be interesting, you have to be interested' approach to life.” This, of course, moves beyond food, but in the case of Pop Up Grocer, they are approaching mindful consumption in a new, lighthearted and yet very considered way, for those so deeply interested in the new and innovative that they are willing to shift habits and embrace a new shopping culture. 
Pop Up Grocer has a brand-new space in Nordstrom, which you can visit now and will be back in Williamsburg come Spring 2021. 

WMNBSS HK retail concept includes regular pop ups, showcasing the coolest brands

WMNBSS itself is on the cusp of revealing its first real-life concept store in Hong Kong, invested in new artists, pop up spaces and a gallery-like feeling that offers much more than a buying opportunity, but an experiential space of reflection and reinvention of one's own considered ideas on retail. 
Our love of the personal, the sense of connection and that wistful feeling of taking care and being super considered in our choices when we gift to others as well as to ourselves are perfectly encapsulated in the pod of the pop up. Long may it reign in retail.