Pop-Up Retail Goes Mainstream in the U.K.

Unilever, Cadbury and HMV Use Temporary Tactics For Holiday Season

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LONDON (AdAge.com) -- Temporary pop-up shops have become a permanent fixture in the U.K. No longer an underground phenomenon, these one-off marketing tactics designed to get instant buzz have graduated to the mainstream, with Unilever, Cadbury and Britain's biggest entertainment retailer, HMV, all setting up shop for the holiday season.

Unilever's Marmite shop is located on one of central London's biggest and most upmarket shopping destinations, Regent Street. The Pop Art-style shop stocks more than 100 different bits of Marmite merchandise, including homewares, artwork, clothes, food and special Christmas boxes, as well as hosting a "tea and toast" cafe. (Marmite, for the uninitiated, is a popular strong-tasting yeasty spread.) The store is designed as an interactive experience, with games and activities to get involved with every day.

Zoe Lazarus, director and trend analyst at Lowe Counsel, said, "Pop-up shops started as an underground thing -- they were 'guerrilla stores' -- and originally they were about insiders bringing exclusive tastemakers to the stores. Slowly but surely they have worked their way into the mainstream, and they are now about fueling word of mouth on a broader level."

This being nearly 2010, pop-up shops don't exist purely in analogue reality. Cadbury set up the "Caramel Nibbles Boutique" (very close to the Marmite store, in London's premium shopping territory), stocking limited-edition Nibbles-branded scarves created by top U.K. fashion designer Giles Deacon.

The real shop was only for window-shopping. To purchase one of the scarves, consumers had to follow a digital trail that led them through Facebook, as well as pop-up mentions on selected fashion blogs and websites, all the way to an online shop, where the scarves were on sale for two days only.

For those who missed out, a limited number of the Giles Deacon Caramel Nibbles scarves will soon be on sale in the very opposite of a pop up shop -- John Lewis, which has been trading on London's Oxford Street since 1864.

Britain's biggest music store, HMV, is also getting in on the act, although for more practical reasons: It has launched 10 pre-holiday pop-up shops on sites around the U.K. to cope with extra seasonal demand.

One of the HMV shops is at Bluewater, a busy out-of-town shopping center that already houses a permanent HMV. The retailer has also popped up temporarily in towns that no longer have entertainment stores, following the closure of two of HMV's main competitors, Woolworths and Zavvi, in the past year.

"It makes good business sense for HMV," Ms. Lazarus said. "It's an opportunity to do something special with the brand. Pop-up stores connect you to discovery -- it's a process you go through to discover a brand that gives you a reward in the shape of an experience, which is what people value most. They have a story about the brand that inspires an emotional connection."

Airports, the most transitory of environments, are perfect for pop-up shops. A rolling temporary site for pop-ups is opening at one of the U.K.'s busiest international airports, Glasgow, which sees more than 8 million passengers a year. Brands will take over the store for a limited time and customers are currently being invited to vote for what they would most like to see in the shop.

"Duty-free shopping is usually pretty homogeneous, but travelers are often in an adventurous mood so this is a good way to get breakthrough -- especially for seasonal products that don't merit a constant retail presence at airports," Ms. Lazarus said.

The British Retail Consortium reports that central London retail sales in October were 4.2% higher than a year ago, and that retail footfall is also up. However, the increases are from a low base, and confidence is still relatively low, so retailers are looking for new ways to connect with consumers and lure them away from internet shopping. The current economic condition is one factor that has made it easier to create pop-up stores. With plenty of available retail space, landlords are prepared to let property at affordable, short-term rates.

As Ms Lazarus said, "It's tough out there in the retail sector. You need good creative thinking to get people to part with their money."

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