The Retail Experiment

Amazon Samsung Pop-UpThe term to describe a short-term leasing opportunity has evolved since the first merchants went to market to sell their goods at a town square in Central Asia. Millenia have passed and the concept of a farmer, entrepreneur or retailer coming to a central market to sell their wares is just as important today as it was then. Call it what you will: Specialty Leasing. Business Development, Short-term Leasing, Pop Up Shops, etc… It’s all describing the same concept. Open a storefront or space on a temporary basis to sell your product or service to interested shoppers.

As we have endured the first global pandemic in over a century, the notion that a retailer or business owner can open a store on a short-term basis is getting stronger consideration than ever before. COVID has not only altered the shopping habits of consumers but it has altered the shopping habits of retailers looking for real estate. The complete supply chain for a retailer was upset essentially overnight. Today, large international retailers are seeking locations on a temporary basis simply to assist with traffic flow. Distancing constraints have caused retailers to rethink merchandising, in-store traffic flow, and the overall shopping experience. In some cases, brands are contractually requiring retailers to buy product. While stores were closed earlier this year, sales at stores fell off a cliff. While a strong omnichannel practice is essential for 21st Century retail success, few retailers had pursued it let alone perfected it. With vacancies on the rise due to the pandemic’s economic impact, property owners are looking for ways to fill these voids and fast.

Amazon Pop-Up

The concept of opening a temporary store started as a way to make some extra money for entrepreneurs. Now, data analysis, psychology, and marketing all play a major role in the success of a pop-up. I like to use the term: RETAIL EXPERIMENT. We all remember our science experiments conducted in 10th-grade Chemistry. Fundamentally, opening a store on a short-term basis should follow the same steps as these high school experiments: Control, Independent & Dependent variables, and Constants.

Control

A truly successful pop-up store should be measured and compared against another similar store. I’m constantly surprised how infrequent these events are measured. While measuring sales volume is an EASY metric to monitor its only one segment to watch. Social Media provides real-time documentation on how your event is going. While many can focus on the vanity of how many likes and engagement their posts get on social media, the immediate feedback of actual shoppers is valuable. Learning what merchandise is moving and why is also important. Amazon’s Pop-Up 1.0 offered immediate feedback to HQ on its sales of its Alexa and other hardware. Amazon put products in shoppers hands unlike ever before. The Amazon pop up 2.0 offers a similar perspective. Amazon is using these setups to monitor third-party brand’s performance. The 2.0 launched in 2019 with The Food Network.

Kendra Scott

Independent & Dependent Variables

For temporary stores, the independent variable could be location, merchandising, weather, traffic, timing, visibility, service among countless other details that can impact the overall performance of a store. A street-level storefront compared to an enclosed mall common area compared to a suburban, Target anchored power center is an independent variable. Kendra Scott was born from going door-to-door asking retailers to give her space inside stores to sell in Austin, TX. She launched smaller pop-ups on her own before launching a street-level storefront on South Congress. Kendra has even opened common area RMUs in high profile destinations to gauge interest from a new environment.

A dependent variable in terms of opening a pop-up store is the change that can be seen in performance based on the changes of the independent variables. For example, if your merchandising is clean with clear sightlines to see all merchandise available, the store should perform better than if you took 30 seconds to roll out racks and boxes in a high-end, educated shopping location. The Kendra Scott example illustrates the experiences she used to finally settle on how best to present the concept, where to do it, and why. This element of the pop-up experience explains why your performed the way you did. This is the comparison you are looking for when testing different things.

Constant

Halloween Express

This is something that will not change during the store opening period. A constant could be location, merchandise brought to the event, date, and time of your event. These are details that could impact the results of the event. The constants are the elements of your trial that won’t change through the duration of the event. When you are looking to experiment with different retail options, monitoring the constants is a great way to see how your results were impacted by the environment that was created in the beginning. The Halloween shopping season is widely accepted as the 8-week period between September 1 and October 31. This period will never change and is the constant to compare the performance of stores during this period.

Opening a pop-up should be treated as a retail experiment. This can be a collective effort between the location owner and retailer to monitor the success of each event. There are so many variables that can impact the success of an event, it’s imperative to treat each pop up as a clinical trial to know how well it performed. Understanding the data that has been collected and applying it to improve future events is just smart business acumen. We need not limit our analysis to a few data points. Retail Experimentation is critical to the growth of the shopping center industry and to the health of new retailers launching each day.


greg parsonsAbout Greg Parsons
Real Estate Specialist

Greg Parsons is a retail real estate specialist having been involved in all facets of commercial real estate for over two decades. While retail real estate has been a focus, his experience spans across all commercial disciplines including retail, office, industrial, and multi-family throughout North America.

He has held sales and property management leadership positions with Brookfield Properties – Retail, Simon Property Group, and DDR (Now SITE Centers) during his career. This diversified background has helped provide a unique perspective toward the industry and the clients he serves.

Greg is a native of Northeast Ohio and now resides in Houston, TX with his wife and three kids. More on Greg at https://www.linkedin.com/in/gregoryparsons/

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