Shoppers covet new products and new experiences and pop-up stores are perfectly suited to meet those needs.

I had my first real encounter with a pop-up shop. Last week, my 16-year old daughter suggested she just absolutely had to go to the Glossier pop-up shop. Between encouragement from friends and social media interactions, it was a “must do” on her list. She was on a mission to learn more about both their Boy Brow and Skin Tint products. I knew the brand from the industry buzz, but harkened to know more.

LAUREN FREEDMAN

Lauren Freedman, president, the e-tailing group

Glossier began in 2014 as a spin-off from the beauty blog Into the Gloss. Like many other digitally native brands, it tested the retail waters with a New York showroom while opening an LA store earlier this year. According to founder and CEO Emily Weiss, Glossier sought to “make the store a very unique and special experience,” which makes limited pop-up locations intriguing for its customers. Lucky for us, just as they had in other cities like Dallas, London, San Francisco and Toronto, Glossier brought its brand to Chicago. This two-month store experience supported this vision and brought a bit of mystique to a new market.

Digital homework

My daughter had done her homework in advance. She began by going to YouTube where there were product reviews. The one she watched provided a hands-on look at a range of products, and the reviewer was very passionate. The woman identified best-sellers, including Boy Brow, and prices popped up as the video moved along. She was able to articulate that it was all about simple, alluding to the brand’s story.

Before making the trek over, my first thought was to visit Glossier’s website. It welcomes you and shares its vision that “Glossier was founded on the fact that beauty isn’t made in a boardroom—it happens when the individual is celebrated. Personal choice is the most important decision a brand can never make.”

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“Skin first. Makeup second,” is Glossier’s mantra and a quick glance at its assortment suggested it has around 40 products in its line.

The store visit

Being a perfect mother and having a yen to be in touch with all things digital and physical retail, we headed over for a firsthand visit, satisfying her desires and my hunger for knowledge about new stores. As we pulled up to the store in Chicago’s uber-trendy West Loop neighborhood, I could already see people lined up. It was almost as if there was a bouncer controlling the entrance into this shopping delight.

First impressions found it fun, it seemed new and the connection from the digital to the physical suggested an omnichannel model prevalent among digital-first brands.

The store was long and narrow, and the employees were all clad in pink jumpsuits. My immediate impression was this is the Oompa Loompas from “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” It was amply staffed and many of the associates were engaged with customers. My guess was that there were 20 or so visitors and most appeared to be in the 18-30 age bracket.

When I asked our associate about how the store was doing, she referenced that they had a body count of 1,200 a day, which translates into visitors in my vernacular. This metaphor was an interesting one, but not one I would have expected from a beauty brand.

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There were a handful of makeup stations and a small number of SKUs that were part of the collection, consistent with what I had seen on the web.

After testing the products and even convincing me to try a few things, the associate placed our order via her iPad technology and we paid on the spot. That information was transmitted to the back of the house, and the goods were bagged in the pretty clear and pink bag and labeled with my daughter’s name. There were a few benches where we waited and presto, the products were in her hands. When we left, I asked my daughter to describe the store experience in a few words and those included cute, different, but a bit overwhelming. In retail lingo, I might have said on trend, current and fun, but I knew I wasn’t the customer.

This was my daughter’s first Glossier purchase and our associate asked for her email address as part of the transaction. This interaction was a perfect opportunity to ask for a mobile number for future texting, integral to her generation, but it wasn’t requested. Sharing her purchase on social media or to tell her friends to stop by also could have extended her reach and influence among her peers. Taking advantage of the physical store encounter for all of those elements makes the investment in the store pay dividends beyond the purchase.

The pop-up industry

Pop-up stores are ideally positioned as malls, in particular, looking to fill empty spaces that have resulted from retailers closing bricks-and-mortar stores. Pop-up retail appears to transcend locations—I encountered one as I was walking to the train in my residential neighborhood a few miles from downtown and have noted their presence in the most successful malls in Chicago to more niche experiences in conjunction with smaller specialty mall locations.

Shoppers covet new products and new experiences and pop-up stores are perfectly suited to meet those needs. The e-retailer or brand has an ideal test lab to learn how real shoppers interact with product live while also using both channels to optimize that experience.

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The shopper point-of-view

In a recent survey of 1,000 omnichannel shoppers as part of the e-tailing group’s Retail Resurgence series, we asked shoppers their reasons for choosing to visit a physical store. The No. 1 reason, cited by 77% of those surveyed, was wanting to touch and feel the products. There is no substitute for the power of that experience. This is especially true in beauty where the product demonstration is often one’s best-selling strategy. Another aspect 1 in 2 respondents selected was wanting to get a full sense of the brand experience knowing that it is better accomplished in the physical store. Lastly, and with similar numbers (46%), was “I have questions I prefer to get answered face to face with a sales associate.”

All three factors played themselves out during our visit to Glossier’s pop-up store. We were both wowed by the brand experience and having perused the website came with expectations in mind. Of course, we had questions and who better to ask than the experts? Our beauty advisor certainly met our expectations, making suggestions, and once my daughter made her selections, she didn’t hesitate to shoot for the upsell.

Store of the future

When subsequently asked in the survey if shoppers could design the store of the future, we’ve zeroed in how important certain elements would be to that process. The findings below support the experience that Glossier delivered, which bodes well for future pop-up stores.

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Pop-up’s lasting role

The pop-up shop is a perfect way to tease today’s digital insiders with a physical store experience. It expands consumers’ knowledge of the brand by making a connection that is next to impossible to deliver online. One can only surmise that these physical stores will continue to be a viable testing ground for online retailers as they invest to build lasting brands.

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