Are pop-up stores the future of physical retail?

I was amazed by a report last week announcing that pop-up stores are now worth £2.3bn to the UK economy. From Google to Ugg boots pop-up stores have become a great way for businesses to market themselves, but it’s incredible to think that such tiny shops can contribute so much. More than that, though, it’s refreshing to see that physical retail still has a very important place in the modern economy. Amidst all the news of the rise of ecommerce and billion-dollar tech companies, it’s proof that physical retail can innovate and that customer experience is still important. In fact, it’s often the experience element that leads digital businesses to launch temporary stores, as they look for an innovative way to attract new customers.

Etsy is one such business that has done very well from its pop-up initiatives. Their Covent Garden-based Christmas pop-up was a roaring success last year – I was personally a big fan – not least because, with its live craft demonstrations, it really emphasised the unique nature of the artisanal online marketplace. It’s no surprise, then, that the company has been given space in Selfridges from October to December to host another Christmas pop-up. Both the operator and the host of the pop-up benefit from its existence, as each serves to attract new customers for the other. In this case, Etsy will reach the wide range of people that come to Selfridges to experience its Christmas shopping, while the department store itself gets a unique feather in its cap.

Etsy headquarters, Hudson, USA

The Google ‘shop in shop’ that Dixons Carphone hosted on Tottenham Court Road earlier this year was also a big hit with shoppers – and generated significant press coverage for both businesses. At a time when Google is actively growing its range of hardware, the physical concession was a brilliant idea for a business that is so well known for its pureplay digital offering. Positive publicity can turn a pop-up into a must-see location, and I’m sure that Etsy will be hoping for similar success with its Selfridges venture.

Pop-up stores don’t just offer retailers a publicity boost, though. There are suggestions that they could be a key tool in the fight to revitalise Britain’s high streets. StartUp Britain is one such initiative, which gives emerging retailers space in large abandoned stores. Six retailers can occupy an empty shop for a fortnight at a cost of £150 each. It’s like an old-fashioned start-up incubator.

The pop-up economy is now so large and growing so strongly that such initiatives are very viable. Pop-up retail grew by 12.3% last year, compared to growth of 1.1% growth in the retail sector as a whole. As that growth continues pop-ups will continue to modernise – by accepting card transactions, for example – and will become even more of a viable alternative to bricks-and-mortar shops.

Do you think that the future of retail lies in pop-ups? Let me know your thoughts at and have a lovely weekend.