Why do luxury pop-ups work and who’s doing them well?

At the beginning of July, Louis Vuitton announced New York as the next location in its global pop-up tour. The 6,000-square-foot monochromatic space covered entirely in neon green ran from 12th until 21st July and showcased the brand’s fall 2019 collection. Located in the city’s Lower East Side, the French luxury label chose the spot to boost its presence in the neighbourhood – which was made popular by streetwear and sneaker shops like Reed Space and Alife. Responding to fervent customer demand, Louis Vuitton has ambitions to hold 100 temporary events this year, compared to 80 in 2018.

These spaces are nothing new. There have been iterations of ephemeral, temporary shops throughout history, but recently luxury brands have started to invest more in their use. And they are proving to be a useful market research tool – after customers responded well to workshops, a nail bar and new products Chanel decided to take up permanent residence in Covent Garden. Pop-ups, when done properly, provide a chance to study consumers in their natural habitat – offering labels real-life insight into how shoppers interact with their installations, all while acting as canvases for creative talent.

Hermèsmatic pop-up. Photo credit: Hermès

As always in the luxury space, experience is just as important as product – and the numbers don’t lie. In the US and Europe, at least 50% of people look to “buy” a luxury experience over branded products. Pop-ups have proved useful in this regard. Hermès’ Hermèsmatic pop-up in Bordeaux provided a unique experience where customers could dye their scarves, free of charge. Sales were not the key focus here, Hermès wanted to share its heritage and personality with anyone that was willing to participate. Monica Ross, Managing Director of Markus Lupfer commented that “big brands who have the advantage of existing traditional and online visibility are in a position to have more fun with pop ups, using them not necessarily as revenue drivers.”

Some brands have demonstrated their values through holistic pop-up experiences alongside charities. For the second year in a row, Fashion Re-told – Harrods’ pop-up on Marylebone High St – set out to raise money for children’s charity NSPCC. The summer garden-inspired installation combined Harrods’ luxury customer service and brand prestige with socially conscious charity shopping. Harrods staff and NSPCC volunteers were on hand to help customers in the store, which offered selections from premium labels such as Stella McCartney, Chloé, Calvin Klein, Diesel and Ralph Lauren. Proceeds from the items supported NSPCC efforts to provide vital support for at-risk children.

As traditional retail space becomes more and more expensive, pop-ups have also proved to be a simpler way of raising brand awareness and visibility – which is useful for luxury labels that have limited exposure. Pop-ups provide the opportunity to test drive certain concepts without committing to expensive real estate within department stores that often has high minimum guarantees and commission rates. In fact, renting a space for your pop-up is easier than ever before with companies like Appear Here providing everything from destination guides to an app that displays daily renting costs.

Fashion Re-told. Photo credit: Harrods

Pop-ups are also handy in exhibiting innovation and creative genius in specifically targeted locations – how a brand chooses to use a particular space will say a lot about the narrative it is tapping into. Coach created Life Coach Tokyo in 2019 as a celebration of the city. The site offered a space for self-reflection; attracting passers-by and highlighting several of Tokyo’s cultural traditions. To make the experience even more authentic, Life Coach Tokyo didn’t feature any branded products. As brand loyalty and purpose have become more important, the immersive concept provides a message that continued beyond the installation. Creatives in luxury houses have been crucial in this regard. Whether it be the lighting or the general layout of the space, designers have become storytellers.

These temporary attractions create a sense of novelty and scarcity – and luxury fans love exclusivity! Like GANNI’s Copenhagen-inspired knick-knacks at its Souvenir pop-ups, items at these temporary stores are often more unique than offerings in existing flagships. An approach that has been borrowed from streetwear, which limits access to create hype. Each new “drop” at a pop-up, offers fresh concepts on constant rotation. The limited edition “shareable” nature of pop-ups drives that even further, which is social media gold. Quite convenient considering the new target audience of luxury brands is affluent millennials and gen z shoppers. In turn, shoppers and spectators are demanding a constant rotation of styles and innovation.

Social media has become the most effective way for Millennials and Gen Z shoppers to hear about luxury item trends. Realising this, content put out by luxury brands is bold, beautiful and unique. It fuels a fear that if you don’t engage, then you’re missing something spectacular. Gen Z and Millennials respond well to that, and the urgency translates over to pop-ups – as soon as a new one is announced, you have to go; their sharing potential – if it’s aesthetic it will be shared on Instagram; and their experience – consumers will engage with brands with vision and values.

Glossier Pop-up, Seattle. Photo credit: Glossier

The cost-effective nature of these temporary spaces means they’ll be around for some time to come – and as luxury becomes more personal, pop-ups will only encourage new and exciting ways to interact with customers. In a rather mysterious statement, Glossier recently confirmed plans to open a pop-up in London this autumn. There aren’t a whole lot of details about the upcoming store but based on the brand’s pink, instagrammable openings everywhere from Seattle to San Francisco, it’s safe to say that Glossier’s infamous queues are inevitable – I can’t wait!

Linda.summers@thembsgroup.co.uk | @TheMBSGroup | The MBS Group