The long tail of pop-up stores

October 10, 2013

Supermarkets have customer trust, and an opportunity to sell foods and non-foods beyond their core seasons.

Pop-up stores are pure occasion-based retail sites.  We’re bound to see many later this year for Halloween and Christmas, and more in subsequent years as the concept spreads.

Supermarkets can do pop-ups too for different year-round seasonal opportunities.  Consider two diverse examples:  the ShopRite Passover store and the Kroger grilling and tailgating set-up at last month’s Richmond International Speedway NASCAR race.  Both imprint the chains as solutions providers when a defined range of foods and nonfoods are in short-term demand.

There’s a key difference between the supermarket efforts and the typical nameless pop-up shops that appear and disappear on the retail landscape:  customer trust in the marquee name, and a feeling of comfort about the store’s product quality and price fairness, says The Lempert Report.  Because this trust exists, supermarkets (and other known retailers) can generate traffic and good-sized baskets that others can’t.

Pop-ups are largely seen as ways to capitalize on short-lived seasonal events. Yet we believe products that target specific occasions could have enduring sales lives online all year long.  The physical setting of a pop-up store may be temporary, but the branding and merchandise availability can last much longer.

The Lempert Report calls this the long tail of pop-ups.  Turkey, for instance, is one of the least expensive, versatile, satisfying high-protein foods in the store.  Sure, Thanksgiving is the peak sales period.  But there’s no reason not to sell frozen turkeys online for much of the year, along with canned pumpkin, cranberry juice and other related flavorful foods—along with wine, colorful napkins, plasticware and other accompaniments that make themed picnics in the spring possible.  Or how about Christmas in July parties with egg nog, whipped cream desserts, invitations, party supplies and more.

Even within season, supermarkets could test their shoppers’ propensity for fun, in ways that a conventional store couldn’t allow.  Pop-up stores could have costume and makeup contests around Halloween, nutrition-for-better-academics seminars during back-to-School, and under tents in the parking lot pet-care demonstrations that benefit local animal shelters.  Stores could also get edgier with private labels, such as cake and cookie mixes in holiday colors—to give shoppers new ideas and expand their image of how the marquee retailer could serve them in unexpected ways.