How retailers seized on popups to woo millennials test growth plans

VANCOUVER • To drum up excitement around the launch of a credit card targeting the oft-pursued millennial demographic, American Express Canada tapped several star chefs last month to serve Instagram-worthy plates at a restaurant in Toronto that would launch and shutter within a week.Before Japanese clothing retailer Uniqlo opened its first Vancouver location this month, it ran a shop with a twist for one day. The location was stocked with flannel shirts, but employees asked Canadians to choose between leaving with a free one or gifting it to a newcomer.Later this month, Google will open a temporary doughnut store in Toronto, promoting its new smart speaker, the Google Home Mini, simultaneously.While the pop-up shop may have started as a way for online retailers to stage a lower-risk experiment with a physical presence, the temporary storefront has morphed into a marketing tool for established brands, often ones that already boast multiple locations.“It’s definitely a trend,” said Tamara Szames, a Canadian retail analyst for apparel and footwear with the NPD Group.Even Ikea Canada, which operates a dozen stores in the country, has created multiple short-lived shops. In June, the Swedish retailer opened the Ikea Play Café in Toronto where shoppers could sample meatballs, play a giant pinball machine and, of course, shop a small selection of the company’s kitchen products.Pop-up shops backed by big corporations now spring up like whack-a-moles, and Szames thinks it’s “a very smart trend.”That experience could change the way a consumer views a company and prompt them to either travel to one of their permanent stores to shop or to their online store, said Szames.Portage Marketing put on a cross-country solve-a-thon pop-upInnovate or die: Retail innovation labs has Canada’s largest retailers testing new tech, productsA temporary location also lets established Canadian companies test new markets in a vast country or international retailers experiment with the Canadian consumer, she said.Japanese-based Muji, for example, offered a pop-up shop in Vancouver earlier this year and later opened a location at Metropolis at Metrotown in nearby Burnaby.The method provides additional benefits for big brands whose products are sold in other companies’ stores.Nestle Canada, for example, hosted a smattering of pop-up shops this past year. In Montreal, people could customize Delissio Rustico margherita pizzas. In Toronto, passersby could sample Haagen-Dazs ice-cream flights à la wine tastings and ice-cream cocktails during happy hour. Later in the summer, pedestrians could stop at a makeshift campground and roast s’mores using Aero chocolate.The practice allows the company to develop an experience for consumers they don’t get to interact with in stores, and re-invent a brand for new, younger demographics, said Tracey Cooke, vice-president of communication and marketing excellence at Nestle.The company sees a direct positive relation with sales in the vicinity of the pop-up, she said.She acknowledges the pop-up is not necessarily a novel concept anymore and retail is on the brink of a saturation in the marketplace.“I think everybody is on the pop-up bandwagon,” she said.Still, she doesn’t foresee them disappearing any time soon as consumers, especially millennials, respond to experiences. For Nestle Canada, she said, pop-ups will remain in their playbook.