The pop-up: Why some Internet-born businesses are setting up corner shops

Ryan Dinger

So what is it about this seemingly contradictory retail strategy that is drawing in digital brands that previously existed solely online?

This is just a test

The pop-up store trend started in 2003 when early iterations, such as the eBay Showhouse and Target's floating store on the Hudson River, began appearing around the U.S. and abroad. Since then, there has been an undeniable attraction to these retail oddities among consumers, and that customer infatuation has made the strategy intriguing for retailers. A number of online retailers have borrowed from the innovative spirit of the pop-up, tested some unique, outside-the-box retail ideas, and applied the learnings to permanent stores.

"Pop-ups can be a great way to test the waters and get a sense of demand and deepen engagement," says Jonah Berger, a marketing professor for The Wharton School and bestselling author of Contagious: Why Things Catch On. The Internet-launched clothing brand Bonobos put this theory to practice when it began testing a limited engagement pop-up at its New York City headquarters in 2011. What Bonobos learned from that early iteration paved the way for a permanent location that opened in 2012. Known as the Bonobos Guideshop, it's an e-commerce store that seeks to improve upon the traditional retail experience by providing highly personal customer service and complimentary appointments with Bonobos Guides, who, according to the company, serve both as fit experts and style advisers.