Back in the 80’s and 90’s, people actually liked advertising. They wanted to sing along to the jingles, watch the commercials, and see the cool Coca-Cola billboards down the highway. Nowadays, brands have to be sneakier to get their messages heard, whether it’s through targeted PPC and Facebook posts or by interrupting our Spotify playlists and YouTube videos. All in all, as a society we aren’t as excited about advertising as we used to be.

So how do you as a brand resurrect that special quality? The answer could be as simple as unplugging and jumping on the pop-up shop bandwagon.

What is a Pop-Up Shop?

A pop-up shop, also referred to as flash retailing, is a trend where a brand randomly opens up a sales space for a short amount of time before closing it down.

The idea of this tactic is to generate interest, create a sense of urgency, and get people to come pay your business a visit for a fun, limited time event. The pop-ups are usually themed, feature some kind of exclusive giveaway or product, and are entirely unique and memorable.

As a strategy, pop-up shops are tapping into something that’s been missing from marketing for a long time – connection. You’re out there on the frontlines interacting with your target audience, and in a world where our only connection is behind a screen, that can’t be undervalued.

Do Pop-Up Shops Work?

To put it bluntly, yes, and let’s look at Replay Lincoln Park in Chicago to find out why.

This vintage arcade bar has hosted a variety of pop-ups with different themes for over two years. In July of this year, they got aquatic and created a SpongeBob SquarePants-inspired atmosphere.


Saying this theme was a massive hit with their mostly millennial audience is a serious understatement. Over 20,000 people came to visit Replay just to see the entire Bikini Bottom gang. That’s 20,000 people who bought drinks, food, and paid to play on the arcade games!

Replay spent over $25,000 on the art installations, printed materials, and other props for the SpongeBob bar, but they made enough revenue from all the visitors to call it “quite the financial success!”

Mark Kwia, the manager at Replay, had this to say about the experience:

“These pop-up shops are a celebration of pop culture and complement our core mission. We’re a vintage arcade bar that celebrates an easier, more youthful time. Never grow up, it’s a trap!”

Mark Kwia, Manager of Replay Lincoln Park

Kwia believes that pop-ups give customers room to play and experience everything a brand has to offer. You have the freedom to actually enjoy yourself and let loose in a quirky environment.

It all goes to show that pop-ups are really a win-win for both the business and the consumers. People are going to get a unique experience that yields awesome pictures, and in return, the brand will end up with more fandom and more money in their pocket.

What Brands Do Pop-Up Shops?

The pop-up strategy isn’t just for smaller bars like Replay Lincoln Park. Many large, well-known brands have also hosted their own shops in recent years:

Taco Bell

Taco Bell’s pop-up hotel in California hosted 70 lucky guests. The reservations sold out in just two minutes at the V Palm Springs, and with rates between $169 and $300, Taco Bell made a solid profit from the endeavor, though the branding buzz was even bigger.


Jennifer Arnoldt, Taco Bell’s senior director of retail engagement and experience, said the immediate fan interest was a sign of the ROI and the overall success of the pop-up.


In an effort to bring attention to the Home Mini, Google opened pop-up donut shops in nine different cities in 2017. Visitors would open a box and be surprised by either the cool tech gadget or a delicious donut.


The hype seemed to work as Google’s Home Mini surpassed Amazon’s Echo with 20% of the market share in global smart speaker shipments.


Nike hosted a pop-up store in Los Angeles where customers could design their own custom shoes, sit in on a Q&A with Kobe Bryant, and even play basketball on an indoor court.


The event was such a hit, the line stretched around the block in two directions and the venue ran out of parking spaces.


Right in time for the holidays, Target Wonderland set up shop in Manhattan. It was 16,000 square feet of shopping, interactive games, and elaborate displays like a giant Etch A Sketch and a LEGO pirate ship.

Source: WWD: Women’s Wear Daily

The extravagant pop-up, which was created by marketing strategy firm Kaplow, received a ton of media coverage from Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, and Good Morning America. Target plans to continue with this strategy in the future.


Gap gave a new meaning to “magic school bus” with their groovy pop-up shop. The refurbished bus toured the United States and was full of 60’s inspired apparel and accessories.


The Gap bus hit the road in 2009, long before the pop-up craze really took hold. However, many people took to the bus and found a renewed interest in the brand. According to Beth Ann Kaminkow, Global Chief Executive of a popular ad agency, the gap bus “helped rejuvenate a tired brand with energetic outreach.”


Amazon’s share of the US ecommerce market was at 49% in 2018, but they still see the value in pop-up storefronts. Their most popular took place at the Westfield San Francisco Centre where customers could test out a full range of devices like the Echo and Kindle.


Amazon recently decided to shut down its 87 pop-up stores, but during their time they were able to cultivate valuable partnerships with the places where these pop-ups were held – Kohl’s and Whole Foods. In fact, Amazon ended up buying Whole Foods for a staggering $13.4 billion, and it all started with the pop-ups.


You may be able to find Kellogg’s all over the grocery store, but how about a full-blown Pop-Tarts Café? That was the beauty of this New York pop-up, which featured yummy milkshakes, more than two dozen flavors of the toaster pastries, and even Pop-Tart burritos!


A box of Pop-Tarts is anywhere from $1.99 to $3.50 in most stores, but the Pop Tart Café created new possibilities that weren’t available in the grocery store, including recipe inspiration and a partnership with UberEats. Who knows where the future of this collaboration may lead?


This one’s for the people who want delicious Swedish meatballs, but don’t want to navigate the entire store. The IKEA Play Café in Toronto provided the dining experience without the risk of getting lost.


As of November 2018, there are 424 IKEAs in 52 countries around the world. However, the Swedish company still finds value in flash retailing. IKEA pop-ups have also shown up in Australia,  the Southwest, New York, and Chicago.


The drive-thru line at Portillo’s is always insanely long. Fans of the fast food franchise could visit their pop-up shop at Woodfield Mall in Illinois. The shop had it all – a giant onion ring you could sit in, a foam fry ball pit, and the opportunity to dress up as a beef!

Portillo's pop up shop

There was also plenty of branded swag for people to buy like mini shake keychains, Weiner dog plush toys, and custom shirts with the Portillo’s logo. Portillo’s plans to expand to 600 stores, increasing their number of locations by 10% every year. Bold marketing like this is a step in the right direction!

From Nike’s lines around the block to Taco Bell’s return-on-investment, these pop-ups go to show just how valuable this marketing strategy is for all industries.

Kaley Roshitsh, an author for fashion-industry trade journal WWD: Women’s Wear Daily said it best:

“Pop-ups are being used for experimentation as well as to connect brands and consumers in an authentic way.”

It’s a strategy that seems to be working as approximately $10 billion in sales revenue was generated from pop-ups in 2018.

Why Pop-Up Shops Are Good Marketing

Overall, a pop-up shop has a myriad of benefits when it comes to reaching today’s consumers. Here’s a short and sweet rundown:

Social Media Shares

Instagram graphic

Think of pop-up shops like having your cake and eating it, too. Not only are you creating a personalized, interactive experience, but you’re also going to get a ton of social media exposure from the deal, which matters as 33% of customers use these platforms to learn about new brands.  It’s combining the best of offline and online marketing!

Instant Gratification

Shipping box graphic

In a world dominated by Netflix and Amazon, it’s no surprise that people want things immediately. According to Jia Wertz, the CEO of a fashion brand and a frequent contributor for Forbes:  “Instant gratification has become an expectation, and the norm rather than the exception.” A pop-up shop meets that need and gives visitors the option to try out new products firsthand.

Word-of-Mouth Interest

Word-of-mouth graphic

People are inclined to trust the word of their friends and family. In fact, according to Nielsen 92% of consumers believe suggestions from their loved ones more than advertiser. It’s easier to generate that word-of-mouth buzz with a unique pop-up shop that gives people a reason to talk about you.

Cost-effective marketing

Money graphic

Replay Lincoln Park may have invested over $25,000 in their pop-up, but your budget is up to you. Ultimately, a pop-up means a lower risk, less square footage, a shorter rental period, and no overhead costs. You can make this strategy work no matter how much you’re willing to spend.

Your customers deserve something they can laugh about, take pictures of, and overall interact with. So it’s about time you give Google and PPC a break and try something offline and kind of different. No pineapples under the sea required!


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