The retailer-customer relationship today has the consumer firmly in control. Whether it’s a last-minute purchase on a smartphone, or a trip to the High Street, customers decide when, how and where to engage a retailer.
Rather than passively wait for consumers to “choose them”, retailers are taking a more proactive approach to customer acquisition and engagement. They are bringing their brand to where customers gather through temporary physical stores known as pop-ups. These can be as sophisticated as taking over an empty store front on the High Street for several weeks, to as short-term as a tent at a one-day event. Some may assume the boom in pop-ups is exclusive to online-only retailers; however, pop-ups are also a widely adopted strategy by traditional retailers. We’re even seeing department stores get in on the pop-up action by remodeling shops to look like a “pop-up market”.
However, deciding to set up a pop-up is not an overnight decision. Retailers need to consider all aspects from the volume of stock, to the optimal location, to selecting a commerce system. Traditionally, there have been two ways to implement commerce technology for pop-ups – both of which present considerable challenges.
The first option is to roll out big heavy registers and the infrastructure that enables them. This is essentially a (very slightly) lighter version of a traditional store system. Considering most pop-ups are designed to be short-term, an intense level of setup and configuration is less than an ideal – even for a temporary location that might last weeks.
The other option is to go super lightweight. Most pop-up shoppers will have negative experiences with retailers who choose this method. The less advanced technology can have an impact on the customer experience, with limitations such as no 360-degree view of the shopper to personalise interactions, no way to integrate loyalty points, and difficulties with returns. Ultimately, this method will disappoint those consumers retailers are working hard to engage.
Neither of these options will serve if pop-up shops become an enduring strategy for retailers – which already seems likely. When considering the tech behind the pop-up, there are four challenges that a tech strategy for pop-ups must overcome: deployment, data, localisation and offline resiliency.
Full PCs with cash drawers and all the peripherals – plus a local LAN to connect them and enable a mini offline store – require an enormous amount of resources to deploy, from provisioning the devices to shipping them out and unpacking and setting them up to taking them down, packing them up again and sending them back. It’s no surprise that retailers have started working with providers like Square as a “hack” to avoid all that provisioning. But going with something very lightweight has its own challenges.
Retailers who choose to go low-tech in how they deploy point-of-sale capabilities to support pop-ups often do so at the expense of an integrated experience for consumers. Customer lookup? Nope, not available – let alone an omnichannel experience. And sometimes retailers lose sight of even basket-level data, choosing to take a report out of the whole event as one line item in order to bring the transaction back into the enterprise. Or, worse, some retailers manually rekey every transaction into a register back at headquarters, just to get all those sales to post to sales audit and thus the general ledger.
Especially if you’re implementing a roving pop-up, it’s important to make sure your tech strategy can keep up with rolling through multiple tax codes. But that’s not the only localisation challenge. Every sale gets a receipt of some kind, whether paper or electronic. Making sure you put the right local “home” store for each customer on the receipt helps keep customers connected to the brand long after the event itself is over.
When you’re in a store, the environment is tightly controlled. And some retailers find that their mobile connectivity even in that kind of an environment is challenging. Taking commerce technology out on the road poses even more challenges – it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about on a bus literally on the road or just in the car park. Some retailers try to address this challenge with mobile hotspots or mobile-based devices, but even then, the connection can be spotty or dropped. And as soon as that happens, both consumers and associates start to get antsy about whether the sale went through at all – which is not a good experience for anyone.
It’s safe to say that the pop-up trend is here to stay. In fact, it’s becoming an important tactic in the battle for the hearts and minds of consumers. While choosing the right technology for pop-ups may have been a headache in the past, advancements in cloud technology mean that retailers no longer have to sacrifice customer experience for speed and agility.
Nikki Baird, VP of retail innovation, Aptos