Here Today, Gone Tomorrow: how pop-up stores are helping retailers to test before they build

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow: how pop-up stores are helping retailers to test before they build

Zara’s parent company Inditex is the world’s largest fashion retailer and its profitability is legendary. Operating in the UK through the Zara brand, as well as Massimo Dutti, Bershka, Zara Home, Stradivarius, and Pull & Bear, this is a fashion force to be reckoned with.  

But like many forward-thinking retailers, Inditex realises that future growth can only be sustained if all shopping channels are appropriately nurtured, and if innovations keep pushing the boundaries of what is possible in terms of serving the customer.   

Stores of tomorrow

Last year we saw an interesting development when the company revealed its ‘store of tomorrow’ in London’s Westfield Stratford shopping centre, featuring innovative technology aimed at improving the customers shopping experience.   

The store layout has a dedicated area for collecting online orders, confirming Zara’s commitment to serve shoppers across multiple channels. Before the grand opening, Zara cleverly used some of the store space for a lively pop-up venture which ran for four months. The idea was to build interest, secure sales from what space was available, and to create a test-bed for new tech advancements. This took place while the larger flagship store was refurbished and expanded.  

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Pop-ups to test the water

The pop-up store spanned close to 200 sq m and offered an edited selection of Zara's womenswear and menswear for online purchase directly in-store, alongside the extensive fashion collection. Customers had the choice of receiving their orders within the same day, if placed before 2pm, or the next day if placed after 2pm. 

The technology-driven pop-up also featured an easy payment system operated via Bluetooth, and store assistants were on hand with mobile devices to help customers with product and ordering information. In an era where customers are so often exasperated by a lack of joined-up omnichannel services, it was fascinating to see Zara using this pop-up to handle customer returns and exchanges – rising to the challenge of complex customer demands.  

Integrating stores with the online world

What caught our eye was the fact that Zara's Westfield Stratford pop-up also featured a product recommendation system, using the latest RFID technology. This allowed customers to scan an item to receive more information on it, in addition to multiple choices for coordinating and combining the item with other garments and accessories. These neat ideas will very likely be rolled out elsewhere in the business if they met targets, and proved their worth in driving conversions and delighting shoppers. 

Pablo Isla, Chairman and CEO of Inditex, has gone on record to highlight the relevance of both these exciting store concepts, saying they mark "another milestone in our strategy of integrating our stores with the online world, which defines our identity as a business."  

Push the possible with fashion innovations

Technology is a key part of Zara’s success whether that be the use of AR and VR in merchandising to boost shopper interest, or its ability to accurately plan inventory and product styles based on data analytics. The retailer prides itself on being one step ahead of the competition by using systems and business data to serve its customers better, and pave the way for future omnichannel success. No wonder the global retail industry watches with such avid interest.  

For retailers hoping to emulate this success, the idea of using pop-ups as a testing bed is a good one to borrow. Pop-ups are relatively low cost and low risk to set up, and they provide a quick way to spot what a target audience likes or dislikes. It’s clear that many retail brands – not least the mighty Amazon as well as Zara – consider pop-ups as the chance to bring online shopping into a fun and functional physical space. Expect many more in the immediate future, and to see elements of the future of retail borne out of these smart little incubators.  

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