3 weeks ago
In the face of the all too familiar challenges facing Britain’s high streets, independent retailers are finding a glimmer of hope through pop-up shops. As traditional retail struggles to cope with diminishing footfall and consumer spending, pop-ups present a promising avenue for online entrepreneurs to connect with customers and breathe life back into declining urban shopping areas.
The allure of pop-up shops lies in their ability to bridge the gap between digital and tangible. Asya Ter-Hovakimyan, the founder of the online fashion business OMNISS, said: “For clothes, it's so important to try things on and see them in real life. To be in a store is an amazing experience.” Carnaby Street’s London Made Me pop-up, organised by the Mayor's Creative Enterprise, provided Asya and other online entrepreneurs with an opportunity to interact with loyal customers in a physical setting.
The concept of O-2-O (online-to-offline) has gained traction, promoting the coexistence of physical and digital retail. Retail analyst Natalie Berg said: "There used to be the fear that E-commerce could sound the death knell for the High Street. But we've learnt that physical and digital retail can happily co-exist and there is a convergence. Everyone from the big giants like Amazon and ASOS, down to much smaller independent businesses, are looking to open stores on the high street to engage with customers in a real-life setting.”
Despite the success of pop-up ventures, their impact is difficult to quantify, and their effectiveness can vary. Natalie Berg cautions against seeing pop-ups as a cure-all, describing them as a “fantastic way to inject character into our increasingly homogenous high streets" but emphasising their temporary nature.
Tillie Peel, formerly a vintage clothes seller, founded The Pop-Up Club in 2017 to bring the bricks-and-mortar experience to sustainable online businesses. She has since regenerated more than 25 empty retail spaces across Manchester, Brighton, Chelmsford and London.
Tillie told BBC News her latest project near London’s Victoria Station has just enjoyed an extremely successful festive period and a subsequent extension of another month. Commercial landlords often pay reduced business rates by filling empty retail units, providing an extra incentive for them to work with local pop-up initiatives. In six years, independent businesses have brought in over £1.3m by selling from spaces operated by The Pop-Up Club.
Artist Nephthys Foster said: "The Pop-Up Club has given me the confidence to put out new products and do test runs. I definitely think I’ll have my own shop in the future - I’m manifesting it!”
Nephthys sells original prints via her online shop but has since enjoyed doing business in a city centre setting. She says she also made some invaluable wholesaler contacts, which will help expand her business in the future.
Various types of pop-up initiatives continue to emerge, with each catering to different needs. Platforms like Appear Here operate on an Airbnb-esque model, facilitating the rental of spaces ranging from traditional units to market stalls to outdoor kiosks.
British entrepreneur John Hoyle founded Sook, a company that has built a network of 13 dedicated pop-up spaces from Edinburgh to Southampton, which provides small businesses with a blank canvas to make a space of their own.
For many online entrepreneurs, a stint in a pop-up shop represents their first taste of physical retail. The benefits, such as footfall and face-to-face feedback, come without the burden of long-term financial commitments like leases and business rates.
As these businesses flourish, some entrepreneurs contemplate making their temporary presence on the high street more permanent, signposting a positive shift in the retail sector. In a climate where the high street is in constant flux, a symbiotic relationship between online businesses and pop-up shops could be a beacon of hope, breathing life back into urban retail spaces.
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