#TOTPU: Boots, Shoe Zone, and the rise of pop-up retail

Trying to check out the plethora of UK pop-up stores before they disappear has been akin to playing a game of Whac-A-Mole in recent months.

Pop-up retail is nothing new, but there are arguably more retailers and brands utilising this format to speak to and serve their customers than there have ever been. From Boots to Glossier, and from Shoe Zone to Lovehoney, the UK’s streets have been alive and kicking with temporary stores in the last few weeks.

But it’s not just a Christmas thing. Although, Christmas pop-ups selling cards and gift wrap are a common site across the UK, as are novelty appearances from online players like eBay and Notonthehighstreet looking to grab greater market share at this time of year, pop-ups are very much an all-year-round affair.

They have several functions. They might allow an online retailer to meet its customers in person for the first time, or enable a brand to test out its direct-to-consumer retailing skills. Some established retailers use them to trial new products and concepts, with John Lewis Partnership recently opening two in London alongside DNA testing start-up DnaNudge, to help consumers understand products that are genetically suited to them.

Graham Soult, a retail consultant, says pop-ups may also reflect consumers’ growing demand for interesting and memorable experiences on the high street.

“It's what you might call the ‘Heinekenisation’ of the high street – harnessing the opportunities of the bricks-and-mortar environment to refresh the parts that shopping on smartphones and tablets can't reach,” he suggests.


From 20 November to 18 December, health and beauty retailer Boots is hosting pop-ups called Bootiques, offering a fresh approach to Christmas merchandising.

Instead of focusing on three-for-two deals which have become synonymous with Boots at this time of year, the retailer wanted to try something different. In three interactive pop-up spaces across the UK, it is displaying creative and, often, premium gift ideas.

Each shop has a theme. In London’s Soho, naturally that was “love”, selling beauty, fragrance, and sexual healthcare products. During our visit, eyes were drawn to the over-18s-only section showcasing a selection of sex toys, as well as the unique décor.

The fit-out theme was “Heels Over Head”, and the temporary store had a bed, Christmas tree, and other furniture and fittings attached to the ceiling to create an otherworldly experience. There was also a touchscreen, which enabled visitors to take pictures of themselves in what looked like an upside-down room before sharing the images online.

Boots' 'head over heels' themed pop-up was an unusual use of retail design
Boots' 'head over heels' themed pop-up was an unusual use of retail design
The argument is pop-ups keep consumers interested in retail
The argument is pop-ups keep consumers interested in retail

A sleep-themed Bootique was in Liverpool One shopping centre between 3-9 December, and a ‘Tweenager Bootique” – featuring products for the younger generation – is set to appear at Birmingham’s Bullring for one week from 12 December.

Julie Bentley, senior marketing manager at Boots, tells Essential Retail: “We’re living in a time when more and more of the people around us are joining new social tribes, taking up different interests, changing up their lifestyles, and becoming part of new subcultures.

“This is exciting but it can add extra pressure at Christmas when trying to find gifts that show we truly ‘get’ the most important people in our lives. That’s why we’ve created a series of super targeted product curations, called ‘Bootiques’ to help customers find the perfect present.”

Shoe Zone’s Black Friday Slipper Café

Shoe Zone’s Black Friday Slipper Café in London’s Waterloo allowed people to grab a hot drink, relax and play board games, while customising their slippers if they so wished.

Naomi Shefford, head of digital at Shoe Zone, says the pop-up provided a refuge for consumers at what can become a hectic time of year, as well as offering a relevant service.

“Influencers in attendance on the day discussed the importance of spending time with your family as a way to take some time out when things get busy, especially at this time of year,” she explains to Essential Retail.

Shoe Zone offered weary shoppers a place to relax and put their feet up
Shoe Zone offered weary shoppers a place to relax and put their feet up
A haven from the Black Friday madness
A haven from the Black Friday madness

“Shoe Zone were pleased with the positive reception the Slipper Café received as a haven from the Black Friday hustle and bustle. The pop-up café was really important in building awareness of the brand and our key family values," she adds.

Best of the rest

This editor also found time to visit Hot:Second in London’s Shoreditch, which at the end of November showcased academic Karinna Nobbs’ ideas around ‘digital fashion’. Guests were encouraged to donate an unwanted item of clothing to social enterprise Love Not Landfill in exchange for ‘trying on’ a range of outfits for use in the digital world.

As Essential Retail has reported, it was an example of what Nobbs thinks could grow into a future market: people buying fashion to kit out their digital or gaming avatars, or for utilising on their social media feeds without actually buying a physical item.

Meanwhile, a visit to Shoreditch-based Classic Football Shirts’ Christmas pop-up in Soho reminded us of a traditional function of the pop-up: creating more selling space to shift as many products as possible – in this case, it was classic football jerseys.

Top of the Pop-Ups – we want to hear from you

Throughout 2020, Essential Retail will be running a monthly Top of the Pop-Ups series, giving the lowdown on one temporary store at a time and exploring its key features before it disappears for good. By doing so, we aim to document their existence and build a picture of why this form of retail is becoming so popular – or not, as the case may be. You can follow our exploration right here on Essential Retail as well as on social media using the hashtag #TOTPU.

We’ll be keeping our eyes peeled for the most interesting pop-up spaces and making sure we swing by before they become mere myths and legends of retail past. But we encourage retailers and brands opening temporary stores to let us know and kindly put us on the invite list for a grand tour.

Please contact freelance news and features writer, Ben Sillitoe, to alert us about your pop-up plans.

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