Pop-Up Stores and Participatory Economy

Hectic, precarious and digitalised, the city’s lifestyle is dramatically changing the way we experience daily environments. While cities grow faster than ever and the crowds become increasingly frenetic and voluminous, people inevitably try to find refuge in the digital world where everyone can have his seemly peaceful spot.

Especially when it comes to shopping, it has become surprisingly challenging and intimidating to enjoy buying in high street shops which, the majority of the time, are overcrowded with people inevitably obstructing the enjoyment of such activity. It is for this reason, that, consequently, more and more buyers are turning to online shopping, a relaxing and enjoyable experience easily done by their home’s sofas. The e-commerce business is, in fact, dominating the market scene representing a $262 billion industry. ‘The brick-and-mortar retail experience, whether in strip malls, malls or separate buildings, is on the decline overall, particularly in the specialty retail sector’ (Storefront, n.d.). Nonetheless, even in a digital age where everything is ephemeral, people are still experiencing a feeling of nostalgia for a human-sized, not reproducible and physical retail experience. Shops are, in fact, not only places for buying but also for mutual visibility and social engagement. What thus appears from the market’s demands is the need to reinvent the experience of shopping, not through a new chain franchise but through a unique, welcoming and innovative concept of retailing.

In this scenario, Pop-up stores, or temporary shops, arise as the perfect answer. ‘No matter what form the pop-up retail shop comes in, this trend is going to become more and more prevalent as retail stores and mall owners seek to find a way to remain relevant in an increasingly e-commerce-centric world. These changes are beneficial to consumers as well by giving them a way to see unique products in person instead of hoping that their Internet pictures do them justice’ (The Storefront, n.d.). The strength of temporary retail shops lays in the capacity of creating an eclectic and memorable experience through the investment of a small budget, short time and high level of experimentation.

MOMO pop-up store, Hong Kong

From a consumer perspective, neither digital nor physical retail is enough for today’s shopper, and what pop-up shops can do is link the internet world with the real world (Stuart Anderson, TfL’s head of retail, cited in Faul, 2014).

Pop-up stores, seen as a ‘lucrative means of bringing innovative  retail experiences to life’ (Faul, 2014), are not only desired by small independent firms but have been increasingly employed also by high street brands. Through this new concept of retailing, affirmed brands connect quickly and build stronger relationships with their customer, sell more, build brand awareness and loyalty and test new markets or products.

Beach pop-up store

The onslaught of digital technology in our lives, as much as in business, is altering the way we communicate and interact and is increasingly underlying our necessity of collaboration. Social media are, in fact, based on the idea of community and shared place – concept of which we are witnessing the lost in the physical world. Moreover, the economy of the last decade has been increasingly based on participation, a reason why platforms such as Uber or Airbnb have successfully entered our everyday lives. Ultimately, also Pop-up stores represent the rise of the participatory economy.

Pop-up Stores are the zeitgeist of all brands in 2016 and are no stranger to collaboration (The Storefront, n.d.).

Partnering allows, in fact, brands or designers to embrace a larger audience. Quick cash flow is not the only outcome of temporary shops: they are ‘revolutionising retail in a time when consumers long for connection and are communicating brand messages purely’ (The Storefront, n.d.).

Although, collaboration in pop-up stores doesn’t necessarily need to happen only in the background. Pop-ups are interactive hubs that often put the crowds in charge of determining the evolution of the shop.


For example, The Street Store in Cape Town, South Africa, founded in January 2014, lays on the public’s participation. The pop-up is a fashion store where the target customers are for the majority homeless people and can easily be recreated everywhere. While encouraging people to donate their second-hand garments, which are hung on the sidewalks of the city, the shop’s mission is to provide free of charge clothes to anyone that can’t afford to buy them from a high street retailer.


Reaching more than a 1,000 people on its first day of operation, The Street Store changes lives. The ease and accessibility of the pop-up shop allow for the ability to be utilised in other locations besides Cape Town (The Storefront, n.d.).

Built on crowds spontaneity but portraying a particular purpose pop-ups of this form are increasingly growing in our society. The emerging phenomenon symbolises the need to reformulate not only the praxis but also the meaning of shopping and consumption. Instead of designing goods we need to invest in the creation, or co-creation, of services and experience which employ products into the realisation of a fairer economy of shared meaning.

The Street Store, Cape Town, 2014



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s