18339 Mon, 03/08/2010 - 7:01am
By Warren Shoulberg
They are as old as a Blue Light Special or as new as an 80Gig hard drive. They can be real or they can be virtual. And they are everywhere these days.
They go by many names, but the pop-up sale—be it an ongoing Web site, a quick blip on the Internet or a real store in a shopping mall—has become a mainstay of the retail landscape and promises to change the way America shops.
The pop-up can take many forms, but generally features a limited amount of goods available for a limited amount of time usually at an attractive price.
From there, the pop-up goes in many directions:
• Online Web sites such as OneKingsLane.com and Gilt.com offer an Internet shopping experience, generally for luxury goods that are available for a short period of time—often a day or two at most—at prices usually at a discount compared to what’s available elsewhere in the marketplace. Call it an online sample sale.
• Conventional retailers put a selection of merchandise from their regular assortment on sale online or offer a special discount for a very short period of time, sometimes a day, sometimes just a few hours.
• Retailers or wholesalers looking to test store concepts, get rid of excess inventory or even just help their cash flow out will open a brick-and-mortar store for a few weeks, sometimes with a high profile like Target or Ikea or sometimes with a stealth approach where the store is already gone by the time most people hear about it.
Whatever the format, pop-ups appear to have hit a nerve with shoppers, especially in an economic climate where price sensitivity has become a fact of life like never before.
“Shoppers are very savvy these days and you can’t fool them,” said Susan Feldman, co-president of OneKingsLane.com, which has become the leading online pop-up site for home merchandise. The site went live a year ago, specializing in home furnishings, because, she says, “We thought there was no place to shop for home at a great price.”
Feldman didn’t disclose any numbers, but said the site is growing dramatically and a few random visits recently showed a broad spectrum of products available including textiles, decorative accessories and floor coverings.
Gilt.com, which specializes in apparel but features home products from time to time, is generally acknowledged to be the first U.S. online site of this type to go live, launching in 2007. According to published reports, it now has more than two million members and will do in excess of $400 million this year.
The membership aspect is a twist for these sites. Gilt and several others are by invitation only although anyone can apply for membership. In one recent test, membership was given several days after applying without any additional steps.
OneKingsLane.com does not require membership, only registration.
LuxFinds.com, which launched In February of this year, is another site specializing in home products. It said it is focusing on professionals within the design trade but is open to the general public with registration. Its initial focus seems to be on furniture and decorative accessories.
But not all pop-ups are happening on dedicated Web sites. Conventional retailers, including Saks Fifth Avenue and Pottery Barn, have done pop-ups, sometimes offering specific merchandise or sometimes free shipping for the day.
Macy’s recently offered those registered on its online site a discount good for 12 hours, with savings based on purchase size. It billed the promotion as “Beat the Clock,” requiring shoppers to use the promo code “Ticktock” to get their savings.
Brick and mortar retailers are also doing in-store pop-ups, offering merchandise for a limited period of time. If that sounds like it’s taking a page from the legendary Kmart Blue Light Special format, it is. Started by an enterprising store manager during the 1960s as a way to call attention to a particular item that the store featured for several hours at a reduced price, the Blue Light Special grew to the point that “Attention Kmart shoppers” entered the lexicon of the American language.
Kmart has subsequently resurrected the program both in-store and online and recently created a Blue Light animated character as the focal point of its TV ad campaign.
Pop-ups have spread further into the brick-and-mortar world over the past decade. Spencer Gifts has operated several hundred Spirit stores during the Halloween season, a tactic now imitated by others.
And Target made the concept chic with a series of limited-time stores in Manhattan, often focused on one merchandise classification, but sometimes not. One particularly memorable Target pop-up was held on a boat anchored in New York harbor.
The concept of brick-and-mortar pop-ups is now being institutionalized with the debut of Popupinsider.com, a Web site that connects real estate owners with vacant retail space with companies looking to operate limited-time stores. Begun by home veteran Christina Norsig and her husband, realtor Eric Michael Anton, it bills itself as the “first national online exchange for tenants to search for temporary space and owners to advertise their vacant real estate.”
In a real estate market where there is plenty of excess inventory available, the pair believe the timing is right for such a business, which charges a flat fee for its listings.
The Web site Trendwatching.com asked its readers, “If new products can come and go, why can’t the stores that display them do the same?”
Online and in-store that’s exactly what’s happening.