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Flagships vs Pop Up: What Creates the Best Customer Experience?

Flagships vs Pop-ups: What store format creates the best customer experience?

There are two main types of store formats that are used by retailers all over the world – flagship stores and pop-up stores. This article will look into the defining features of both types and examine which one creates the best shopping experience for a brand’s target audience.

What is a flagship store?

A flagship store is a retailer’s largest, leading or otherwise most important store. They act as a showcase for the brand’s entire range of products and services and often become tourist destinations in their own right.

Flagship stores tend to be the most well-known outlet in a retailer’s store network and play a crucial role in generating brand awareness, customer loyalty and press attention.

What is a pop-up store?

Pop-up stores are temporary retail spaces that, as the name suggests, are designed to pop up in a specific location to promote a particular range of products to a particular audience.

Pop-ups tend to be smaller than a brand’s permanent stores as they only need to display a limited, carefully-curated range of items. They use limited-edition promotions and unique experiences to entice shoppers into visiting before the pop-up moves on to another location.

Flagship store example – Primark

Primark has hundreds of stores all over the world, and a number of these are great examples of flagships. One of its biggest, most iconic flagship stores is located on Madrid’s busiest shopping street – the bustling Gran Via.

Primark Gran Via boasts a massive 135,000 ft2 of retail space across five floors, all of which are filled with digital technologies, bespoke art installations, a 360-degree cinematic experience and laser screens that promote key product ranges.

Primark is a big fan of the flagship model, though, and has opened a number of other high-profile flagships since the launch of its Madrid store in 2015, all of which have supported the brand’s move to evolve alongside the changing preferences and shopping habits of its key target markets.

Primark’s Gran Via flagship store is a tourist destination in its own right.

The Madrid store boasts 134,900 sq ft of retail space across five floors of digital technologies, bespoke art installations, a 360-degree cinematic experience and laser screens promoting the products on offer. When it opened in 2015, this store signified a deliberate move by the retailer to take the Primark brand into the future and evolve alongside the preferences of its key target markets.

Primark is definitely a big fan of the flagship model, though. Only last year, it announced its entrance into the US market with a series of stateside flagships all following a new creative concept. They include a plethora of colour-changing LED lights, neon-effect hanging chandeliers, digital touchscreens and interactive apps that support the brand’s effort to improve its omnichannel offering for an American audience.

Undoubtedly one of the biggest movers and shakers of the retail world, Primark is a great example of how flagship stores can reinforce a brand’s presence in key locations and generate excitement amongst consumers who are seeking the best experiences the retail sector has to offer.

Pop-up store example: Leeds Trinity

Shopping centres are perhaps the best location for pop-up stores, with thousands of potential customers passing through them each day. Leeds Trinity shopping mall recognised this opportunity and decided to set up a temporary retail space in its main thoroughfare for use by different brands.

Asics and Armani Exchange both took advantage of the pop-up space, using it to interact with huge numbers of customers and showcase their newest product ranges. The pop-up was built using a modular construction system to create an eye-catching, tunnel-like structure that could be customised and enhanced to suit brand-specific requirements.

What’s more, thanks to the inherent flexibility of modular systems, the entire structure could be disassembled, transported and reassembled in different locations throughout the shopping centre to enable brands to reach even greater numbers of customers.

What are the benefits of flagship stores?

Flagships are retail destinations

Faced with tough competition from online retailers, today’s bricks and mortar stores need to do all they can to lure consumers back into the physical world. Creating multi-sensory experiences, flagship stores enable brands to make emotional connections with shoppers through the use of emotional, aesthetic and interactive elements. With such a wide range of products, services and unique experiences all under one roof, flagships are a destination venue in their own right.

Consider fashion designer Louis Vuitton’s Singapore flagship, for example. Called ‘Island Maison’, the store featured indoor canals offering gondola rides, underwater tunnels, art exhibitions and a synthetic ice rink! While many shoppers visit the store to browse the products on display, others come simply to marvel at its unmissable experience design and get a glimpse of Singapore’s skyline whilst they’re there.

The Island Maison flagship is an excellent example of what flagship stores should be – a space that has a real wow factor and provides customers with unforgettable shopping experiences.

Flagships generate brand awareness

Of course, in addition to appealing to shoppers, flagships also provide the perfect opportunity to showcase a brand. As such, they are not just about profit. Instead, flagships very clearly set out what a brand represents, who its target audience is and how it is different from the competition.

Often located in the most glamorous locations with the most impressive floor space, nothing about the flagship is subtle. Instead, the design and purpose of a flagship are to be noticed and to win the hearts and minds of shoppers.

Interestingly, by focusing on the brand, the flagship can also be used to test the market and see what works. Flagships often have the most flexible and experimental design in a store’s chain making them the catwalk of the retail world.

Nike’s House of Innovation flagship store in Paris – Image source: Nike

What are the limitations of flagship stores?

Flagships can be costly

Not every flagship requires a budget to match that of Louis Vuitton’s Island Maison store, but a certain level of investment is required to make a flagship a success, and the stores usually need the support of design agency partners and a redevelopment budget. The low impact flagship is unlikely to impress anyone and simply blend in with its competitors, this could actually damage a brand’s long-term success.

Likewise, the costs to upkeep a flagship store can be prohibitive. Not only do they attract a higher level of footfall (so require regular maintenance to keep them looking good), but they also run the risk of becoming stale if not regularly refurbished. Relevancy is the challenge that faces all retailers. Design trends change rapidly, and, all too often a store’s interior can become dated or out of sync with its customers. For flagships, falling behind the times and failing to keep pace with the latest trends can be the kiss of death.

What are the benefits of pop-up stores?

Pop-ups are popular with consumers

According to a 2015 report from the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr), pop-up retail is now worth £2.3 billion to the UK economy. That’s 0.76% of total UK retail turnover (up from 0.6% the year before) and an increase of more than £200 million in sales. This is proof that pop-up stores are popular with shoppers thanks to their ability to offer exclusive products in unique locations.

There is no doubt that the line between traditional retail and pop-ups are becoming blurred. We’re seeing established retailers and previously online-only brands using the emerging model to test out possible new locations and product lines. Indeed, according to the report, 8% of retailers launched a pop-up sometime in the preceding year, with 10% planning to open one in the next five years.

Pop-up stores create a buzz

Due to their limited-edition, exclusive product ranges and experiences, pop-up stores are an ultra-effective way of generating a massive buzz about a particular brand. And it’s not just traditional retailers that have recognised this, with celebrities such as Kanye West launching their own pop up shops to promote their merchandise ranges in an offline space.

After tweeting the location of the store on its launch day, hundreds of Kanye’s fans and fashion lovers queued to be the first in line when it opened. Commentators at the scene described a “frenzy in the air” and said that “the closest to the front argued amongst each other, determined to be the very first person” to enter the store.

Kanye West’s Life of Pablo pop-up store in New York – Image source: NY Times

Pop-ups are agile

Offering a cost-effective alternative to the flagship store, pop-ups provide retailers with a simpler solution. They enable brands to react quickly to changing trends in order to remain relevant in the eyes of their target markets.

Rather than spending all their time and budget creating the ‘perfect’ retail space, pop-ups enable brands to focus their efforts on testing a variety of smaller methods and approaches. By using elements such as modular display structures and LED lightboxes, retailers can extend the cost-effectiveness of their pop up stores as these fixtures can then be reused over and over again in different locations.

Modular pop-up store used by Hugo Boss in Oxford’s Westgate Shopping Centre

What are the limitations of pop-up stores?

For some retailers, launching a pop-up store is seen to be more effort than it’s worth. The preparation and organisation required to create a successful pop-up have dissuaded some inexperienced retailers from investing their time and energy into something that’s not guaranteed to offer a return on investment.

There are ways to overcome these obstacles, though. By designing modular pop-up spaces that are flexible, reusable and readily customisable, retailers can feel more confident that they will be able to get as much value out of their pop-up store as possible.

What’s better…flagships or pop-ups?

Ultimately, there is no definitive answer to this question, as both store types serve very different purposes. With the rise of e-commerce, the importance of a physical presence where people can actively experience a brand has never been more important. To be successful, retailers should use both formats to provide a range of different store experiences for their customers.

And, no matter which model retailers decide to choose – ultimately it’s about how best to use trends in-store design to captivate and draw in consumers, with variation and impact essential to keeping the customer engaged.