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Pop-up stores are hot on the retail scene

Online retailers use such stores to interact with customers and get instant feedback

In spite of being in a quiet corner on the third level of Orchard Gateway, the pop-up store for women's fashion label Love, Bonito has been drawing crowds since it opened in mid-December last year.

Reception to the temporary 1,200 sq ft space has been "overwhelming", says co-founder Viola Tan, 32. "Some days, it takes an hour for customers to reach a fitting room because of the queues."

The pop-up store, which carries a selection of trendy and affordable apparel from the e-commerce brand, will close on Sunday.

Love, Bonito, whose clothes are mainly made in China and range from $30 for a knit dress to $55 for a tailored jumpsuit, has had pop-up stores before - at VivoCity in 2014 and 313@Somerset last year.

Ms Tan says pop-ups allow her and her partner Rachel Lim, 28, to interact with customers, observe shopping habits and get feedback. "The store is a physical touchpoint for us to connect with customers."

You get to activate crowds in certain parts of Singapore for a few months and then you move to another location and acquire new customers again.

MS NGEOW JIAWEN, chief executive and co-founder of Megafash

Other online labels have been jumping aboard the pop-up store trend too. Though reports of the weakening retail market and ailing brick-and-mortar business abound, online retailers are using temporary physical spaces in malls and department stores to reach out to a wider audience.

E-commerce businesses including multi-label retailer Megafash, home-grown women's fashion label Beyond The Vines, fashion retailer Zalora and luxury online platform Reebonz have all recently opened pop-up stores.

The pop-up was reportedly pioneered by avant-garde Japanese label Comme des Garcons in 2004, when it opened a string of stores in off-the-beaten-track locations in cities such as Barcelona, Berlin, Stockholm and Singapore as part of a guerilla marketing strategy. The pop-ups, which lasted a year each, sold special edition pieces. The label's first guerilla store here opened in Chinatown's Temple Street in 2004. It opened three more of these stores here over the next four years.

The pop-up concept has since grown beyond fashion to encompass restaurants, bars, book stores and art galleries.

Established fashion labels such as Gap, Club 21 and Uniqlo have had pop-up concepts here in the past but the trend seems to be especially popular with e-retailers.

Online retailer Megafash, which launched in 2014 and carries everything from fashion and accessories to home decor and stationery, now has four pop-up stores here.

It opened one at The Centrepoint this month and will be there till the end of May. It also has a pop-up store at Tanjong Pagar mall 100 AM and two others, one focusing on fashion and the other on lifestyle and food products, at 112 Katong.

Chief executive and co-founder Ngeow Jiawen, 27, says pop-ups are a way for the company to expand its footprint and to acquire customers from different locations. "You get to activate crowds in certain parts of Singapore for a few months and then you move to another location and acquire new customers again."

The strategy seems to be working. Revenue from the physical stores grew by about 10 per cent month on month from July to November and jumped 50 per cent from November to December last year.

The short-term lease of pop-ups, ranging from three to six months, are also a safer choice for retailers. Ms Ngeow says not being locked in for a long period means the company can leave a location if it is not yielding results.

Megafash pays a base rental for pop-up stores; the amount depends on the mall and the store's location within the building. She declines to disclose the amount, but says it can go up to five figures.

Pop-up stores are a better way to connect with customers and get instant feedback on designs, say the founders of home-grown label Beyond The Vines.

Husband-and-wife team Daniel Chew, 29, and Rebecca Ting, 28, launched their e-commerce site in May 2015 and had their first pop-up at Chip Bee Gardens from August to September last year. It now has a 650 sq-ft pop-up space at Mandarin Gallery, which opened in January and will end in April. It is discussing a possible lease extension.

Ms Ting says the physical space has helped them "understand the customers and buying patterns, why they choose what they choose, and the fit of Asian women".

Mr Chew says the feedback has enabled them to learn how to better cater to customers. "At such an early stage of the company, we want real feedback from real people on how they'd like the products."

To get a better understanding of customers' needs and likes, Ms Tan of Love, Bonito, says the label tried something new with the current pop-up. It offered free hour-long styling sessions for customers, who were not obliged to buy anything. But she says that all the customers ended up buying at least two pieces after each session.

Corporate trainer Jenny Lie, 39, visited the Love, Bonito store in January and bought matching blouses for herself and her 12-year- old daughter. She says: "I love that we could both try out the outfit and be assured of the fit before buying."

Ms Tan says trying on the clothes and being able to see what size fits them gives new customers the confidence to shop online. Those who shopped at the Love Bonito pop-up are given 10 per cent discount vouchers which they can later use online. She says 30 per cent of the customers who shopped on the website between December last year and last month used the discount code from the pop-up store.

In general, pop-ups appear to be a win-win situation for both retailers and the malls they are in. While labels use pop-ups to grow their customer base, retail experts say that malls use them to keep things fresh and fill empty spaces. Malls such as Suntec City, Orchard Central and The Centrepoint currently have pop-up stores.

The malls either declined to comment or did not respond by press time.

Dr Seshan Ramaswami, associate professor of marketing education at Singapore Management University, says pop-ups are an inexpensive way for malls to increase the perception of constant change and variety. He adds that pop-ups can also take up unused space in the mall, which helps with the bottom line for landlords when it is difficult to secure long-term tenants.

Adjunct associate professor Lynda Wee from Nanyang Business School says pop-ups help malls test the potential of retail tenants for fit and the ability to generate sales.

Ms Patrina Tan, senior vice-president, retail, marketing and leasing at Mandarin Gallery, adds that pop-ups are a way to engage shoppers who might be bored with the same old shops in every mall. "The retail industry is very dynamic and consumers are more discerning and their interests fragmented."

Besides Beyond The Vines on its second floor, Mandarin Gallery also has a pop-up space on the third floor for contemporary women's fashion label Individual Expression.

Ion Orchard has had pop-up stores since 2014 for labels such as online fashion retailer Zalora, luxury fashion label Saint Laurent and skincare brand Aesop. More are scheduled to open this year.

Mr Chris Chong, chief executive of Orchard Turn Developments, which manages Ion Orchard, recognises that pop-up concepts help capture new customers. He says that Ion works with different brands to "bring shoppers novel experiences, concepts and enhanced retail experiences".

With the temporary arrangements bringing benefits to the malls and brands, it is inevitable that the trend of pop-up stores will continue.

As Love, Bonito's Ms Tan says: "We've seen the advantages of having an intimate space to connect with customers. They also can come and meet one of the personal stylists and try the clothes; this is beneficial to everyone. So yes, this strategy works for us and customers will definitely see more of it."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 17, 2016, with the headline 'TOP OF THE POP-UPS'. Print Edition | Subscribe