High Streets Initiative 11 December 2018

Dynamic and collaborative: Why pop-up shops are the future of the high street

pop Brixton
Pop Brixton in South London turned disused land into a creative space for local, independent businesses |Credit: Pop Brixton

Dr Jackie Mulligan, CEO and founder of local businesss platform ShopAppy.com, explains why pop-up retail units could be the future the high street needs.

Before we start – the high street is not dying. It is becoming a playground for new ideas and concepts, a marketplace for the new as well as the traditional. If it is not happening where you are, then you may need to encourage the home-based, online entrepreneurs who undoubtedly live amongst you to pop out and pop-up.

The pop-up retail concept is estimated to be contributing over £2.3bn to the UK economy (CEBR). The trend continues to grow because this new form of experience is a great way for businesses to experiment and shape their products. Alongside stimulating interest in places, pop-ups bring dynamism and vibrancy to areas. They also serve as a pipeline of businesses to enter more permanent bricks and mortar settings left vacant.

The pop-up trend will grow more rapidly in 2019 and customers will increasingly move from large and faceless to small and personal.

We see this in the growing interest in ShopAppy as a way for customers to get the best of both worlds – the beauty of small and local with the online convenience of the giant.

The pop-up trend can breathe new life into empty stores. Councils and BIDs should consider opening up temporary markets, fairs and co-sharing spaces to make the most of the lure of something temporary and new that keeps us interested in visiting and crucially coming back again and again.

Like markets, pop-ups attract footfall and generate jobs (over 10,000 according to the CEBR). Pop-ups bring a community following with them. Being born often online, pop-ups tend to be digital natives with a fanbase that will seek them out.


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Edward St Bakery started serving breads, brownies, pies and more interesting concoctions from their small Saltaire house on (you guessed it) Edward Street. Announced just days before on Twitter, the queues would gather for the fresh baked goods. The queues got longer and longer each week. The queue became part of the experience on a Sunday morning, huddling up for a warm croissant or to collect your sourdough, talking to neighbours, making friends. Having gained a following over a couple of years, the bakery is now a more regular weekly feature in a fixed shop setting. But it still only opens at specific days each week with different menu offerings to keep the customers stimulated, interested and inspired.


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Sunday savouries

A post shared by Edward St Bakery (@edwardstbakery) on

Alongside its new fixed spot, the bakery also pops-up in local Tambourine Coffee (a local café) from time to time with its small plates experience. At the Saltaire Festival, the Bakery even popped up at the hairdressers alongside another pop-up tea producer Stir and Sip.

Pop-ups stir imaginations, help us to see spaces differently and the nature of the pop-up means it is agile, playful, not dependent on stock or even location. It can move with events and it can change with its customers and venues. We are well served with this kind of thing in Saltaire but there are also pop-ups happening elsewhere.

The National Market Traders Federation (NMTF) has run Young Trader Markets since 2013. A Young Trader Markets in Barnsley helped Rosa Dyson, aged 17, test out her business idea. She won the national Youth Markets competition with her Perfect Pout Lip Balm stall in 2017. She has gone on to create her own business Pura Cosmetics, winning business awards and even featured on BBC Business News.

The NMTF, the councils and markets, including NABMA (The National Association of British Market Authorities) are creating environments for young people to experiment with retail in market settings. The novelty of this temporary playground of pop-ups attracts footfall and new (younger) customers into traditional retail spaces.

Pop-ups bring new businesses and new customers into our areas bringing benefits to traditional retailers, existing enterprises and our communities.

Pop-ups also grow fast. So on a final note, looking at their growth, the pop-up mindset is worth considering. Pop-ups are agile, experimental and collaborative. Attributes that in any business as well as in any of our high streets create positive outcomes, in this case, for shoppers and shopping areas longer term.

Jackie Mulligan is a social psychologist and founder of Shopappy, a platform which enables high street businesses to trade online and lets consumers shop after open hours.


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