Using Retail Theatre to Drive Engagement in Your Popup Shop

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Although we’ve spoken a lot about experiential marketing, and how creating immersive experiences for your customers in your popup shop can generate more brand loyalty or awareness, one thing we haven’t touched on much is its cousin: retail theatre. As you explore all the marketing possibilities available for your upcoming venture, retail theatre is one to add to your toolkit, as it has the potential to increase sales immediately, as well as boost brand loyalty and recognition too.

Target Invokes Willy Wonka for Its Store of the Future

What is Retail Theatre?

Retail theatre is all about creating a theatrical or dramatic experience in order to make the shopping experience more enjoyable. It can be applied in numerous ways, such as devising displays that are artistic or creative or genuinely staging your whole popup shop as if it was a theatre set. In some cases, people consider it as an offshoot of experiential marketing, but it differs in that retail theatre is about enhancing the shopping experience, whilst experiential marketing is aimed more at building relationships. On a grand scale, we might consider what the Disney company does to be retail theatre. Whether you’re in a theme park or one of their stores, their employees are all cast members. Each person is expected to play a specific role, even if their only job is to take out the trash, and all their visual merchandising efforts are themed to create more engagement. They set the stage perfectly to be branded as “The happiest place on earth.” Even tired shoppers can’t help but crack a smile at the displays, and people feel welcome due to the efforts of the cast members.

What Can Retail Theatre Do for a Popup Shop?

Whilst the Disney Store is not a pop-up, the same benefits carry over into short-term retail spaces too.

Capture Attention: Unique approaches and uncommon displays catch the attention of shoppers. Most people tend to go on auto-pilot when shopping, and they may walk past things of interest because of this tunnel vision. However, you can use retail theatre to draw people into your pop up shop when there’s existing traffic, and use it to call attention to specific elements within the store.

Create Engagement: Once you have their attention, you can use retail theatre to encourage people to examine or hold your products. Naturally, getting products into the hands of consumers is the first step on the path to making the purchase, but the physical act of holding a product also increases familiarity and will make them more prone to buying in the future.

In short, the novelty of your retail theatre has the potential to draw people in and get them engaged, providing both short-term results (sales) and long-term results (familiarity, relationships).

How to Integrate Retail Theatre in a Popup Shop

Pop Up in Unexpected Places


Grocery chain TESCO ran into difficulty as it tried to usher South Koreans into its stores. Apparently, the group works so much, that they have little interest in spending what little free time they have shopping. The company solved the issue by appearing where its target customers already were- in subway stations. The unexpected arrangement also merged digital shopping with a physical presence. It appeared as if entire TESCO shelves were stretched across busy pathways, but upon closer inspection, customers learned that getting their groceries delivered to them at home was as simple as browsing the shelves, scanning QR codes, and completing the order. The unique concept was a success. In all, TESCO got 900,000 app downloads and boosted sales by 130% from the campaign’s initial run.

Harness the Power of Tech


Target’s Winter Wonderland pop up shop was the ultimate in showmanship. Shoppers who visited the store were given lanyards with RFID scanners at the start of their journey and were then encouraged to walk through the store and interact with various toy displays. Many were simply stunning visual art displays, such as a Christmas tree built with more than 300 foam Hulk fists, a ginormous SS Free Shipping pirate ship created with Legos, and a massive Etch-a-Sketch. As people came across things they liked, they simply scanned the item with their RFID scanner and it dropped into their virtual cart. At the end of the trip, everything they purchased was delivered Santa-style… down a chimney. Because people had their hands free to interact with items, and all displays were kid-friendly, everyone was able to enjoy the shopping experience in a stress-free immersive setting.

Create Novel Displays


Weary airport travelers can be especially difficult to woo, but some clever merchandisers came up with a novel way of getting customers to stop for some Milka chocolates. The marketing company had custom-made cow displays created for a handful of airports, and each one was different. The concept was so unique, it caught the eye of at least one lifestyle blogger. Oh, and if the spectacle wasn’t big enough to grab the attention of those passing by, the mooing sounds made by the cow, courtesy of motion sensors in its eyes, would certainly do it.

Bend Minds with Backwards Processes


When you want a good cup of coffee, you know the drill. You walk into your neighborhood coffee shop, pick out your latte, frappe, or macchiato, and then customise it to suit. (Is five shots of espresso too much?) Organic Valley knew this, but it wanted to prove a point that good coffee starts with quality creamer, so it turned the ordering process on its head. Customers who walked into the shop were asked to order their ideal size of half-and-half and then were directed to a table to add their coffee after making their purchase. Adding to the theatrics effect, they had one of their real farmers manning the counter.

Design Window Displays that Command Attention

In short, we expect to see certain things in window displays. Generally, it’s signage or merchandise, perhaps with some mannequins. Unfortunately, most retailers, though they may attempt to be creative, fall short and go with the status quo. As a result, we don’t even notice window displays anymore. We just walk past and never give the shop, or what’s happening inside it, any thought. While technically retail, and not a pop-up shop either, W+K’s idea is sure to spark your personal creative genius. In order to grab attention and demonstrate what agency work is like, the company had a hand-drawn monochrome backdrop created for its front window, topped off with a clock that moved backward, typewriter, and trashcan overflowing with crumpled paper. This alone is novel, but the agency took it a step further and had employees work shifts inside the makeshift office. They even took the experience online with a live video feed and invited viewers to grab screenshots, caption them, and share them on social media for a chance to win a prize.

Use Sounds and Scents as a Lure

Visual displays are great, and can certainly do wonders for your popup shop, but how do you catch the attention of people lost in conversation and those staring down at their mobile devices? Reach them through their other senses. You’ll see this at perfume counters in malls, and who can resist the scent of popcorn at the movie theatre? If a scent can be associated with your brand, use it! We’ve also heard of great examples involving sound. For example, when we spoke with John McCullough of Bang & Olufsen for a prior blog, he talked about rainy days being problematic for generating footfall. To overcome this, the shop played music to bring people into the nice dry shop, and it encouraged people who never even thought about B&O to become familiar with the brand. Talk about setting the stage!

Find Your Ideal Popup Shop Today

Hopefully, by now you’re bursting at the seams with unique retail theatre ideas to implement when you launch your own popup shop. If you’re ready to find your ideal venue, browse our list of spaces now. If you’ve got a space you think will work well for someone else, you can also list it with us free.

Created on date: 08/10/2018