Good Retail Bad Retail — marketplace pop ups

At the weekend, I popped over to two central London pop up shops from online marketplaces. As a big proponent of physical retail — for brand building as well as to deliver sales — I’m following these online players’ forays into offline with interest.

First up, the pop up in Waterloo station (full disclosure: I ran several categories at until Spring 2017). Overall, a very well-branded experience with strong storytelling.

The pop up in Waterloo station

What I liked:

  • Clear branding running through the overall look & feel and concept design, which was unusual, striking and felt very Christmassy
  • Strong curation and visual merchandising with zoning achieved in a really small footprint — Christmas, children’s and general gifting products were grouped together by colour or theme
  • Good price points; a large number of products in the £10–20 mark, suitable for a quick pickup purchase rather than one requiring deliberation (handy since generally people will generally be passing through Waterloo quickly)
  • Storytelling about the brand and the partners (sellers) on the marketplace explaining the concept
Part of the Christmas display at the pop up

What I disliked:

  • For me, there was some signage around gifting that felt superfluous — in a small space, less is more to get the main messages across
  • Not all prices were tagged in the same way. I can’t help that inconsistency is a personal bugbear
  • The signage regarding returns and credit card payments was wordy and felt cluttered; it didn’t really fit in with the rest of the 2D content, which was very well thought through and on brand
  • If it was my store, I’d have been paranoid about security, selling many small items in such an area of high and fast footfall. Maybe that’s why the price points have been kept relatively low
Too many signs left the payment area a little cluttered

If you want to visit, the pop up is in Waterloo for another few weeks and subsequently a much larger version will be in Westfield (White City) through December.

Next, to Etsy’s blink-and-you-miss-it weekend pop up in Covent Garden (you can read more about my thinking on new retail in the area here). Billed as “Etsy for good” it had a focus on wellbeing, sustainability and craftsmanship.

The exterior of Etsy’s pop up

What I liked:

  • The store was clearly branded from the outside with a prominent logo and board showing the programme of activities
  • There was a clear focus on crafts and activities, with two workshops taking place during my visit taking up over half the space on the ground floor. This led to a feeling of buzz and excitement and had clearly drawn customers into the space
  • The themes hung together nicely and were clearly identified, with a curated set of products selected within each
  • There were storytelling cards about certain — although not all — sellers
An example of Etsy’s storytelling about a seller

What I disliked:

  • I was really disappointed that Etsy had spent money on hiring lots of staff (presumably temporary agency staff who weren’t familiar with the brand), who seemed very busy talking to one another. When I was finally approached by one she asked me if I knew anything about the “Ebay pop up”. Ouch!
  • It wasn’t clear whether or not I could buy products to take away (I assume not) and whilst there were tablets on fixtures, no staff showed any interest in explaining how to use them. A clear case of a focus on tech at the expense of the customer experience
  • The merchandising wasn’t as slick as the experience at, with some of the products feeling a little “shoehorned” into the themes and some of the fixtures looking rather sparse
The “Sustainability” collection at Etsy

In short, both pop ups were worth visiting, although for different reasons. It’s a challenge for a digitally native marketplace (or retailer) to make the shift into physical retail; there are so many elements of the customer experience where a direct translation of the online experience doesn’t quite work in a physical setting. Hats off to both companies for these projects and I hope to see more of them in 2020.