Pop-ups: The Key to the Future – So Why Isn’t Travel Retail Keeping Pace with High Streets?

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By Marco Passoni

It amazes me that the travel retail industry continues to miss the incredible potential that pop-up stores can have for this market. There is no retail format which matches the demands of the modern traveller like pop-ups – excitement, exclusivity, innovation, experience, it is all there. When we consider too that pop-up stores are the easiest solution to the space and ‘box store’ issues that plague many brands and travel retail locations, it is stunning that we do not see more innovation in this area.

A well-executed pop-up taps into everything that the travel retail market should be offering its consumers and its stakeholders. They are exciting spaces, found in only select locations, so they create immediate impact and engagement by being genuinely engaging and they enhance the luxury experience and add value to the brand. They are also temporary, which increases the sense of finding something truly special – and that is what travelling shoppers want. They do not want the domestic experience watered down into a small space, they want something crafted for them.

These also unlock the potential in unused space and give more flexibility that normal stores. Here brands are not restricted by neighbouring brands or the limitations of a store; here they can create, and that is when the magic happens. In these spaces, brands can leverage different aspects of their identity to make a great pop-up – from iconic logos to links with the arts or iconic products, elevating the brand experience in new ways.

Pop-ups are not encumbered with the rules, or layout issues of many stores. They create the freedom which true innovation truly needs

The temporary nature of pop-ups is, in fact, one of their greatest assets. These are spaces where brands and airports alike can trial concepts without the outlay of taking up a space in a store. There can be no creativity without risk, and pop-ups are a great space to test new ideas and find new solutions. On top of that, they are inherently sustainable, as they can be repurposed around the world.

Travel retail loves to talk about disruption – this is actual disruption. Pop-ups are an opportunity to deploy space in a truly innovative way. These are spaces which brands can bring to life in their own carefully-crafted and recognisable way, without the limits of a shop space. Pop-ups are not encumbered with the rules, or layout issues of many stores. They create the freedom which true innovation truly needs.

We have to move past the idea of trying to fit brands into the limitations of the easy, copy-and-paste travel retail experience. Brands need opportunities to experiment and expand. Current retailer contracts for stores often do not include this, as they have to take into account the needs of every brand in the space. Pop-ups deliver a blank canvas for brands to paint on. The outdated rules which stifle much of travel retail have less hold here. Pop-ups deliver flexibility and with that, brands can break barriers.

A good pop-up is also a space for true collaboration an innovation. Bring together two brands or concepts which would not be found side-by-side anywhere else. Let them truly create something.

A good pop-up is also a space for true collaboration

There have been some amazing examples of pop-ups in the domestic space in recent months. But rather than highlighting the advantages of the domestic market, I believe they underline how short-sighted much of the travel retail sector has been in this regard. Prada’s recent pop-up café in Harrods is a great example. This is a fresh experience for Prada customers, and something truly new for Harrods’ patrons. This is a win-win for brand, retailer and consumer. Isn’t that the dream?

Prada has showcased what it can do in travel retail too, with last year’s Hainan Paradoxe activation creating a piece of the brand for shoppers in the Haikou shopping complex. Furthermore, last year, Hendrick’s gin created real fun and engagement with its cucumber pop-up at European airports. While both of these were great retail spaces, we need to see brands taking these opportunities to push on and create something really special.

The Jacquemus Café Fleurs coffee shop and flower store pop-up in Seoul is a great example of this in practice – and also the benefits it can bring. Shoppers walked into the giant handbag and spent $50 on a cup of coffee. If you cannot move beyond the sales numbers then you are behind the times, but pop-ups still deliver if you are counting the old way.

20partners DG_Califormia Pop-ups: The Key to the Future – So Why Isn't Travel Retail Keeping Pace with High Streets? Journal  travel retail pop-ups

Elsewhere, the Valentino Escape on the Amalfi Coast showcased how travel offers the perfect opportunity for unique pop-up experiences, with visitors able to enter the Palazzo decked out in Valentino’s red accents for a holiday experience, deliverd the brand’s way. In California, Fendi’s Astrology pop-up showed how open spaces in retail environments can deliver something special, with a fresh collection enhanced by bespoke digital spaces and immersive Fendi experiences.

As always, luxury leaders showcase the best possibilities, due to their ability to leverage storytelling and heritage. Dolce&Gabbana’s pop-up space at The Colony Palm Beach was a perfect example of curating a branded room which takes visitors away from their surroundings, creating escape and excellence, while Louis Vuitton’s yurt in the ski resort of Niseko, Japan, offered both lounging

Bringing brand experiences to life in a creative and flexible way, providing exclusive innovation is what pop-ups are all about. It is also what travel retail is all about. So, I find myself asking again, why are more not seizing this opportunity?

Marco Passoni has decades of experience in the travel retail sector. He has spent the majority of his career in senior leader positions throughout the market, including a 12-year tenure as CEO of a leading international Duty Free distribution company and a further 8 years running a retail firm that operated fashion mono-brand stores in several international airports.
Today, as Senior Executive VP and founding partner of 2.0 & Partners, he leads the company’s efforts in developing and innovating services which create new opportunities and partnerships for all members of the travel retail Trinity. A former elite-level sailor, with a World Championship to his name, Marco now spends much of his time airside, experiencing the changing travel retail industry first-hand, to better guide partners and clients on the best way to do business in this vibrant and unique market.