Updated December 2023
Online pop-up shops are everywhere these days. An online pop-up shop is a temporary ecommerce store featuring branded merchandise and other products. The products sold in an online pop-up shop are typically limited-edition items that can only be purchased for a short period of time.
Increasingly, online pop-up shops are used by educational institutions, nonprofit organizations, startups, small businesses, and large corporations alike to accomplish different organizational goals by offering a unique shopping experience to consumers.
Why Online Pop-Up Shops Are Popping Up Everywhere
Why do businesses and nonprofits love online pop-up shops so much? Because they’re a low-cost way to engage customers or donors, boost brand awareness, improve brand loyalty, increase revenue, and more!
Most online or virtual pop-up shops are a form of experiential event marketing used to garner publicity, while promoting a new product or service and/or raising brand awareness. While an online pop-up shop can maximize the reach of your event marketing strategy, it can also be used to generate new revenue and test interest in a permanent eCommerce store for your brand (with minimal investment).
Large brands can also use online pop-up shops for goodwill marketing. Items sold through a limited time shop can raise revenue for charity while boosting a brand’s image at the same time.
Online Pop-Up Shop Ideas That Work
The best online pop-up shops create a unique and memorable experience for a target audience.
Because online pop-up shops utilize the principles of scarcity marketing to generate revenue, a successful online pop-up shop event should always be short-term – a day, a week, or a holiday season – and feature exclusive, limited-edition items or bundles. Tried-and-true online pop-up ideas that are inexpensive and easy for nearly any type of business or organization to implement include virtual holiday pop-up shops and digital charitable pop-up shops. Make sure to check out these seven stellar examples of successful online pop-up shops before launching your own shop!
1.) Lancôme’s 3D virtual shopping experience
Large brands are experimenting with immersive virtual shopping experiences. 3D models of in-store layouts and displays and 360-degree shopping tours help evoke the discovery and excitement of an in-person shopping experience. Lancôme recently launched an immersive virtual pop-up shop to promote their Génifique product line. Lancôme’s virtual pop-up features 3D product views and 3D displays to mimic the experience of browsing through a brick-and-mortar shop, while also offering customers the opportunity to interact with beauty influencers and skin care professionals and play games to unlock discounts.
Immersive technology-driven shopping experiences will become increasingly important for large brands in the future as eCommerce growth continues and virtual-reality spaces become a new major marketing channel. An online pop-up store is a smart way for large brands like Lancôme to test new VR ecommerce technology features while also generating great publicity.
2.) #WEshopBC – an online pop-up shop with a social purpose
WeBC is a nonprofit organization that supports women entrepreneurs in British Columbia, Canada.
During the 2021-2022 holiday season, they launched the #WEshopBC virtual pop-up shop, which featured products and services from 550+ women-owned businesses in the British Columbia province. Between November 2021 and January 2022, site visitors browsed and shopped online for a diverse range of unique local products like handcrafted shampoo bars and roasted barley tea – as well as services like luxury wine tours and mountain biking training. Special offers and discounts were offered to entice consumers to shop locally for holiday gifts. The user-friendly interface allowed shoppers to search for products by keyword or browse by regional district or category. The #WEshopBC virtual pop-up shop event exemplified great collaborative marketing and seasonal marketing.
3.) Hoover’s Holiday Pop Up Party – a cyber-deal driven shopping experience
Another exceptional example of using an online pop-up shop as part of a seasonal marketing strategy is Hoover’s Holiday Pop Up Party. During one recent holiday season, home appliance company Hoover created a shop featuring all their holiday deals in one place – including limited time door buster deals and discounted bundles.
Hoover’s virtual pop-up shop event helped recreate some of the excitement of the brick-and-mortar shopping experience. Offering a discovery-driven online shopping experience during the holiday season is a clever way to drive sales while in-store foot traffic is still down everywhere. With more shoppers now hunting for bargains throughout November and December – not just Black Friday and Cyber Monday – having a dedicated site for holiday deals is a smart marketing idea for established brands like Hoover.
4.) UGA’s biannual mobile retail cart and online pop-up shop
A pop-up shop makes the perfect educational project for students interested in learning about entrepreneurship and small business at colleges and universities. Twice a year, business students at the University of Georgia start, brand, and operate a mobile cart and online pop-up shop that sells a variety of unique, local merchandise – including clothing, coffee mugs, phone straps, and art prints. During the fall and spring semesters, students enrolled in a retail entrepreneurship course work with local small businesses to sell merchandise through a completely rebranded online pop-up shop as well as a mobile cart that is set up biweekly at different locations on the UGA campus. Many products – like Classic City-themed postcards – celebrate the surrounding city, Athens, GA.
For mobile retail merchants that operate pop-up shops, boutique trucks, and tables at community events and farmers’ markets, an online pop-up shop is an easy way to sell excess merchandise without the time commitment of running a permanent online store. An online pop-up shop is also an effective way for small stores (especially second-hand stores) and kiosks to generate local publicity – especially if multiple businesses and organizations are involved.
5.) The WBEZ holiday PopUp store
Nonprofits like NPR often give away exclusive branded merchandise like coffee mugs and jackets to donors. Swag is an inexpensive fundraising “perk” that can help boost donations by making donors feel special with branded merchandise they can’t get anywhere else. While many nonprofits also sell branded merchandise in online stores, some may not have the resources to operate a full-time store. Others might not want to make their giveaway items so easy to obtain, lest they lose their effectiveness as fundraising incentives. An online popup store is a clever way to generate additional revenue during the busy holiday shopping season without making your branded merchandise collections widely available.
That’s what WBEZ 91.5, a NPR radio station in Chicago, accomplished with their limited time WBEZ PopUp store. Only open for a short period of time around Cyber Monday in 2021, the store sold exclusive branded merchandise like apparel and drinkware. A temporary online store allowed WBEZ to increase revenue by briefly selling holiday gifts without making their merch too easy to obtain.
WBEZ also held an online pop-up shop event in the summer of 2019. A winter holiday or summer pop-up shop can be a great way to sell seasonal, limited edition merch.
6.) Dunkin’ Shop – a short-term pop-up shop becomes a permanent brand marketing tool
While many digitally-native brands use brick-and-mortar pop-up shops to test interest in physical retail spaces, the reverse also works. Since opening their first online pop-up shop during the 2019 holiday season, Dunkin’ now uses their online store – shopdunkin.com – to sell limited-run collections of branded merchandise throughout the year.
The Dunkin’ Shop features an array of brightly colored branded merchandise including wearable blankets, dog bandanas, fuzzy slippers, and t-shirts that can be customized with your favorite Dunkin’ order. Co-branded merchandise collections are also frequently available. Past partnerships include social media influencer Charli D’Amelio and goodr sunglasses. Some of the sales proceeds from the line of Dunkin’ branded goodr sunglasses were donated to the Dunkin’ Joy in Childhood Foundation in 2020.
Dunkin’ primarily uses their shop to generate extra revenue during the winter holiday season and obtain free publicity from “drops” of limited-run quirky merchandise – like their recent icy-cool collection of summer merch including Dunkin’ themed pickleball sets and donut-shaped inflatable pool toys. These limited-edition branded merchandise collections have helped turn Dunkin’ into a lifestyle brand. An online pop-up shop is a great way to test interest in a permanent store, quickly create buzz around your brand, and sell merchandise whenever you want – without committing to a 24/7/365 eCommerce operation.
7.) Northwest Arkansas Limited Merch Drop
The Northwest Arkansas Council hosted its first online pop-up shop in November 2023. Part of their ongoing marketing efforts to attract tech talent and other workers to the Northwest Arkansas area, this limited-run merch drop features shirts and hats with official Northwest Arkansas branding and hand-drawn illustrations of the region (created by Arkansas artist Grayce Holcomb). This organization used social media to spread the word about their pop-up merch shop.
Social media is an effective, low-cost way for nonprofit organizations, small businesses, and artisans to promote exclusive merch drops and online pop-up shop events.
Buzz-Generating Online Pop-Up Shops are Great for your Brand
Online pop-up stores are a cost-effective way to generate valuable free publicity for your brand or nonprofit in a short period of time. Metron Branding can set up and host your personalized online pop-up shop and create/deliver high quality custom merchandise for your pop-up marketing event with quick turnaround time. Contact us or fill out the form below to set up a one-on-one consultation today.