By Linda Farha

Pop-up stores are one of the hottest retail trends as they provide high-demand goods on-demand with minimal footprints. At the same time, they are retail real estate market disruptors, requiring landlords to be agile, flexible and equally critically highly knowledgeable about their potential tenants’ business and be savvy marketers.

Major cities are the hot spots for pop-up retail activations. The main reason is easy access to high foot traffic, but this business volume often comes a high price. It’s easy for large companies like Amazon and Nike to pop a pin in downtown locations in top destinations like Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. But for most other brands, a more curated approach must be taken, where the selected space must meet specific requirements, while also conforming to any budget or logistical restrictions.

Applying shopping data
In this instance, foot traffic is still important, but rather than just looking at volume, brands are looking at statistics and consumer data to make informed decisions to ensure they’re positioned in an area that will lead to the right feet crossing their doorway.

On the other side of the doors, landlords must know the demographics of the people who work, live or spend time within the locale of their spaces. This knowledge empowers them to effectively market their availabilities, so they can target the right brands, letting them know they have exactly what they’re looking for.

To fully understand the minds of consumers, it’s useful to note their motivations and explore the factors that influence the way they shop. Where a consumer lives can affect how much they spend, what they buy, what channels they use and how much is spent on each trip. Landlords that want to market their spaces can improve the effectiveness of their efforts by implementing strategies that align with each region’s distinct consumer habits/preferences. One size does not fit all.

On average, Canadian consumers make around 156 shopping trips each year. Over these 12 months the spend across all channels (including grocery, drug and mass merchandisers), is $8,645. Further breakdown of these figures will show that not all provinces are equal in this spending pot:

  • Ontarians make fewer trips (152 per year) and spend 4% less than the average Canadian;
  • Albertans spend the most with $9,448 in annual purchases. Interestingly, despite being big spenders, consumers in Alberta make fewer trips to stores. This alone can tell us a lot about their shopping habits, such as the fact they may be inclined to spend more per shopping trip than other consumers in other regions; and
  • On average, Quebec households have fewer members. In fact, 32% of homes in Quebec are one-member households and 79% have no kids, compared to the 25% single households in Ontario, 69% of which have no children. Calculating the number of household members and if there are any children can help predict variations with potential spend and shopping focus1.

Customer experience key
Consumer spending is increasingly being driven by their desires for new and engaging experiences. A study by Walker, a customer intelligence consulting firm predicts that, “Customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator by the year 2020.”2

Now driven by interesting and experiential experiences, “experience per square foot”3 according to Walker, is fast becoming one of the top retail metrics to measure success. Consumers want to see tech incorporated into their retail journey: all the bells and whistles for a high-level shopping experience.

This is why pop-up retail is increasingly popular, with brands looking for new ways to attract the attention of their customers through exciting events and activations. Selecting spaces for these one-off events are extremely important as despite ample planning and innovative ideas, it’s easy to miss the mark if the location isn’t right and the target audience isn’t being reached.

Measuring traffic
It’s important that landlords are paying attention to the data around their space to ensure they can pick out the things that matter the most and present them in a way for brands see the benefits of appearing in their vacancies.

Foot traffic is an important number to businesses as they want to know the potential number of customers their activation may reach throughout its duration. Similarly, the draw of certain areas may be influenced by the number of household/residents, offices/workers nearby or proximity to public transit/subway stations. Not only will this offer an alternative, but equally useful figure to foot traffic it will also help brands arrange their pop-up timing for maximum impact.

For example, a location that is surrounded by offices is likely to reach its peak during Monday to Friday, 9 to 5: times when people are in the area for work. It’s also useful to include any impressive statistics on the incomes of the people who live in the area. Brands are drawn to wealthy locations, with the assumption that people who earn more are more willing to part with their cash and shop.

Mixed-use residential/commercial/retail transit-oriented developments are in vogue for environmental and transportation cost defrayment reasons, but equally if not more critically, they provide high and balanced foot traffic for merchants. Namely when the office workers are working and when they go home, the residents shop instead. One of the best-known examples is the Yonge/Eglinton area in Toronto where housing, offices, retail, hospitality, entertainment and transit are connected to each other. The area will receive a significant boost when the Eglinton Crosstown LRT is planned to open in late 2021. Expect to see more such developments in Ontario in particular as the provincial government favours private sector participation in new stations.

Tapping area vibes
Almost all areas have a vibe, or a distinct characteristic that landlords can use to their advantage. In some areas this personality is well known colloquially. Examples include Toronto’s Church/Wellesley district, which is known for its fun, lively atmosphere and thriving LGBT community and Vancouver’s Gastown, which presents mix of “hip” contemporary fashion and interior furnishing boutiques, in the middle of a thriving food and drink scene.

If landlords can package the essence of the area, businesses will want to attach themselves to that as they will want their pop-ups to draw from that personality to help create a buzz and make sure they are positioned among consumers who can relate to their products or brand messages.

Looking at the businesses that thrive in a certain area can help brands understand the types of products that do well there. It’s about complementing existing businesses rather than copying them. If the consumer profile of a successful tenant echoes the values of another brand, then positioning alongside them can help businesses to leverage each other’s foot traffic.

Brands are looking for the right space for their pop-up event but to make the right decisions, landlords need to present them with the right facts. By providing impressive statistics brands will not only be interested in tapping into the audience of this area but will also be able to build a consumer profile to ensure that they’re positioning themselves in a space that will be accessed by the people they are trying to reach.

Linda Farha is founder and chief connector of pop-up go (, which is an online “meeting place” for pop-up space seekers and the landlords.

1 Nielsen, “Purchasing Behaviour Characteristics Across Canada”, April 26, 2018.
2 Walker, “Customers 2020: A Progress Report”, 2013.
3 Walker, “Customers 2020”, Ibid.

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