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TECHNOLOGY

How to Launch a Pop-Up Shop

'Tis the season to try out a retail store -- no long-term commitment required. Here's the one piece of technology you need to get started.
Disney's TRON pop-up shop in Culver City
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Come up with the classic examples of completely online businesses and eBay has to be on the list. The online auction and sales site has made it possible for millions to buy and sell without needing a physical front door. So it might surprise you that eBay set up a store on High Street in London with a few rooms of new products–only, there are no registers.

Instead, you scan the QR code for an item with your smartphone or use the tablets at the shop. Then you’re off to eBay’s website, where you pay. The product then ships out to the buyer. It’s an intelligent use of technology that’s not just restricted to large corporations. Whether you make products or provide services, sell through retailers or direct, you can make pop-up stores work for you.

Pop-up stores are nothing new. For years, you could find them in the fall, when companies would create a seasonal retail presence to promote product. It might be an entrepreneur using vacant mall space as a Halloween store or Hickory Farms taking kiosks in malls to sell some extra summer sausage and smoked cheese.

But there are many reasons you might consider a pop-up store, including selling old inventory, testing a concept, or getting in front of potential customers in a different way. Maybe you want to set up at a back-to-school event to catch parents. The right technology makes it easier than ever.

A British entrepreneur has even created an entire pop-up mall out of recycled shipping containers. The site is only available for five years — far too short to build a traditional mall and expect a return on the investment.

Tablets have become a weapon of choice because they let you use mobile point-of-sale systems. No need for a traditional cash register if you’re willing to take only credit and debit cards. The practical ubiquity of wireless makes it even easier because you don’t need to arrange for phone lines. In fact, given the relatively long battery life of tablets, you might even be able to forgo an electrical connection, so long as someone dutifully takes the tablet out and charges it at the end of each day. This is opportunistic marketing at its best, and you don’t even have to restrict yourself to the end of the year.

It’s too late to see the eBay store, as today is the last of the five days it was scheduled to be open. But don’t worry, there are probably some interesting pop-up stores to check out just around the corner. Literally.

IMAGE: Flickr/popculturegeek.com
Last updated: Dec 5, 2011

ERIK SHERMAN | Columnist

Erik Sherman's work has appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, and Fortune. He also blogs for CBS MoneyWatch.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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