Modern Store Formats & How To Choose The Right One

Learn about the different types of modern physical store formats and know which format works best for your retail business.

inside a clothing store

In 2019, Fashionista published a wonderful article on how "store" has become everyone's favorite 5-letter word to hate on — stores are dead, right? This may feel especially true this year, as e-commerce and online retailers have skyrocketed with the pandemic. 

Yet, convenience stores, discount stores, grocery stores, and superstores still exist. Sure, your business probably doesn’t fall in the same category as these physical stores and retail markets. But, these stores are proof that physical stores in the retail industry aren’t completely dead … maybe just wounded. And maybe a new store format is the fix your business needs.

In any case, if you're considering selling your products in a physical space, you'll need to decide what non-store format you'd like and what type of shopping experience you’d like to offer. 

Let's go through the distinctions, benefits and draw-backs of these new formats and how they may be a good fit for smaller stores and specialty stores like yours.

Pop-Up Stores

A pop-up is a temporary location that you typically occupy for three months to a year. There are a number of reasons to open a pop-up:

  • It's a great way to test various geographies when considering a more permanent location
  • You get to introduce your brand to a new audience in person, which can also impact your performance online

Pop-ups are one of the best ways to find out if physical retail is a good strategy for your brand, while also providing a large marketing opportunity (an approach that’s less justifiable when you open a permanent location). 

pink facade of glossier shop


Pop-ups have also become easier to execute thanks to real-estate companies like AppearHere and Storefront that help brands lockdown short-term spaces.

To execute a pop-up properly, though, you'll want to first do your research on where you should be located (both in terms of city and neighborhood) how you'll market your location, and what KPIs you want to measure to determine if your pop-up is a success.

Pop-In Stores

If you're not ready to own and operate your own space, you can also try a "pop-in". These are like pop-ups but exist in another brand's store or a department store. In fact, there are various marketplaces where you can find out which brands are willing to offer you some space to market a select few product assortments. 

Pop-ins are particularly good when:

  • Opening a pop-up is too large an undertaking financially
  • You do not have the inventory to fill a store on your own

One of the major benefits of a pop-in is that the host brand or retailer help you boost brand awareness with new traffic that may not have been previously aware of your brand. 

The only downside is you may not collect the same level of data or insights about who purchased new products. So, it's important to do your research ahead of time to make sure that your host brand appeals to a similar audience as yours.

Activation Stores

Warby Parker: King of the Activation -— yes, before they had 60+ stores, the Warby guys sold glasses out of their apartments, from a school bus, and from a showroom in their office. The School Bus is the true "activation" here — a flash-sale opportunity that builds buzz and is great for creating urgency among your customers. 

School buses, festival drop-ins, and Airstreams are some of the ways other brands have taken a one-off, big-bang approach to engaging with customers IRL.

warby parker yellow bus


Just because it's brief doesn't mean it's easy, though. In fact, the examples above were likely very costly and were largely an investment in the potential PR opportunity. However, activations don't always have to be so aggressive. Office and coworking space visits, local fairs and markets, and community trunk-shows are all more manageable "activations" that still get you face-to-face with your customers so you can hear their feedback.

Seasonal Stores

Whether your merchandise is better suited for a certain climate or an area is only popular certain months out of the year, the neat thing about flexible real-estate is that you can optimize your store locations so that you're always in the right place at the right time.

Some great examples of brands who have embraced seasonality are Snowe, AYR, and Margaux. These brands have opened stores for the high season (whenever that may be) in places like Aspen, the Hamptons, Palm Beach and Nantucket in order to ensure that they are capitalizing on where their consumer spends their time, without having to worry about a dramatic drop in traffic during off-peak months.

Showroom Stores

Showrooms actually refer to the operations of your store rather than how long it will be around. Popularized largely by Bonobos, "showrooming" refers to having customers checkout at your store and having their orders ship from an external source (like a warehouse) instead of housing those items on-site. 

window display of bonobos shop


The plus side is that you can dedicate more square feet to salespace vs register kiosks. You also only need to store a limited number of items in each size since customers will only be trying those items on rather than taking them home.

While showrooms optimize space and limit inventory and fulfillment costs, it's important to have a way to track how showroom visits impact online sales so that you can monitor performance since all your "store sales" will be bucketed in with your online sales. While some customers also like being able to leave the location without extra baggage, showrooms also eliminate the opportunity for immediate wear.

Retail as a Service Shops

Taking things a step further than pop-ins, you can now also partner with retail-as-a-service shops like Showfields, Re:store, and Fourpost, all of which offer more modern and flexible selling formats compared to traditional wholesale models in order to create a better brand and customer experience.

In all these small-format stores, there are a few consistent considerations to keep in mind, including time and money investments, and what you'll gain in return — not just in the form of dollars and sales, but also in brand awareness, data, and insights. 

Where Endear can be most impactful is with your customer data. Whether you're operating a space in the short-term or making a longer-term investment, Endear can provide real time data on your ROI and allow you to keep customers coming back to you over and over again.