Showcasing exclusive content and top-notch merchandise at a pop-up store has become a must for many brands in Korea as a means of promotion.
Pop-ups open for a brief period to reach new customers by giving them an opportunity to experience the brand and strengthen the brand loyalty of existing clients.
Though commercial, such fleeting spaces have also become one of the most sought-after date spots for friends and couples here, developing into a new kind of playground, particularly for millennials and Generation Z.
Fun and free
Hoping to attract as many people as possible, many pop-up stores open inside crowded department stores or shopping malls. This strategy allows both fans and visitors, including those who did not plan on going to the flash retail event, to end up at the shop.
Choi Woo-jin, a 28-year-old university graduate residing in Gangdong-gu, prefers some pop-up stores as meeting spots for lunch or dinner dates with friends.
“There are many different kinds of pop-up stores, ranging from K-pop idol shops -- celebrating a beloved star’s comeback -- to hit drama-themed stores. These are mostly set up in popular shopping centers like The Hyundai Seoul in Yeouido and Coex in Gangnam-gu, or hip art meccas like Seongsu-dong and Hongdae,” Choi told The Korea Herald, Monday.
“They are not difficult places to reach by subway or bus. I ask my friends if they want to visit the latest pop-up store before (or after) eating because many of the shops are surrounded by good restaurants and other entertainment spots. Pop-up stores are ideal places to spend quality time with anyone without any pressure,” he said.
Another 23-year-old pop-up store enthusiast surnamed Kang agreed that pop-up shops are great low-cost date spots.
“I think pop-up shops, along with coin karaoke places and PC bang, are some of the few easily affordable entertainment places for young people. I sometimes feel that movies, regular cafes and escape room cafes are quite expensive,” said the convenience store worker.
Kang, who was visiting the 2023 League of Legends World Championship pop-up store at Lotte World Tower in Songpa-gu, southeastern Seoul, spoke about being attracted to the pop-up as an exciting event.
“Many pop-up stores have what it takes to lure visitors, featuring the latest trends, like a photo vending machine operated by franchise Life Four Cut for free. It entertains people with special free merchandise and events designed for both offline and online participation,” Kang said. “Time flies after one completes the missions and looks around the shop.”
Kang added that she is looking forward to visiting an upcoming Pokemon pop-up store with her friends in November.
“But of course, if you end up buying a lot of things at the shop, (I guess) pop-up stores are no longer low-cost date spots,” she joked.
Being a temporary leisure space is another reason behind pop-ups' popularity.
“I actually needed to take a day off to go to MapleStory World Tour,” Ahn Nam-ho, a 32-year-old in marketing at an IT company, told The Korea Herald on Oct. 11.
Ahn, a long-time player of Nexon’s iconic MMORPG MapleStory, referred to the pop-up store as an opportunity that should not be missed.
“Some of my friends who came to the shop on opening day said they bought products worth a total of 295,000 won ($218). There are different types of photo zones, which brought MapleStory world to real life,” Ahn said, his face beaming.
“I heard in the news that all the advance reservations were gone in five minutes. I was worried that I might miss this pop-up store. That’s why I decided to come as soon as possible. I can understand why so many people do open runs here. They don’t want to miss this chance either!” he added.
Doing an "open run" is used in Korean to mean arriving early to wait in a long line to get into a restaurant or shop as soon as its doors open.
MapleStory held a four-day pop-up at The Hyundai Seoul Oct. 10 to 15, featuring iconic towns from the online role-playing game -- Lith Harbor, Henesys, Ludibrium and Lacheln -- with MapleStory-themed merchandise like mouse pads, headsets, stickers, key rings and more.
Another MapleStory user, who wished to remain anonymous, shared that a pop-up store is a great way to explore one's passion or hobby as well.
“I have played MapleStory for more than 10 years. And a pop-up store is an ideal way to brighten my ordinary life with a special experience. I don’t know when and where the next MapleStory pop-up is going to be held, so I didn’t want to miss this chance,” he said, believing that many of the people in the shop feel the same way.
The colorful presentation of products, videos and unique photo zones fit perfectly with young, social media-friendly visitors, according to “Debut or Die” pop-up organizer Kakao Entertainment.
“Just like how watching the latest movies or going to popular restaurants have been on the top of the list for spending time with friends, pop-up stores have made it to the list as well,” the official said.
The pop-up organizer added that the offline flash event has become a sought-after date spot, allowing people to document their visit on social media and make Instagrammable photos for their daily social media updates.