Pop Box, a retail store that opened in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood in late October, serves as a showroom and discovery experience for shoppers to discover online brands during the holiday season, according to a company press release.
The first iteration, running through Dec. 24, features subscription boxes. The company touts the effort as "the first and only place in the U.S. that will feature subscription boxes, usually only found online, in one store where shoppers can see the contents of a box before they buy."
Participating brands include Cooper & Kid (boxes with projects for dads to do with their kids, delivered every three months), GrandBox (for grandparents and other seniors), Home Chef (a Chicago-based meal-delivery service), Moustache Coffee Club (a coffee curation club that sends in-season, ethically sourced coffee beans), Mystery Tackle Box (for fishermen and women), PupJoy (full of artisanal pet goods) and The RunnerBox (for athletes), among others, according to the release.
As the effort nears its end, (Pop Box closes Christmas Eve), it's worth looking at how even box delivery services are dipping their toes into the physical world. Despite the growth of e-commerce, spurred in part by the regular sales offered by subscriptions, retail just can't quit brick and mortar.
The Pop Box concept resembles similar efforts by mall developers GGP (whose "In Real Life" store showcases online brands in Chicago's Water Tower Place) and Simon Property Group (whose "The Edit" does the same at the Roosevelt Field mall on Long Island), both of which attempt to serve online customers in stores.
"Pop Box is a solution for how people want to shop in today's new retail reality," Pop Box co-founder AnneMarie Kovacs said in a statement. "When we first started Pop Box, we knew we needed to shake up the traditional shopping experience. This innovative retail concept will engage the shopper in a new way and will fully immerse them in the brand experience."
Subscription boxes could use the boost. They are a way to cement loyalty and grow repeat business, while providing consumers with a new kind of retail experience. There's a subscription service for just about everyone and everything — boxes that come regularly filled with meal ingredients and ones that arrive monthly with pet food and treats, along with a slew of apparel retailers, like Gap, Under Armour and J.C. Penney, among others, that have recently gotten into the game.
The model has run into trouble in some cases, however. Nordstrom, which has proven willing to experiment on retail's avant-garde, bought flash sale site HauteLook in 2011 and subscription concierge service Trunk Club three years later. HauteLook is now a minor tab on the retailer's website and Trunk Club is in recovery (and still not profitable) after the department store took a $197 million write-down on it last year, more than half of the $350 million it paid to purchase it.
The ability to check out what subscriptions have to offer could be a boon to the model, and a pop-up shop could be especially conducive to drive sign-ups for the holidays. The e-commerce retailers can provide shoppers with a rare opportunity to touch and feel their goods without contemplating opening stores of their own. And while potential customers can see what they'd be getting, the subscription services can learn a lot, too.
"It's a much more entrepreneurial component of retail," Jerry Hoffman, president of real estate services firm Hoffman Strategy Group, told Retail Dive last year. "It's a living, breathing focus group, and it tests your mettle in terms of how you get your brand into the market, tracking where your customers live, what kind of lifestyle profiles that kind of customer might have, and how you do the outreach."