COVID-19 And The Future Of Pop Ups

Updated: Apr 14

37 Oaks = Local Commerce + Innovation + Economic Development


Originally written as a guest column in Ancillary magazine (April 2020)


In January 2020, many small businesses and entrepreneurs had a strong pop up strategy for the year. The recent COVID-19 pandemic not only halted or flipped these annual plans, but also brought much uncertainty on many levels. Businesses are re-evaluating entire strategies and waiting to understand the support they can access, to at the least, stay afloat. Therefore, this pandemic not only impacts how small businesses and entrepreneurs approach pop ups, but all go-to market and distribution strategies.

37 Oaks is a commerce development company that develops solutions around Local Commerce + Innovation + Economic Development. The following are insights and observations from the small businesses, entrepreneurs, communities and cities we serve regarding this current COVID-19 business environment.


1) Non-Essential Businesses: Many states have required “non-essential businesses” to close doors as congregating customers and physical interactions promote the spread of COVID-19. The uncertainty around how long this will last and its long term effect on customers shopping in physical spaces leads to hesitations around overall brick and mortar strategies.

2) Cash Flow: Some sources say we are entering (or are currently in) a recession. You can imagine how this makes small businesses and entrepreneurs feel. Growing unemployment rates and uncertainty on how/what stimulus packages can impact their business leaves them feeling helpless, hopeless and unsure. Now more than ever, ROI is a strong and steady term in their pivot strategies. Any funds spent need to have a clear and abnormally high return on investment. They are more risk averse, and having less cash forces them to make tough decisions such as choosing the best sales channel to generate revenue vs cutting staff.


3) Shifting Shopper Behaviors: Customers are now forced to make quick & intense changes in how they buy during this COVID-19 era. If they had not tried or were uncomfortable in making online purchases, government mandates may lead to more people buying online and/or buying more products online. I’m not talking about the growth in overall ecommerce sales as not all categories are peaking, but it’s more so in the amount of people now shopping online for essentials versus before. This can naturally progress to a comfort of purchasing “non-essential” items when government mandates to contain the spread of this virus are lifted.

We also see a new routine of “Enjoying at Home”. In many states, at least in the near future, shoppers can no longer enjoy the ambiance; appreciate the atmosphere; or engage in the experience that brick and mortar affords. Shifting to delivery, curbside pickup and mail distribution channels requires customers to enjoy and engage with brands at home.

Some say it takes 21 days to form or break a habit (as I write to you on day 7 of our Illinois “Stay-at-Home” order). Although there is talk on lifting these orders to help stimulate the economy, some people may personally decide to reduce physical interactions until they personally feel comfortable to do otherwise.


4) Shifting Small Business Engagement: Now, many small businesses are forced to change or adjust the way they connect and engage with customers. Since more people are shopping online, businesses are learning how to translate the benefits of physical engagement to the digital world, as this is their primary channel right now.

As with shoppers, small businesses are also picking up new behaviors, comforts and are understanding the effectiveness and benefits of it. Once we get through this crisis (and we will), some behaviors will remain and some will revert to pre-Coronavirus times. Here are two ends of this spectrum:

  • Remain: In being forced to understand the benefits, effectiveness and conveniences of technology and the digital world, both shoppers and small businesses will continue to use these practices which turn into “The New Normal”.


  • Revert: Shoppers will flock to public places to congregate and socialize as they appreciate more than ever physical connections; social atmospheres; and engagement with people, places and things. “In Real Life” will happily replace virtual.

I'm not a betting person, but if I had to, I would think that we would land somewhere in the middle, a combination of the two. What we don’t yet know are the details behind it; which is key as it will have a major impact on overall brick and mortar strategies.

The interesting vantage point 37 Oaks brings to this matter is that we have both an ecommerce platform and a brick & mortar pop-up platform under our SOKONI brand. We see and feel the impact from the small businesses and entrepreneurs we cultivate on these platforms with our CRE partners. We have to closely track trends and extract insights as this has big implications to our business in both channels.


In the short term, pop ups have not gone away. They are shifting online to various formats such as virtual LIVE shopping sessions or social media demonstrations. One upside to this is small businesses are using the digital world to expand their customer base. Once they are able to tap back into brick and mortar channels (which they will), they will have a larger base that wants and needs to connect with them physically. It is similar to what we have been seeing with digitally native brands and their successful growth into the physical world.

If COVID-19 has taught or reinforced anything to our small businesses and entrepreneurs is that diversification is a must.This is part of the reason why I don’t believe that all is lost for brick and mortar pop ups in the post-Coronavirus world. One opportunity is going to be in educating them on the integration of their various channels so it is a seamless experience for the customer.

Everyone right now is adjusting to the new (ab)normal and uncertainty brought about by COVID-19. One thing we do know is this crisis will be one of the defining events of 2020 and will have long lasting implications well into the decade.

Sharing insights and supporting each other will help us be stronger on the other side of this.



Terrand Smith

Founder/CEO

37 Oaks Consulting


#Popups #COVID19















Read original article in Ancillary magazine (April 2020)