Retail stores disguised as sets for Instagram-worthy photo shoots are popping up around the world – leaving many wondering if the uncertain future of bricks and mortar retail lies with the very medium which threatened it in the first place.

It’s no secret the downfall of many physical retail stores came at the hands of digital stores with fewer overheads, international shipping, and convenience-hungry consumers. But it may come as a surprise to many that the very platform which disrupted the industry is behind a retail revival of sorts: Stores are creating experiences for shoppers for the sole purpose of being Instagrammed.

And they’re a hit.

Take the Museum of Ice Cream for example. This playground-cum-shop charges $38USD for a ticket and sees about 1700 people through per day. Here, patrons can ride in an ice cream sandwich swing, swim in a pool of plastic ice cream ­sprinkles, and seesaw on a giant ice cream scoop.


It’s been on the Instagram feeds of David Beckham and Beyonce…


…and as Bloomberg’s retail writer concluded:


While social media stunts are not new (trust us, we’d know), what is new is the dramatic shift in the scale and purpose of such activities: Retailers are (finally) levelling up for the digital age. Even ecommerce platform Shopify encourages its users to have inspiration retail space.

A combination of experiential marketing, visual merchandising, and social media marketing – these “selfie magnet” Insta-Shops do not exist just in the retail space.

Think Starbucks’ intentionally (we think) misspelled-name-on-the-cup-thing…

…and the savvy hospitality ventures who dreamed up the most photogenic dishes possible to feed the generation-defining Food Gram trend.


But, because you can’t get the same experience from a bar or coffee shop online – these new developments in retail are different.

As says: “Retail faces a unique hurdle in that it must make the experience of being in a store more valuable than the convenience of online shopping.”

Or, as Forbes put it: “Once upon a time, stores were places to store and sell stuff. In a digital age, this is no longer sufficient. Today, stores need to tell stories. And those stories have to be highly visual and immediately shareable. In other words: ‘grammable’. Increasingly, retail is being designed to be viewed through a smartphone camera lens.”

In New Zealand, we are yet to see anything as large scale as the Museum of Ice cream, however, we do see one way for local brands to hack the foot traffic versus web traffic algorithm, and that is through pop up stores.

Smaller in scale, these installations allow for maximum flexibility and creativity. Choose locations which appeal to a specific goal or audience segment – and change accordingly. Just make sure the lighting is good.

Header image: David Williams for Bloomberg Businessweek

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