Bloomingdale’s rotating ‘Carousel’ concept represents the next evolution of pop-ups

Bloomingdale’s latest retail experiment combines the best of both pop-ups and permanent brick-and-mortar stores.

On Thursday, the retailer opened The Carousel, a permanent fixture within Bloomingdale’s 59th Street flagship store in Manhattan as well as three other locations in New York and California. The Carousel will host a rotating curated pop-up shop with unique products and in-store activations. Every two months, visitors to The Carousel will be treated to a new experience programmed by a different guest curator, chosen collectively by the Bloomingdale’s fashion team.

Rather than being organized by brand, each iteration of The Carousel will be curated around certain themes, with brands then reflecting that theme.

“The concept was really just, ‘How can we re-imagine our stores?’” said Frank Berman, CMO of Bloomingdale’s. “That’s where it came from. We were thinking about the changing retail landscape, the bar being raised on getting people’s attention, making the store more of an experience than just selling product. We are so excited about The Carousel because there are lots of pop-up shops all over the place, but this one is a dedicated space with a rotating schedule.”

The move is motivated partially by something that every department store is dealing with: how to bring back foot traffic diverted by the rise of online shopping. When customers can order anything they want brought to their door, brick-and-mortar retailers need to offer something unique to get people to come inside. That desire for foot traffic is what has motivated efforts from other department stores like Nordstrom’s “pop-in” shops curated by Olivia Kim, Barneys’ recurring The Drop event or the Rent the Runway shop-in-shop hosted at Neiman Marcus.

For its first run, Bloomingdale’s chose to explore the idea of the “Urban Explorer” with curator Eugene Tong. The Carousel is currently decked out with products that combine streetwear with technical gear for the consumer on the go.

Customers can find outerwear from Stone Island, apparel from Japanese brand Snow Peak, sweatshirts from Knowlita and bike helmets from Sawaka all within the Carousel. Additionally, Urban Explorer features lifestyle products that complement the aesthetic of the pop-up, like a “minimergency kit” of beauty and hygiene products from Pinch Provisions, fitness gear from TRX and a collection of Polaroid instant cameras.

The tactical and functional products on display contrast with the rest of the store floor, making The Carousel feel distinct from its surroundings. The 59th Street location has its own dedicated entrance on 60th Street to make it feel more like a separate boutique.

Beyond product, each pop-up will also feature in-store events and activations. Berman cites an area at Urban Explorer where a stool and a bird’s-eye view of the city projected on the ground offers customers the chance for a photo op looking like they’re sitting on the edge of a building.

“It’s a little thing, but it’s a big thing,” he said. “We are always trying to attract more young people, and for them, if it isn’t recorded on Instagram, it didn’t happen.”

The Carousel is emblematic of a larger shift in the retail space, from the focus on product to the focus on experiences.

Bloomingdale’s is hoping the ephemeral and eye-catching nature of The Carousel pop-ups will keep people coming back just to see what the department store has come up with next. The changing themes, guest curators from outside Bloomingdale’s and temporary in-store activations are all attempts to keep the actual experience of entering The Carousel fresh. The two-month time limit ensures customers have enough time to see the installation before it goes away while keeping refreshes frequent.

Bloomingdale’s views this as an evolution of the pop-up. While pop-up shops can be effective tools, they also tend to be sporadic, with little to no consistency of when and where they will appear. The Carousel, on the other hand, is always in the same space and feeds right into the rest of Bloomingdale’s.

“For us, the objective is driving traffic into our store,” Berman said. “This is our space, but it will always keep changing – different theme, different events, different curators, different merchandise.”

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