How Ami Rabheru is reinventing retail with her virtual Pop Up Bazaar

How Ami Rabheru is reinventing retail with her virtual Pop Up Bazaar

Ami Rabheru, as the Founder of Design Studio, The Retail Business Hub and Pop Up Bazaar, knows all about retail. The multi-talented British Indian entrepreneur has over 18 years of experience in retail buying with big corporations like Marks and Spencer’s and Next, which she chose to leave behind to venture out on her own entrepreneurial pursuit.

Founded in 2020, Pop Up Bazaar is a virtual pop-up shopping experience bringing together a selection of makers, retailers, and boutiques all under one virtual roof creating an innovative and exciting innovative shopping experience.

‘iGlobal’ caught up with Rabheru to hear more about the concept and her views on a hard-hit retail industry surviving and thriving through the Covid-19 pandemic.

What brought on the idea of Pop Up Bazaar?

When the pandemic hit, it exposed the need for businesses, small and large, to have the ability to be agile and responsive to customer behaviours and new demands which literally shifted overnight.

Customers’ screens became their new way of connecting to brands and, for now, this continues to be the new norm. In the small and medium enterprise (SME) sector, we have seen a new wave of digital innovation like virtual retail experiences such as pop-up shops and markets, fashion shows, and styling appointments – for example, bridal styling appointments.

When we went into full lockdown in March last year, I decided to stage a virtual pop-up shop to help keep my business and that of fellow small businesses visible. I had no idea what the reaction would be, the first event took place at the end of April and did incredibly well.

We saw this massive retail revolution, where a lot more people were flocking online, and virtual experience becoming a thing. Our April event went very well, and we had a lot of brands participate that sold well too. We also did a Diwali event where we had 7,000 visitors over the weekend and by the time we got to Diwali, our brand pop-up bazaar really began to come to the forefront of people’s minds as a great place to shop all under one roof.

Now we are planning our fifth event, the wedding edition in February 2021, to help all of those getting married when restrictions lift to discover and connect with suppliers in the wedding industry. The event is aimed at those who have been waiting to get married and not been able to do their wedding shopping whilst in lockdown. This Pop Up will bring together a curated selection of independent businesses, makers, retailers, and boutiques all under one virtual roof to create an innovative shopping experience for the customer. We have got 100 participants so far and we are very excited about hosting this one.

Is there a sustainable future for virtual pop-up events?

One of the things that virtual events miss is the tactile experience for a customer where they like to touch and feel things as much as possible. One of the things we have done with these events is we have enabled businesses to give us a Zoom link, so when customers land on their landing pages on the website they can click on a link and can see these people virtually on the other side. What we have tried to do is create these experiences for customers so they can connect with the people they are buying with. And on the other side of that link, the businesses would have set up their virtual stalls as they would have at an exhibition.

I think this is definitely the norm for now, and whilst they do not offer that tactile experience that physical events do, I do believe that virtual events are here to stay. One of the things that I know about customers is that once they have formed new habits it is very difficult for them to get back into old habits. Therefore, businesses will need to keep moving forward with the pace that they need where customers are changing their habits, in order to survive in this fast-paced retail world that is evolving.

Whereas Pop Up Bazaar is concerned, the results for businesses and their fortunes have been transformable. One of the participating businesses Purple Mill founded by Neelma participated in two events in November 2020 and, as a result, saw their web sales increase by 200 per cent and revenue increased by 400 per cent compared to the previous year.

Whilst another, Alpa Smith Founder of Occasions by Vishwart, participated in her first Pop Up Bazaar and her social media has since grown considerably allowing her to reach a larger audience. She quotes that she has had phenomenal sales during and post Pop Up Bazaar.

What has the pandemic-induced lockdown taught you when it comes to innovation?

I think the pandemic exposed the need for businesses of any size to have the ability to be agile and responsive to the new customer behaviours we are now seeing, and the demands which literally shifted overnight. One of the things when I compare my retail buying career to the big businesses I have worked with, and as a retail business mentor working with SMEs, is that the SMEs were able to be agile and move quickly with the trend. That has been one of the biggest and most amazing things that come out of this for me.

One of the other things that have come about these events is that it created a collaborative community, with not only the businesses participating but also with the customers wanting to support small businesses.

What has been your motivation through these tough times?

My biggest motivation has always been as an entrepreneur to find solutions for problems, and that is key in what has always kept me going.

It is exciting being an entrepreneur because when you come up against the problem, thinking out of the box and helping others to find that same passion or to discover their passion has just been my ultimate passion. I like to keep busy; I cannot be someone who writes off the year.

I think I have had to fight for retail and for small businesses to keep them alive and that really was my ultimate passion.

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