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Wal-Mart Discovers New Purpose for Pop-Up Stores

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Pop-up stores are not a new phenomenon. These miniature stores have been widely adopted by national chains looking to pick up market share in an area in which one of their stores may not already exist, especially during the holiday season. But this year, pop-up stores are serving another purpose -- attracting shoppers to retailers' dot-com initiatives.

Wal-Mart (WMT - Get Report) started its own pop-up experiment, opening two test stores in California malls designed to promote its brand. These stores, which are 1,000 and 3,000 square feet, carry a select mix of toys and consumer electronics. Shoppers sit down at stations to order and browse additional products from on tablets and laptops.

"These stores will allow customers to have one continuous experience and are a way to bring exposure to and see a different offering from the brand," said Lorenzo Lopez, spokesman at Wal-Mart.

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Ultimately, Wal-Mart is using the pop-up stores as a way to learn what customers want and to see how all of its innovations are meshing together. The discount giant has been aggressive in ramping up its e-commerce and social media presence, rolling out two mobile shopping applications this week and partnering with Facebook for holiday shopping.

The pop-up stores will remain open until the end of the year, and there are no plans to test the concept further in other markets.

But do these e-commerce pop-up shops make sense? The question is why would shoppers go to a brick-and-mortar store to order merchandise online when they can sit on their couch and do the same thing?

Tadd Wilson, retail strategist at IBM Retail Store Solutions, said companies are realizing that focusing just on Web or mobile isn't sufficient.

A majority of shoppers still like to make their purchases in the store, so retailers are now investing in cross-channel capabilities that drive customers from the store to the Web, Wilson said. Wal-Mart's pop-up store is combining the in-person, visual and tactile experience, with the best of the Internet (no lines, lots of information and price comparison).

"Anywhere there is configuration, customization but a need to 'try-before-you-buy'... store-to-web works well," Wilson said.

-- Reported by Jeanine Poggi in New York.

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