• 5 Reasons Shipping Containers Could Transform Retail in Australia
Investors & Developers

5 Reasons Shipping Containers Could Transform Retail in Australia

Savvy visitors to Brisbane head to the Eat Street Market, a foodie’s paradise that forms a core part of the Northshore urban renewal project. Promoted as a “food safari”, the space incorporates 80 restaurants, bars, galleries, performance spaces, and produce stores. So far, so good. But what really sets the Eat Street Market aside is the design of the space, which incorporates thousands of fairy lights with repurposed shipping containers.

The result of this approach is a completely unique, sharable experience for millennials, foodies, tourists, and locals alike.

Bright neon signs attract photogenic visitors.

The combination of lights and containers creates a real sense of theatre.

The Eat Street Market is an outstanding example of the retail in shipping containers trend that has swept the globe in recent years. But what makes these functional metal structures so sought after by businesses and consumers alike? And how can Australian retailers take advantage of this pop-up shopping phenomenon? Read on as we investigate.

The growth of pop-up retail

A multitude of factors are driving the relentless demand for pop-up or short-term retail in major cities around the world. From e-commerce making retailers nervous about committing to long retail leases, to millennials increasingly on the search for authentic, sharable retail experiences, large and small retailers alike have started to look at temporary spaces as viable alternatives to traditional stores.

What’s more, short-term retail spaces provide businesses with the opportunity to adopt real agility, especially when it comes to new product or brand campaigns. Just as a digital marketer would look to target their ads to specific online customer segments, so too can pop up spaces allow retailers the ability to target their store, and their products, right where their customers are.

Benefiting from increased footfall, pop-up stores deliver retail that has been referred to as “massclusivity” – providing large numbers of shoppers with what feels like a unique experience. By satisfying the need for the new and the authentic, even the biggest of brands can break through their corporate image. And that’s exactly what they’ve done. Brands including Adidas, Tesla, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Nike have all embraced the growing trend as part of marketing and brand campaigns.

Why shipping containers?

Shipping containers offer a range of clear benefits as short-term retail locations.

1. Brand Exposure

Containers are a fantastic marketing tool for brands. With their unique look, they deliver instant impact in turn generating either sales or brand awareness. Shipping containers provide retailers an almost instant “instagrammable experience” for customers, as well as a blank canvas on which to express their creativity.

2. Monetisation  

Shipping containers provide an opportunity for landlords to generate revenue from unused areas of their assets whilst creating hype and attraction.

3. Flexibility

Shipping containers can easily be modified or fitted out for whatever retail use if required. They can be customised and fit-out offsite then easily transported to their location. What’s more, the structures can be reconverted over and over again as needed.

4. Sustainability

It takes over 8000kwh to make a shipping container and only 400kwh to upcycle to a modular unit. There are over 24 million unused shipping containers around the globe. Their environmentally aware approach to building will demonstrate affinity with “green” consumers.


5. Affordability

Shipping containers are extremely affordable. Containers can be hired or purchased, either brand new or second hand. Container stores are generally smaller by design than conventional retail stores, which means lower rental costs which is advantageous for new start-ups.

These benefits sweeten the business case for using shipping containers for pop-up retail. But more importantly, they also appeal directly to the current retail consumer market, a market that welcomes innovation, environmental responsibility, and immediacy. Shipping containers fulfil all of these factors.

Shipping Container Retail Examples

Containers are being used around the world by retailers, bars, cafes, and restaurants looking to deliver unique experiences. Let’s look at some of those outstanding use cases.

Boxpark – United Kingdom

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With locations in Wembley, Croydon, and Shoreditch, Boxpark was an early mover in the shipping container retail space. Branded as the world’s first pop-up mall, Boxpark made use of disused land to provide independent vendors with affordable and flexible retail space right in the heart of London’s millennial community areas.

Starbucks – Global

Well known for opening stores in reclaimed historic buildings, Starbucks has taken a similarly environmentally friendly approach with their “Reclamation Drive-Thru” locations. With the cafes built from four disused shipping containers, the stores echo Starbucks’ commitment to waste reduction and environmental responsibility.

Nike – Canada

As a result of Nike’s audience and customer demographics, it’s not surprising that this brand jumped on the shipping container trend with a travelling pop-up store for Toronto and Vancouver to promote their new delivery service. Not only did they have products on sale at the store, but also one-on-one sessions with elite Nike coaches.

Coca-Cola – Developing Nations

As an exercise in social enterprise, Coca-Cola used a shipping container to create a modular community market, run by local inhabitants. It also provides drinking water, solar power, and wireless communications to the poorest areas. These EKOCENTER constructions have been launched across Africa; in Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Ghana. They’ve also been used in Vietnam, and are due to be extended globally over the coming months and years.

McDonalds – Australia


The global fast-food chain adapted a 40ft shipping container for its “Create Your Taste” road trip across Australia in 2015. The container was designed to incorporate a kitchen and order point, and extended frontwards to include a covered dining area. The initiative was to raise awareness about their personalised meal range.

Next Steps for Australian Retailers

So you’re inspired to try running a pop-up store out of a shipping container. You’ve seen the value in creating massclusivity for your customers, while ensuring environmental sustainability and cost efficiency. What comes next?

With multiple vendors already on hand in Australia leasing pre-designed or raw space shipping containers, you could dive right in and get started right away. Working with a consultant on how the unique space could fit into your wider retail strategy, as well as how to measure the return on investment on the space, could be a more effective approach.

We’d love to hear how you’re planning on deploying shipping containers to wow your customers – get in touch here.


A version of this article was first published in the Sydney Morning Herald on 9th March, 2019.

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