My Mitacs Co-op Research Internship at TMU

The summer of 2022 was a turning point in my life, as the 12-week Mitacs Globalink research internship got me thinking about my transition from a student to a professional.

My connection to the Toronto Metropolitan University dates back to last September when I was trying to apply for the Mitacs internship. Out of the thousands of projects, I sifted through the one that interested me most, “Co-creation of Experiential Value in Brand-Based Retail Pop-up Stores,” and ranked it first. Fortunately, this was the project that I was finally accepted to. My supervisor, Janice Rudkowski (Assistant Professor, Retail Management, Ted Rogers School), is an enthusiastic and patient professor, and during the interview process, we discussed all aspects of the project, which made me passionately interested in the retail and marketing industry.

Due to the Visa delay, the project started remotely in July of this year. At the beginning of the research, Janice introduced me to the timeline of this project and familiarized me with various online resources including TMU library, Google Drive, Zotero, etc. Zotero allowed me to easily add and browse the literature about pop-ups and I also learned how to use Google Sheets to organize the literature, which can be a great help in writing a literature review.

Streetmarket tents setup with merchandise and people walking on the street
Market-based pop-up in Manchester

During the third week of my placement, I embarked on a journey of exploring pop-up stores. It was a bit tricky for me to find upcoming pop-ups on the internet at first as many small brands did not put much effort into advertising, but rather simply post on social media to inform about hosting the pop-ups. Under Janice’s guidance, I conducted field research in Manchester first. I visited many local market-based pop-ups as a customer and meet in person with several start-up businesses and creative business owners.

After collecting data from conversations, photos, videos, etc., I would record this information in an observation form in a timely manner, which allowed me to give a comprehensive and detailed evaluation of each pop-up from the perspective of six different experiential values. The evaluation covers various aspects such as service, in-store environment, products, customer experience, safety, sustainability, etc.

Due to the lack of brand-based pop-ups in Manchester, I changed the location of my fieldwork to London in the middle of my research. As the UK’s leading fashion, entertainment and business centre, London has a wide range of survey samples, allowing me to visit pop-ups of some famous brands such as Samsung, Jimmy Choo and Pokémon. I could remember that the Samsung pop-up give customers a multi-sensory experience by providing high-technology trial and interactive games like taking creative photos and the raffle. The substantial investment in these pop-ups has resulted in great facilities and eye-catching interactive elements that have enhanced my experience and engagement in the customer journey.

Screen TVs used for demonstrating product in a pop-up shop with two people in it
Samsung pop-up in London

Every week I met with Janice online, and she gave me the courage and confidence to tackle various challenges I faced in the research process. In addition to the regular meetings, Janice also allowed me to connect with the TMU librarian and other Mitacs interns and gave me the opportunity to participate in various academic workshops, all of which contributed greatly to the smooth running of my research.

The most rewarding experience is my trip to Toronto at the end of the internship. I was able to have a face-to-face meeting with Janice, who gave me a tour of the TMU campus and a special visit to the building of the Ted Roger School of Retail Management. We also had pleasant coffee chats about the further direction of our research projects and my plans for the future, which became some of the most cherished memories of the trip! In this bustling and beautiful city, I explored five different pop-ups. There was a jewelry pop-up that felt like a “community party,” an interactive store that attracts customers with a shooting game, and a kiosk-style store co-hosted by Nordstrom and Nike. Each of them has left a fresh and deep impression on me.

While visiting a pop-up co-organized by an artist and a local organization ArtHouseTo, I had a detailed conversation with an artist Jojo, where I learned about the inspiration for the original artist’s work and talked with her as a marketing student about how to use marketing strategies to expand the reach of her brand. I documented everything in the store with my camera and shared those photos with her, and we still keep in touch on Instagram to this day. I never envisioned that this research would also lead to friendships, and it also made me fully aware of the importance of building customer relationships for brand development.

Two artists in front of their table with their jewellery and work on display
A pop-up hosted by a local artist in Toronto

In addition to data collection, data analysis was also an important part of the research. As a qualitative research project, Janice asked me to use a form of data coding to process the contents in the observation form. I needed to create descriptive codes for each store, insert them into the corresponding segments, then count and analyze the number and frequency of codes used by different stores. Since each pop-up was established with different objectives, I was inspired by Janice to relate the number of codes that appeared under the corresponding experiential value metrics to these objectives, thereby drawing general rules and conclusions. It was a process of generalization and summarization, and the cross-regional survey allowed me to obtain a wide range of analyses that I believe will provide further help for the subsequent research.

Time flies and this research internship has come to an end, but what I learned from it goes far beyond the 12-week time span. I obtain a thorough grasp of the marketing and management strategies of various pop-ups as well as how merchants showcase innovative elements in pop-up stores, which has profoundly stimulated my career interest in marketing and retailing. I appreciate all the people who helped me in this experience and let me gain a fulfilling and unforgettable journey.