Stepping out for a morning muffin, you walk right into a temporary Target outlet that seems to have popped up through the sidewalk overnight to pitch its scaled-down inventory.
Back home, you begin to read Vogue magazine online and find a click-to-buy option for the products pictured in every ad, from a tube of lipstick to a Tiffany bracelet.
Call it 1,000 points of retail.
Just when consumers had grown accustomed to ambient advertising - the omnipresence of visual and aural marketing messages - they can now witness the rise of ambient sales.
In the run-up to the holiday sales blitz, experts say the gap between consumers' awareness of a product and their first opportunity to acquire it has narrowed to almost nil. Sometimes you still go get the goods; sometimes the goods come and get you.
But certainly shopping no longer means making a list, waiting until Saturday, and hunting down items using keyboard or car.
"Shoppers don't think that way anymore," says Wendy Leibmann, a principal at WSL Strategic Retail, a strategic marketing and retailing consultancy in New York. "It's [about] points of access for them," she says, and the freedom to shop in ways that suit them at any given moment.
"They're not confined to traditional formats," adds Ms. Leibmann. "They sashay back and forth among Web, big-box and specialty stores, catalogs - and in some ways expect retailers and manufacturers to do the same."
Consumers also are increasingly open to goods that arrive unbidden and whisper "buy me now," say experts. Sellers are rushing to intercept those sashaying shoppers and offer them a chance to make spontaneous buys.
Two-thirds of all purchases are unplanned, says Paco Underhill, a leading expert on shopper behavior and founder of Envirosell Inc., a consulting firm in New York. Marketers scrambling for a slice of that discretionary buying, he adds, naturally become more aggressive as competition widens.
Others agree. "The big breakthrough is that everything is for sale, and everything is always being sold at you," says Marian Salzman, executive vice president and chief strategy officer of Euro RSCG Worldwide, an advertising and corporate-communications company.
In the newest form of the half-decade-old practice of guerrilla marketing, traditional retailers are trying out new temporary "pop-up" locations - tiny outlets that open and do business for a month or so before packing up and moving on - as they work to extend their brands and to leverage the relationships they have built with customers, experts say.
These pop-ups - still mainly an Eastern, urban phenomenon - can boost that familiarity by helping outlets appear more like community stores than faceless corporate brands. A recent study by Salzman's firm found consumers place growing importance on supporting local retailers.
These pop-up stores can include a measure of philanthropy. Target, for example, donated proceeds from its New York installation to breast-cancer research.
Temporary stores can also generate valuable buzz. "It's hit and run," says Mr. Underhill. "You can make the point that the store's going to disappear in six months, [so] get it while it's hot."
Shoppers value predictability when it comes to buying staples, Underhill says. Supermarkets don't benefit from moving the milk to another part of the store. But in appealing to shoppers' "discretionary instinct," he says, "change is often what gets people to look at stuff."
For sellers, stepping right into buyers' paths is also a defensive move. Although three-quarters of consumers reportedly now belong to some kind of loyalty program (such as retailer cards that offer discounts) shoppers show little long-term loyalty to retailers.
The noisier the bazaar, the slicker the sell
Consider the recent rise of product placement in television, film, even consumer magazine stories in which neutrality has traditionally been expected. Appearing ubiquitous earns products an easy familiarity that some experts say translates to sales. Ms. Salzman cites a quilt from the store Anthropologie that she saw recently in a catalog - and then in a TV series a day or so later.
Another recent tactic: "curated" consuming, where products are pulled together and sold as parts of "personalized" collections matched to presumed readerships. So-called shopping magazines, such as Lucky and Cargo, have mastered this kind of personal-shopper role.
Some established sales trends hang on, too. Wholesale clubs like Sam's and Costco keep "channel blurring," trying to meet all of consumers' needs - gasoline, cellphone plans, vacations - in one stop.
Still, shoppers find time to make 38 trips a year to the mall, on average, according to a recent report by the International Council of Shopping Centers. (That number has been in gradual decline.)
Internet peer-to-peer trading posts such as eBay have made it simple to shop for specific goods from home.
Helping to pack even more products into the online pipeline are commission-based "drop-off" stores such as iSold It and AuctionDrop, which now offer help to tentative Web sellers by brokering their goods.
But given all of the options, experts agree, it's no longer enough for mainstream retailers to beckon from afar.
"Everybody's looking for the next way to get into the customers' faces and let them know who they are, what they are, and what they stand for," says George Whalin, a retail expert with Retail Management Consultants in San Marcos, Calif.
In the short term, Mr. Whalin says, retailers' broadening reach is - like product placement - mainly about winning "mindshare."
"I think it's more of an advertising vehicle than a method for selling a lot of product," he says, citing a Ralph Lauren bus that toured college campuses, and an interactive kiosk that Chrysler had at the Mall of America.
Still, these new advertising vehicles may be increasingly effective when products are made available. And experts predict consumers will see more product- dangling, where new types of retailing don't just promise a product, they dangle the actual goods for shoppers to see and hold (and, they hope, buy).
High-priced print and television ads can help a company make its brand more likable to consumers, says Jie Zhang, assistant professor of marketing at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. But the vital thing is to shorten the distance between the moment products are flashed at a potential buyer and the moment that buyer is given an opportunity to buy the merchandise, she adds.
"It takes time to translate preference into actual purchasing behavior," says Professor Zhang, who says the bombardment of busy consumers with ad messages reduce the likelihood that any one ad will be remembered.
"There's a push to move from advertising in general to better merchandising efforts at the points of sale," she adds, calling tactics such as pop-up outlets a more efficient use of marketing money than ads.
Along those lines, Meow Mix recently experimented with a temporary cat-friendly cafe in Manhattan that showcased the company's latest feline cuisine. It may open similar stores around the country. And a mobile operation called Vacant has tried selling limited-edition merchandise from various new and established brands from empty retail spaces in several cities, moving on after a month and reporting to retailers about sales hot spots.
Some experts doubt that all of this ambient retail will prove annoying to consumers, as all-out advertising has arguably become. When electronic ads pop up on your computer screen while you try to view a site, notes Underhill, that isn't asked for. It blocks your way. But a temporary store or kiosk?
"This is something that's new and fresh," he says. As long as it doesn't grossly interfere with a walking pattern, "the fact that the first three kiosks in the concourse might change is of no real concern to me. And may actually be something of interest."