The snow, rain and sleet seemed to drive shoppers to shopping centres this weekend, leaving outdoor activities by the wayside. Shopping centres such as Bluewater in Kent, Lakeside in Essex and West Quay in Southampton were understood to have traded very well over the damp weekend.
Manchester’s Trafford Centre was another example. Last Thursday, the scheme opened its homewares destination Barton Square. Despite the city having had sunny weather all week, the Easter showers started on Thursday and didn’t let up for the rest of the weekend.
Barton Square was fairly quiet – the homewares extension is outdoor and just four of its tenants opened in the first phase – Habitat, Next Home, Dwell and Bhs Home store. Those shoppers that did brave the weather were suitably impressed, though, with many looking forward to the full offer opening in May.
But, just over the footbridge at the Trafford Centre, there was no evidence of the credit crunch as shoppers pounded the halls. If anything, the bad weather outside seemed to keep shoppers inside for longer and they only seemed content to leave once they had armfuls of carrier bags. Every retailer, from Topshop and John Lewis to JD Sports, seemed to benefit.
The opposite can be said of city-centre high streets such as Oxford Street or Manchester’s King Street. These streets were ominously quiet as the weather kept shoppers away.
The weekend seems to have thrown doubt on open-plan schemes. While there has been a move away from covered schemes such as Bluewater and Trafford Centre in the past few years, the high footfall over the weekend shows they can still hold their own.
Most of the schemes opening over the next couple of years – with the exception of White City’s Westfield London – are streetscapes. Grosvenor’s Liverpool One and Bristol Alliance’s Cabot Circus, for example, are both open plan and therefore at the mercy of the elements.
Streetscape schemes are arguably better looking. Land Securities’ Princesshay in Exeter, for instance, makes use of the historical buildings and, at every turn, there are views of the city’s cathedral. But, for purely functional purposes, shopping centres with roofs make sense.
The Easter weather proved yet again that British weather is very unpredictable. But it also proved that if the weather limits outdoor activities, shopping is taken up as an alternative pastime. And, if new schemes don’t provide this weather protection, shopping could well be avoided in trying conditions just like any other outdoor activity.