Often overlooked as the less glamorous part of the retail property sector, retail parks have undergone significant change in recent years.
The extent of that transformation has been encapsulated in data captured throughout this year, which suggested that footfall at retail parks has been more resilient than on high streets or in shopping centres.
Most recently, November’s data from BRC-Springboard recorded that retail parks were the only retail sector to witness rising footfall, reporting an increase of 2%, which materially outperformed the high street, where footfall fell 3.4%, and shopping centres, where there was a 2.8% drop.
Retail parks have long played an important role in the retail landscape, but 2015 has arguably been the year that we’ve seen how far their evolution has come. The divide between in-town and out-of-town retail has been narrowed as customers now switch seamlessly between offline and online shopping, expecting the same standards across multiple retailing formats.
This has given rise to segmentation of the sector, with clear differentiation between parks – including shopping parks, hybrid parks and key homeware goods parks – as retailers respond to this shift in consumer shopping habits and adapt their multichannel strategies accordingly.
And over the past decade, there has been a wholesale change in the line-up of retailers trading out-of-town. Brands such as Comet, Focus and MFI have been replaced by high street names including M&S, Next and Debenhams, all of whom are looking to adopt an in-fill strategy at retail parks and achieve a portfolio of fewer, larger, yet better-ranged stores.
The resurgence of the retail park has also been led by an increasing number of destinations now offering shoppers convenience, coupled with the same customer services and facilities that are commonplace in shopping centres.
Our recently launched Elliott’s Field Shopping Park, in Rugby, is a prime example of a redevelopment that has utilised innovation and learnings not just from our existing parks, but particularly our shopping centres to create a best in class, aspirational retail destination.
Considered to be the next generation in retail parks, careful consideration went into the design of Elliott’s Field, moving away from the industrial origins of out-of-town retail.
And the tenant mix is different, attracting retailers traditionally associated with shopping centre and high street retailing. Debenhams and Marks & Spencer both have department store offers anchoring the scheme, while Next, River Island, Fat Face and H&M are among the retailer to have taken space.
There are also other factors at play, influencing trading patterns of British shoppers and supporting the rise of the retail park.
The improving macroeconomic environment has been key. With sustained low inflation and increasing real wages, together with a recovery in the housing market, consumer confidence has been boosted – and we’ve seen this spread out of London into the regions.
Whilst shoppers are now more considered in their purchasing, preferring to shop around for bargains, improving consumer sentiment tends to be correlated with increasing demand for pricier home-related items such as homeware goods, especially home furnishings.
This is why we’ve seen retailers including ScS, Sofa Works, Oak Furniture Land, Homesense, Dunelm and new entrant Tapi all acquiring new physical space.
With retail parks evolving to offer experience as well as convenience, we fully expect the sector to continue to buck trend of more muted footfall across the UK’s high streets.
- Andrew Berger-North is director of retail parks at Hammerson