Christmas is fast approaching, and now is the time to reflect on the departing year and make resolutions for the year ahead.
In terms of time, we have already passed the halfway mark between the EU referendum in 2016 and the UK’s planned departure from the European Union in March 2019.
And while we still don’t exactly know what a post-EU world is going to look like for the UK, the decision hasn’t yet had the catastrophic effect a lot of people were predicting.
Playing the long game
What we are seeing in this sector is that retailers are continuing to make sensible and long-term decisions about their physical space requirements, despite all the short-term, negative noise.
In terms of rationalising store portfolios, their appreciation for the right physical stores in the right locations has been growing as online retailing becomes more competitive and potentially more costly, and the UK’s best shopping centres are seeing a good level of demand for space as a result.
As far as the strongest consumer destinations are concerned, much of the media commentary about struggling shopping centres remains a gross exaggeration.
In fact, at Intu we’ve just reported stable footfall, high occupancy and an encouraging level of new lettings for the third quarter.
A number of retailers are expanding in our centres, including Next, which is substantially upsizing its stores at Intu Metrocentre and Intu Merry Hill at the moment, and we have also been supporting international retailers like Victoria’s Secret, Lovisa and Uniqlo with their UK roll-out programmes.
“Retailers are continuing to make sensible and long-term decisions about their physical space requirements, despite all the short-term, negative noise”
The truth is that the best centres are continuing to evolve. We have witnessed the rapid expansion of the food and beverage sector in the last few years, and we are now seeing a similar level of growth in leisure concepts.
Our two key projects at Intu Watford and Intu Lakeside will have six leisure attractions between them – including Nickelodeon’s first UK shopping centre attraction at Intu Lakeside – when they launch next year to provide more family-friendly fun days out for customers.
The sector has also been embracing new technology like never before, as retailers increasingly see tech as an ally for new business opportunities, rather than a threat. Retailers are finding ingenious ways to shape their technological infrastructures, define their online presence and drive engagement with customers.
At Intu, we’ve already adapted and changed our business model to offer a seamless multichannel proposition and this year began working with seven tech start-ups as part of our Intu Accelerate incubator programme, which has trialled a range of new ideas in our malls from robotic retail assistants to an online personal shopping service.
And while few new shopping centres are being built in the UK, we aim to be on site at Intu Costa del Sol in Spain next year to take everything we have been putting into practice over the last few years to a whole new level.
Our plans reflect the best of what we have learnt from the UK, Spain and elsewhere – with leisure attractions, a hotel, conference centre and creative retail units. There’s already been widespread interest from both Spanish and international retailers who can’t wait to be part of this redefined shopping experience.
“Retailers are finding ingenious ways to shape their technological infrastructures, define their online presence and drive engagement with customers”
And finally, to end on my Christmas wish. It would be for the Government to recognise the need for a material reduction in business rates over time, and to take the first step in lessening this intolerable burden on our sector – which is way out of line with the UK’s international peers.
That would provide us all with a rosier future and really fuel our Christmas celebrations.
David Fischel is chief executive at Intu