As well as being the year that will be remembered for exposing the peril of injudicious lending and the plague of short-selling, this year may go down as the last dance in the development ball in retail circles.

There is a sense that a large number of retailers are fiddling while their estates burn at the moment, as new stores and developments continue to open while existing ones are left to moulder.

Retailers that have taken space at developments in Bristol, Leicester and White City in London have fallen over themselves to ensure that the stores that go into these schemes are not only better than the rest of their estate, but also stand out from their neighbours. The outcome is that many retailers now have a few new stores of which they can be rightly proud.

But there’s the thing. While those living within shouting distance of some of these new shops will undoubtedly be pleased with the turn events have taken, there are other less glamorous locations. The hard truth is that at present a lot of retailers – and there are notable exceptions, think M&S – have a few decent-looking outlets and quite a lot of distinctly average-looking branches.

While this goes some way towards explaining why retailers are always communicating that they have another “flagship” opening, what this really means is that they have a new store. It also tends to mean that the contrast between the best and the worst in their portfolios is likely to be accentuated.

Any retailer of substance will have a range of store formats and footprints and obviously some will be a lot older than others. The challenge facing any multiple operator is how to create consistency of in-store experience, rather than having a few show ponies.

Habitat stands as an example. This is a retailer that has a few new shops – Barton Square in Manchester and Cheltenham stand as prime examples – where the store design can match anything the high street has to offer. The trouble is that it also has branches such as Kingston or central Manchester that look their age and on which, it would appear, not a great amount of TLC has been lavished.

Shoppers get around and they compare and contrast experiences. So, as the carriages appear to whisk revellers away from the retail development bunfight, at some point in the near future it would be good to take a long, hard look at the workaday branches that form the bulk of retail estates.

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