Next week’s Retail Week Conference tackles, among other things, the challenge that retailers face this year with their property plans.

While retailers remain focused on the bottom line in what is proving to be a challenging year, property costs – which come second only to staff – are paramount.

The Conference will explore key issues such as rents and how to get the best value from property, but it will also address whether it is sensible for retailers to be investing in stores. The growth in online is just one threat to retail property and the industry needs to show what is special and different about the high street that you can never find online.

There are obvious gains in opening stores, but, increasingly, retailers are having to find more reasons to open in a particular location.

Often, the reason is merely the sheep mentality. Despite early doubts, most retailers will end up opening stores at White City shopping centre Westfield London, for example. Early doubters said the centre wasn’t needed, the location was wrong for their brand, rents were too high and there aren’t enough car parking spaces to sustain it. Yet most retailers now believe they have to be there because everybody else is going to be and, if they aren’t, they will miss out.

Another reason, which we will undoubtedly see more of this year, is that retailers are only opening in locations where they can clearly see the benefit. One example is the Trafford Centre’s Barton Square development, opening at the end of this month.

Most retailers trade very well at the Trafford Centre, because the scheme has pulled in a good tenant mix and attracts the car-bound shopper from Manchester and further afield that doesn’t want to be bothered with trying to find parking spaces.

Barton Square will be the Trafford Centre’s homewares destination. It has attracted the likes of M&S Home, Habitat, Bhs and Next Home, alongside smaller up-and-coming homewares retailers such as Dwell.

Retailers know that shoppers like to compare and contrast and, in the same way that London’s Tottenham Court Road has become a mecca for homewares, Barton Square could become the northern homewares destination.

Shoppers can shop for comparisons online, but they can’t comparison shop while actually seeing the products. Even retailers such as Habitat, which won’t open many stores this year, believe in such shopping destinations enough to open there. And they will put their all into making a retail experience that can’t be found online.

In future, retailers will be looking out for locations such as Barton Square that will give them stand out. And it’s down to the property industry to create these opportunities.