Bright spots may be hard to find in the retail sector at the moment, but those involved in retail parks can claim that this is one of them
Bright spots may be hard to find in the retail sector at the moment, but those involved in retail parks can claim that this is one of them. Out-of-town, alas often at the expense of the health of the high streets, is where it’s at in terms of many retailers’ expansion plans – be it all-singing, all-dancing shopping malls or the more straightforward practical retail park. For some retailers, their out-of-town growth is staggering. Next, for instance, has increased its out-of-town presence in terms of square footage by 887% since 2002.
A plethora of space and tempting property deals continue to fuel this trend, but retail parks are not threat-free. One risk is the relentless advancement of multichannel. Could continued online sales reduce the need for physical bricks-and-mortar space not only on the high street but also out of town? Possibly. And like any retail destination, retail parks must adapt to meet changing consumer needs. But they also hold a distinct advantage, and that is around click-and-collect. Where better to site a store for shoppers to collect online purchases with minimum hassle?
Retail parks’ offer continues to change. Once the domain of big-ticket retailers, they are now places where you might find a Costa, a gym, a pub, or a health centre. They’re not the functional, often soulless, places they once were. The fact they are luring fashion retailers signals just how much the out-of-town sector has evolved. Young fashion brands such as New Look, H&M and Arcadia have all realised the benefits.
This might not necessarily spell good news for the high street. Mary Portas, for one, has put forward the view that life be made tougher for out-of-town. But gaining customer loyalty and market share in this trading environment is all about giving customers what they want. And for many, what they want can be provided all within the confines of the rapidly evolving retail park.