For retailers coming into the European market, the UK’s shopping centres are the most appealing place to start.

A couple of weeks ago I had an interesting chat with a property agent who specialises in helping overseas retailers, mostly from the US, looking to move into the European market.

It came as no surprise to me, given the cultural and linguistic links, that the UK was almost always their preferred first port of call. But what I didn’t realise was that another key factor in their decision making is that for mall-based retailers from the US, the standard of malls in mainland Europe isn’t perceived to be good enough.

Now American retailers are famously demanding and as their country is the home of the shopping mall, you would expect them to have particularly high standards. But it is true that many malls on the continent lack the flair of their counterparts in either the UK or the US.

One good example I’m familiar with is the Diagonal Mar shopping centre in Barcelona (which I’m particularly familair with as it’s across the road from where we’ve held the World Retail Congress for the past three years). It is a large, modern centre with a good spread of tenants, including all the usual Inditex and Cortefiel brands. It is anchored by a large Alcampo supermarket and Primark is arriving soon.

But compared to its UK counterparts, based on a number of visits over the past few years, the density of shopper traffic seems low and the whole place seems quiet and lacking flair. The supermarket anchor is deeply unsexy and the centre just seems to lack the pizazz which would enthuse an exciting American brand to set up shop there.

There will of course be exceptions and it’s not as though all our centres in the UK are places to be proud of. But on the whole, when it comes to European shopping centres, our best ones are ahead of the pack.