Fighting for your Christmas spend: Which centre will be top of the shops?

The retail world continues to change quickly.

This year, retailers like Toys R Us and Maplin have fallen off the face of the earth, while New Look, Mothercare and House of Fraser are slashing their estates.

Consumer shopping habits have changed dramatically over the last five years, and many retailers aren’t keeping up.

Online sales have been steadily rising over the last decade, with internet sales making up 16.3 per cent of all retail sales in Britain in 2017 – while high street retailers struggle, online shops like clothing firm Asos are booming.

The rocketing numbers of store closures have led to many people fearing traditional British high streets are doomed, with retailers also hit by soaring business rates and high rents.

According to the co-founder of £75 million-turnover chocolate retailer Green and Black’s, it is not all "doom and gloom” for the high street.

Speaking at a business event in Shrewsbury, Jo Fairley said it was up to retailers to be more creative to win over customers, and called for them to improve shoppers’ experience in order to thrive.

Entertain

"I’m not despondent about the high street, I’m more despondent about some of the chains that have not moved on,” she said.

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"You look at a shop like Selfridges and they have realised you have got to entertain people. It is about the experience.

"Unless you are getting something extra in terms of service or alternative entertainment and experience, why wouldn’t you go online? If you offer that bit extra then I think people will respond. It is not all doom and gloom.”

Now, with Christmas approaching, it’s time for shops to try to make hay. It’s a time of year when shoppers flood the high streets, parting with billions of pounds as they try to conjure up the perfect festive celebration.

Nonetheless, there have been a lot of sales on the high street already, suggesting that the battle for customers is getting bloodier. We have taken a look at how our local shopping centres are trying to encourage customers through their doors, during what is a tricky festive season for shop owners.

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Professor Heiner Evanschitzky, co-director of Aston Centre for Retail Insights at Aston University, said pre-Christmas cost-cutting would not provide the answer for retailers.

"Christmas is without question the most important season for retailers,” Prof Evanschitzky said. "Households spend around £800 on Christmas gifts, but interestingly, most Christmas shopping takes place between October and November.

"Footfall is significantly down in 2018, adding to the crisis in our high streets.

"Black Friday did not work at all for traditional retailers. Online sales went up, but high streets did not benefit. Given significant price reductions from the end of November onwards, margins are considerably down. I am expecting several retailers to face insolvency or apply for CVAs around the time when rents are due in 2019.

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"Retailers should not discount before Christmas, or participate in Black Friday and similar events.”

As retail changes, so will the look of British high streets. That may mean replacing shops with housing and a wider range of businesses. Amenities like libraries, parks and leisure centres, and better transport links may also be key.

"Retail is – and has always been – rapidly changing and there is always opportunity for innovative offerings, whether they’re online or offline,” Prof Evanschitzky added. "I’m always amazed by the innovativeness of retailers – it’s such a dynamic industry which has always nurtured great entrepreneurs. And to be fair, gigantic failures as well.

"Having said that, clearly, growth in retailing is online, not in traditional brick-and-mortar.

"Obvious advantages of starting an online retail shop are relatively low set-up cost, no problem with property value based business rates, immediate access to a worldwide market, clear indication that consumers appreciate online offerings.

"Some concerns/disadvantages are severe competition from the likes of Amazon and Alibaba, as well as traditional retailers beefing up their online business, means price becomes an important factor due to high degree of transparency in pricing.

"So focus on niche markets that rely on exclusive assortment, make localised offers – essentially, fly under the radar of Amazon.

"If you want to start a traditional retail store, the offering is key, and profit margins are slim.”

Shropshire and Midlands shopping centres battling for your business

Telford Shopping Centre

Telford is one of the fastest-growing towns in the UK. So at the most lucrative time of year for retailers, it pays to have a shopping area that people want to visit.

Telford Shopping Centre is currently undergoing a £55 million redevelopment and expansion programme which includes the fashion quarter redevelopment for brands including River Island, Zara, Primark, New Look and H&M as well as the Southwater leisure redevelopment attracting restaurants like Cocina and TGI Friday’s.

Work is also ongoing on the Northern Quarter and Southwater. New restaurants and a Travelodge have been added to the existing shopping centre, ice rink and town park in a bid to draw in more shoppers.

Re-organisation of the complex will see eight existing units extended and seven new units created.

High street names including Next, New Look, H&M and River Island have committed to taking on bigger stores, which reflects the confidence large fashion retailers have in the borough.

The revamp has so far seen a new multi-coloured dome built on the back of the former Asda store, which has been replaced by a newly constructed Aldi in the Northern Quarter. The German supermarket has taken a 20-year lease for the site.

In August Telford’s House of Fraser store was handed a dramatic reprieve – saving 150 jobs.

The shop will remain open following negotiations between its landlord and new owner Sports Direct.

In October the first unit on the site of the former BHS shop in Telford, belonging to The Entertainer, was opened.

B&M also opened a new homeware store at the centre this year, creating 40 jobs.

Centre manager Glynn Morrow said: "Retail is changing but we find there is still a demand for premium regionally dominant space and our centre is a great example of that.

"As a result we combine high fashion, flagship high street stores, a range of department stores, independents and convenience with leisure and extensive parking.

"We find it’s a formula that is continuing to draw in large volumes of customers and, when combined with click and collect, is often a preferred choice destination.”

Shrewsbury shopping centres

Shropshire Council bought the Darwin and Pride Hill centres and the lease on the Riverside Shopping Centre in a £51 million deal in January.

The Riverside is likely to be demolished to make way for a mixed-use development including a car park.

Since taking on the centres the council and a team of advisors have been looking to retain and attract tenants and occupancy and footfall rates are holding up well, with footfall six per cent higher than in 2016.

And new shops are coming. Wilko has moved to the Pride Hill Centre, and The Disney Store opened in the Darwin Centre in October. National retailer Menkind has returned, Calendar Club has opened a Christmas store, and Chikpe has also opened.

Local artist Megan Hawkins has opened in the Pride Hill Centre, along with PURE – and JD Sports opened in the Darwin Centre this month.

It means vacancy rates are at their lowest levels since 2012 – in the Darwin Centre the rate is 10 per cent (five units) and in the Pride Hill Centre it’s eight per cent (three units).

Councillor Steve Charmley, deputy leader of Shropshire Council, said: "It’s been widely reported that these are challenging times for the retail sector, and this is undoubted from the picture we are seeing nationally as well as locally.

"Consumers’ habits and behaviours are fundamentally changing but this only emphasises the importance of the need for town centres to adapt and to become strong destinations in their own right, based on more than retail alone. Shrewsbury and many of Shropshire’s other market towns are well placed given their strong heritage and visitor offer already.

"When the council purchased the centres, we made it clear that this was not a short term investment. Over the past year we’ve been carefully thinking through our next steps in terms of the wider development opportunities, and how these align with the vision for the town as articulated within the Shrewsbury Big Town Plan.

"We’ve already introduced some temporary uses into the centres with initiatives like the ‘pop-in shop’ and community arts and events.

"The future permanent uses of the centres must respond to offer a mix of uses as well as continue to ensure retailers are successful and want to trade in Shrewsbury.”

Mr Charmley added: "A future mixed use development of Riverside alongside strengthening the positioning of Darwin and Pride Hill centres with retail and complementary activities will help ensure the future success of the town centre.”

Mander Centre, Wolverhampton

For two years, shoppers heading into Wolverhampton have been putting up with upheaval as the Mander Centre underwent a multi-million pound refurb.

The centre was completely refurbished and configured, a series of new larger stores were created, and some smaller ones closed and were relocated within the centre.

By far the biggest change was the demolition of the old TJ Hughes store and Tesco to make way for the new 93,000 sq ft Debenhams Store occupying four floors, the opening of which rounded off the redevelopment last autumn.

This Christmas the centre will be hoping to reap the benefits of those changes. Often larger stores are considered to act as a major draw that will entice shoppers to consider the high street as a whole, and other retailers have also made moves that incidate their approval of the latest changes.

New Look committed to a 18,000 sq ft unit at the lower level next to H&M in the heart of the shopping centre.

That in turn followed independent jeweller T H Baker’s opening of a store in the Mander Centre, bringing the brand back to Wolverhampton after a 40-year absence. It now occupies a 2,000 sq ft unit on the upper mall, opposite the new Debenhams.

The centre is also home to the likes of Bonmarché, Boots, Claire’s Accessories, H&M, Starbucks and Superdrug, who will hope to benefit from the investment.

Ground was also due to broken this year to mark the start of work on Wolverhampton’s £55 million Westside leisure complex, but work has been delayed.

Once complete, it will bring the city centre’s first multiplex cinema as well as restaurants, bars, a multi-storey car park and a new hotel.

Merry Hill, Brierley Hill

The shopping mall has been a part of Black Country life since 1985 and features shops like Debenhams, Marks & Spencer, Primark, Asda and Next, but like all retail it needs to constantly reinvent itself if it is to draw in shoppers.

Merry Hill is set for £100 million of investment over the next few years, with a new cinema and more restaurant space.

This summer it saw the opening of a large new Next store on the site of the former Sainsbury’s supermarket while Primark has expanded to take over part of the old BHS site.

Shopping centre group intu, which owns the site, also wants to create a new housing estate around the centre.

Colin Jarvie, senior asset manager at Merry Hill, said: "As part of the centre’s multi-million-pound transformation we have worked closely with a number of key tenants, including Next and Primark, who have launched newly refurbished and extended stores.

"Work was completed this year to convert a former Sainsbury’s site into one of Next’s biggest stores in the UK, and Primark has now also officially opened its fantastic new store, which is over 70 per cent larger than the previous store.

"We’re home to some of the biggest and best brands in the UK. With a string of popular new stores moving into the centre already this year, including Timberland, Typo, Neon Sheep, Footlocker, Pizza SQR and B&M, we’re committed to making the retail offering here at intu Merry Hill even better.”

The centre, which attracts more than 18 million visitors per year, is also welcoming Flannels and Sports Direct stores this year, followed by a brand new Iceland store in 2019.

"It’s a huge vote of confidence for intu Merry Hill’s exciting future as a prime retail and leisure destination where brands can really flourish and customers leave happier than when they first arrived,” Mr Jarvie added.

Grand Central Birmingham

The shopping centre replaced the Pallasades in Birmingham city centre. It opened in 2015 and includes the biggest John Lewis store outside London.

The centre, situated above the redeveloped Birmingham New Street station, offers more than 200 shops, including John Lewis, Debenhams, Selfridges and Zara. There are also almost 60 diners, cafes and restaurants ranging from Greggs to Wagamama.

Anchored by the 250,000 sq ft John Lewis, the centre also houses Hobbs, The White Company, Cath Kidston and Carluccio’s.

It has helped make Birmingham a major attraction at a time of huge regeneration and redevelopment, such as the Paradise office project and Arena Central, which is the new home of HSBC’s UK banking business.

Grand Central alone estimates it attracts 17 million visits a year by eager shopper, building on the success of the Bullring. Developed in 2003, it has transformed Birmingham’s city centre. The Bullring attracts a footfall of 35 million visitors per year, making it one of the UK’s most successful retail destinations and regeneration projects.




Date: 14 December 2018 | Source: Shropshire Star

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