There was a time when prestigious shopping centres, usually out of town, could pick and choose - ‘curate’ - its retailers. Those deemed too low rent, not literally, weren’t given house room and everything was perfect in these sanitised high-streets.
Well, things are changing, we’ve heard many ‘Death of the Mall’ stories, but ultimately visitor numbers and footfall is dropping and they need/want to stay relevant.These shopping centres need bodies and lots of them.
So, it’s interesting to see how Primark is now being heralded at shopping centres that before wouldn’t have given such a large space to this affordable retailer.
Left - The extension of Westfield White City includes John Lewis and Primark
Bluewater recently announced a huge new Primark after it said it was the most requested brand from its visitors and Westfield White City’s new extension contains not only a John Lewis but a Primark, which was missing from the original lineup. Manchester’s Trafford Centre enlarged to accommodate one and, soon, Primark will be seen as an anchor tenant much like John Lewis and Marks & Spencer.
What Primark brings to a shopping centre is a constant lifeblood of customers. With no online option, people have to get out there and physically go into the stores and this will have the knock on effect of making the whole place busier.
It’s an interesting time for shopping centres. Without something distinctive or ‘destination’, many will end up with large holes as retailers trim their retail footprint. Argos is moving in with Sainsbury’s, many of those BHS stores remain empty and with retailers such as New Look and M&S closing stores, there aren’t many big retailers to take their place.
A few years back, when Littlewoods and C&A disappeared, M&S was expanding and Primark was taking big units as it was growing so fast.
New shopping centres, such as ‘Coal Drops’ in Kings Cross, will take a different approach from the bigger is best attitude of shopping centres previously. Even the wording ‘Shopping Centre’ sounds a bit dated. What should we call them? Not ‘Town Squares’, hey, Apple!
It’s going to be about design - Thomas Heatherwick has designed Coal Drops - and discovery, with retailers many people wouldn’t have seen before. It’s about selling cool and constantly changing to keep up with this. It’s never ending. You need events, social media and a siren-like call to constantly remind your customers what you have to offer.
In America, their shopping centres are important because many places didn’t have much before it. Without the shopping centre there is no hub or heart to the town or city. In the UK, we’ve had High-Streets for centuries which have evolved constantly and also a street culture which is ingrained within our society. Admittedly, less prosperous places will see their high-streets struggle, but then maybe shops with be replaced with homes or other ideas we’re yet to even think about.
Shopping centres need to start thinking about what they stand for and question the future of shopping and retail. I think just ignoring it and ploughing on will speed up their demise.