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Retail’s hybrid approach

Described as a ‘crossbreed’ shopping centre, its developers claim Whiteley represents the future of retail.

The UK’s newest shopping destination, Whiteley retail park, opened last week (May 23) to a buzz of optimism among retailers and developers alike.

The 320,000 sq ft open-air retail and leisure scheme in Hampshire has been dubbed a hybrid of the high street and the traditional shopping centre owing to its open air nature. It is the latest mall to follow this blueprint for retail developments.

One of only three UK shopping and leisure schemes opening this year, Whiteley is a joint venture development between property developer British Land and pension scheme USS.

According to British Land head of retail development Richard Wise, the hybrid centre is “the future of retail shopping - avoiding the claustrophobia of old-style developments while still being able to offer the usual one-stop-shop benefits of a mall”.

Anchored by a 60,000 sq ft Marks & Spencer with a 94-seat licensed cafe, Whiteley comprises 58 retailers, including Topshop, Next, H&M, River Island, Clarks, Schuh and JD Sports, along with a plethora of late-night opening eateries.

It follows the launch of the highly anticipated Trinity Leeds development last month, another take on the hybrid model in that it is covered but was built around an existing shopping district in the city centre.

Verdict Research retail analyst Maureen Hinton describes these new approaches as a “crossbreed … in effect an idealised high street”.

“There’s no denying the allure of producing something brand new and exciting rather than trying to reinvigorate an old, weary high street,” she adds.

But Hinton argues these new centres are not generating extra spending, rather shifting spend to different pockets.

“Consumers are spending less than ever these days and so competition is rife,” she tells Drapers. “Given the attraction of such a development, business is likely to be poached from the local high street in the area.”

Matthew Hopkinson, director of research firm Local Data Company, agrees, saying such schemes will have
a “massive impact” on high streets, which are already vulnerable to online competition, as a loss in footfall will “inevitably lead to increasing vacancy rates”.

But retailers argue footfall and spend will increase as a result of the development, which may attract different kinds of consumers looking for more than just the retail experience.

Phil Whittle, head of store operations at footwear chain Schuh, says: “Our expectation is that footfall will grow, but of course we are going to be busier at certain times of the day and at weekends. Whiteley is a real shopping destination, people will specifically choose to come here to shop and if we weren’t here we would be missing out.”

Marks & Spencer’s Whiteley store manager Lisa Holliman adds: “Of course there will be an element of deflection from the high street but the centre offers a different shopping experience. It’s new and exciting for shoppers.”

Research suggests this new generation of retail development is likely to dominate as UK shopping centre investment continues.

According to property firm Cushman & Wakefield, retail values totalled €5.4bn (£4.6bn) in the second half of 2012, compared with €3bn (£2.56bn) in the previous six months.

In Hereford, construction is already underway on the next retail scheme from British Land, a 310,000 sq ft centre, which is due to open in spring 2014. Wise is bullish about the opportunities for significant incremental growth at hybrid developments, using Whiteley as a blueprint for others.

“Everything is accessible and convenient and it’s great to see local retailers operating alongside big fashion chains,” he says. “It’s a revelation for retail on the south coast.”

Story in Numbers

  • 58 Retailers at Whiteley
  • 1,000 Jobs created
  • £84m Cost of the development
  • 1,500 Car parking spaces
  • 2 Cash points on site

 

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