Retails Great Re-opening Cannot Come Soon Enough – By Chris Geaves

09th April 2021
It seems a long time since the 5th January when the doors closed again to non-essential retail. However, 12 April is now just a couple of days away and I’m sure I speak for all those connected with the sector, in particular shopping centres and retail parks, when I say that it can’t come soon enough.

That said, looking at the key components which make up the retail landscape – the landlord, the retailer and the shopper – there is still room for all three to cheer and raise a glass or two, despite unprecedented trading conditions.

There never seems to be much sympathy for the landlord but the lack of rent and service charge payments, along with the need to reach agreements with tenants across all retail portfolios has been intense. It certainly has in our 9 million sq ft of space under management. People tend to forget that shopping centres and parks are expensive things to run and even where the shoppers aren’t in them, they need to be kept operating, so it will be good to see the rents flowing again.

It’s true to say that the majority of retailers have had a tough time, even some strong, well-established brands. However, some have done well, predominantly those with a strong online offering and good branding.

Then there is the shopper – the key ingredient of the three components to success. Probably fed up with the DPD/FEDEX van arriving on the doorstep, the products not quite being what was expected and then the hassle of having to send goods back, there does seem to be a real pent-up thirst to get out there and once again experience bricks and mortar retail.

If the lockdown has done anything positive for this sector, it’s probably opened the eyes of everyone that you cannot beat experiential retail. The physical side of shopping – experiencing connection with destinations and people – is fundamental to the UK as a nation of shoppers.

Enshrined within that comment though lies an issue of paramount importance as we recover from the Pandemic – that of safety. If shoppers are going to come back to our major centres, they will want to know that adequate protocols are in place to protect them as well as keeping them safe and comfortable. This is certainly something that is high on the agenda at Sovereign Centros and I’m sure all landlords will be thinking the same.

Looking forward, we don’t know what footfall levels will be on the 12th and going through the week after, but the indications are that they will be strong with a very healthy bounce-back to normality. I’m pleased to say that there has been an increasing up-tick of shopper numbers on the graph over the last three weeks at all our centres, even in these restricted times, so that bodes well. That is why it’s so important to ensure that venues are safe and welcoming.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed that the re-opening is strong and sustained, as we seek to find innovative solutions to keep our customers coming back to physical retail.