Sunday, 9 November 2008

Impacts of major centres

November 2008 has witnessed the long awaited opening of the Westfield centre in London. Opening at such an inauspicious moment in the current economic cycle it will be interesting to see how this massive centre fares after the dust of the opening period settles; in the meantime the measurements are already being made on the impact that it is having on other retail centres.

Comments in the Sunday papers this week strongly indicate that London shopping areas have been hit on the first weekend which is to be expected but the pundits are expecting that these competitor areas are likely to see a longer term downturn. When the Bluewater retail campus opened the effects were felt across a wide area, the overall level of effect was probably influenced by the proximity of the competitor centre and the quality of the links between the hinterland of that centre and the new outlets. Secondly the retail offer influenced the impact - Bluewater being fashion and textile based influenced in a different way to that of the earlier Lakeside, whose offer was more broadly based.

It is not at all surprising then that the new Westfield has made an impact; what is yet to be tested is the nature and reason for the impact, other than the obvious novelty effect that all new centres enjoy. What is also uncertain is whether rival centres need to react to the newcomer by any other means than reviewing their own offer and the trading environment. It seems to me that a return to first precepts are needed by planners, developers, politicians, retailers and town and centre managers alike in order that the boomtime rationale of retail development is underpinned by a fuller understanding of the trading environment and the fast changing dynamic of the spending public.

There is a serious challenge here for research and analysis of spatial relationships in retail to inform those charged with making decisions in those centres who feel the need to respond to new competition.

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