Revitalising City Centre Retail

On the middle day of MIPIM 2024, an important question was posed regarding the future of city centre retail as an asset class on the London Stand Stage. The ‘City Centres – Do or Die’ session explored the ever-increasing issue of vacant retail units across the capital. The seemingly perpetual rise of online shopping, coupled with the rebound from COVID lockdowns, has given retail a rather gloomy backdrop. However, there remains optimism and hope for the future, as discussed amongst the panellists, with several key points raised throughout the session as to how city centre retail can be revitalised.

Firstly, there is universal agreement that for city centre retail to successfully compete against online retailers, shops need to be magnetised. Experience-led retail can effectively entice shoppers back to city centre retail, with inspiration taken from the hospitality sector regarding shop layouts and fronts.

Delivering these experiences requires collaboration, which is most effective when all stakeholders are pulling in the same direction. Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) in the capital have successfully cemented public and private sector relationships, with the New West End Company, represented by their CEO Dee Corsi on the panel, playing a key role in this. The New West End Company is the UK’s largest retail and leisured-led BID, responsible for London’s key shopping districts, including Bond Street, Oxford Street and Regent Street, and representing over 600 businesses. The BID levy payers benefit from a multitude of place marketing activation activities that attract customers, increase spend per head and dwell time. Examples of this include art installations celebrating the King’s Coronation and annual Christmas celebrations and collaborations with the Royal Academy of Arts.

Photograph from New West End Company

Moreover, it is agreed that strategic use of the public realm will attract and increase dwell time. Granting licenses to vendors of F&B outlets to utilise al-fresco dining along with creating attractive spaces for people to meet, socialise and shop has been a successful recipe for Argent’s major King’s Cross and Gasholders mixed-use development. Other events, such as the annual King’s Cross Summer Sounds music festival, increase footfall and spend along with awareness of the area. It is also highlighted that a varied tenant mix is important so that there is appeal to a wide variety of consumers and to prevent one type of retail having an overbearing effect.

Photograph from Four Communications/PA

Overall, the session provided optimism for the retail sector with clear examples as to how new life can be breathed into city centres.


Written by Tom Osborn, Real Estate Student at the University of Reading

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