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Retail vacancy rates remain stable

January was a tough month for UK sales, but while general footfall fell retail vacancies have remained relatively stable, reports the British Retail Consortium.

The BRC's Chief Executive Helen Dickinson, OBE stated: “Our quarterly vacancy rate data shows shop vacancies virtually unchanged at 9.4 per cent of all shops compared 9.5 per cent in October. On a regional level, it was London that saw the strongest improvement, with the proportion of empty shops falling from 9.5 to 8.4 per cent over the three months to January. However, in some parts of the country the number of empty shops remains worryingly high and act merely as a blot on landscape of local communities. And while the overall the rate has tended to remain around 9 to 10 per cent since July 2015, the variation between successful and vulnerable locations grows ever wider.

Springboard's Marketing and Insights Director Diane Wehrle commented: “The UK vacancy rate improved from 9.5 percent in October to 9.4 percent in January. This can be partly explained by the churn of occupancy from retail to hospitality, a feature of the last year, but is also due the fact that the vacancy rate reflects footfall and sales, and so lags behind these as a performance indicator. But it does demonstrate that retail destinations are adapting, with new occupiers offering a much demanded all round customer experience.”

"At a time when retail is being re-imagined as customers seek more engaging experiences in our high streets, town centres and retail park and centres, the incentive for retailers to innovate and invest in physical space is being curtailed by the upward only trajectory of business rates," Dickinson added.

Photo credit: Vacant storefront, source: Flickr

Coach opens first store in Italy

New York-based fashion and accessories label Coach has opened its first standalone store in Italy on Milan’s premiere shopping street, Via Montenapoleone.

The 1,650 square foot store has been designed by executive creative director Stuart Vevers in partnership with William Sofield, designer and president of Studio Sofield and fuses the existing historic architectural elements with the brand’s signature interior features.

In a nod to Coach’s heritage, flooring is composed of carriage-house brick, while the modern concrete, vintage pink granite, and exposed terracotta walls aim to deliver a unique mix of contrasting textures.

Commenting on the design, Vevers said: “This store is quite unique. When we broke through the walls we discovered original architectural details that we decided to incorporate into the store design. The varying textures of the past combined with modern elements are very much what Coach is about—authenticity, being true to ourselves and adding the unexpected.”

The store features a curated range of the Coach collection including ready-to-wear and accessories for women, along with a selection of bags and accessories for both men and women. In addition, the store houses a Craftsmanship Bar offering leather care and monogramming.

Andrew Stanleick, president, Coach Europe added: “With the opening of Milan, we add an influential footprint to the Coach store portfolio in one of the world’s most revered fashion capitals. We are confident our modern luxury concept, combined with Coach’s iconic leather goods and celebrated ready-to-wear, will make our new store a key destination for the discerning Milanese client as well as those who visit the city.”

Images: courtesy of Coach

Bosideng to exit UK market, close London store

Chinese label Bosideng is to exit the UK market after operating for just four years. The company opened a flagship store on South Molton street in 2012, a property its parent company purchased in 2011. The store has now been closed.

At the time of opening Bosideng operated over 10,000 stores in its home country, but was virtually unknown outside of China. Many were wary of the brand's London launch, with critics wondering if it would adopt a different strategy in the UK.

At the time the brand's UK chief executive Wayne Zhu said, “A move into Europe has been a goal of Bosideng for some time, and we’re very excited to be launching in such a prominent location in London.”

But the unknown brand failed to make its mark on the British shopping public, despite the company stating in 2013 that it's store opening was a success.

In addition to closing its store, Bosideng has shuttered its e-commerce operations in the UK, stating an uncertain future concerning Brexit as a cause. Given the uncertainty of the UK market after Brexit, a spokesperson told Drapers the lack of return of investment led the company to decide to rent the property. "We will return to the retail market in the UK, when we see fit."

The White Company to create “statement store”

Fashion and lifestyle brand The White Company is to upsize its Bluewater store to almost double its size to create a “statement store” due to open this spring.

The new store on Bluewater’s lower Guildhall will span 5,881 square feet and house the brand’s complete range of exclusive lifestyle products, from women’s fashion and accessories, to homewares, beauty products and The Little White Company’s childrenswear.

Sitting adjacent to Hobbs, Russell and Bromley and the recently opened Michael Kors, the store is being designed by an in-house team and evolves The White Company’s classic look, with the emphasis on creating a calm and inviting retail experience.

The White Company, director of property, Sarah King, said: “Bluewater has long been a top-performing location for The White Company. Land Securities has worked closely with us to create a bespoke space that allows us to give Bluewater’s guests a true encapsulation of The White Company brand as a whole.”

The White Company to create “statement store”

The White Company upsizing Bluewater store

Russell Loveland, portfolio director at Land Securities, co-owner and asset manager of Bluewater, added: “We have sustained demand from leading retailers to create statement stores at Bluewater that offer our guests the very best expression of their brand.

“The upsized flagship from The White Company is the latest example of this. The new store will embody everything the brand stands for and will be a significant addition to Bluewater’s own unique day-out experience.”

The announcement comes as Bluewater reported a strong Christmas performance, with average retail spend per visit reaching 191 pounds, and follows the news that Missguided is making its first move outside London with the opening of a 16,000 square foot store on the lower Rose Gallery this spring.

Images: courtesy of The White Company

UK footfall drops in January

London - UK retailers suffered a tough January, as new data from the British Retail Consortium and Springboard has revealed. Figures show high street footfall fell 0.8 percent while footfall in retail parks fell by 0.4 percent to mark the third consecutive month of decline.

Meanwhile, footfall in shopping centres dropped for the twelfth month running with a fall of 3 percent. The figures are likely to highlight the slowdown in consumer spending in 2017 as the effects of Brexit will become a reality for retailers and consumers alike.

Clothing and footwear retailers saw the quickest annual reduction in expenditure since April 2012 with a fall of 3.8 percent. Kevin Jenkins:, UK & Ireland managing director at Visa stated: “Clothing and household goods retailers experienced a particularly difficult January. The traditional start of year sales did little to lift clothing spend, which saw the biggest drop in nearly five years. The high street as a whole suffered a disappointing month too, with spend falling at the quickest rate in four years.”

Diane Wehrle, Springboard insights director, said: “The 1.3 percent drop in footfall across the UK's bricks and mortar destinations in January may be a sign of tougher things to come in 2017. Not only was it a noticeably larger drop than the 0.2 percent in December; but it was the steepest decline since June 2016, when footfall was impacted in the preceding weeks and in the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum.

Shopping centres are seeing the highest drops in footfall

“The results are consistent with longer term footfall trends, with an underperformance of shopping centres against high streets and retail parks. Of significance is that footfall is correlating closely with retail sales, with all sales results published so far showing a poorer performance in January than in January 2016. Springboard's own data on bricks and mortar sales showed a 1.5 percent drop in January from January 2015.”

The BRC and Springboard, which also compile data on vacancy rates, found that the national town centre vacancy rate was 9.4 percent in January down from 9.5 percent in October 2016. This is the lowest rate since January 2016 when it stood at 8.7 percent.

Helen Dickinson, BRC chief executive, said: “In some parts of the country the number of empty shops remains worryingly high and act merely as a blot on landscape of local communities. And while the overall the rate has tended to remain around 9 to 10 percent since July 2015, the variation between successful and vulnerable locations grows ever wider.”

Spending split by channel shows that ecommerce outperformed face-to-face categories but increased at the slowest annual rate in five months at 4.1 percent.

Credits: Photo, Oxford Street London, Wikimedia Commons; article source: Springboard, BRC

Despite many British consumers feeling that Valentine’s Day has become too commercial, new figures from GlobalData Retail reveals that 987 million pounds will be spent on gifts and cards this year.

The forecast states a “slight increase” in total spend on last year, by 0.7 percent, with price inflation in cards and flowers being offset by the high level of competition in the market. GlobalData adds that the supermarkets are not only competing against each other for a share of the spending, they have to contend with increasing competition from the general merchandisers such as B&M and Poundland.

Anish Dosani, retail analyst at GlobalData said: “Partners and spouses are going to benefit this year from increased competition in the market, but for retailers, though there is a slight increase in overall spending, any increase is being shared across far more participants as retailers take advantage of the occasion and attempt to gain a bigger share of spending.”

The research also reveals that consumers hold negative perceptions of Valentine’s Day, despite their willingness to spend, with more than three-quarters (81.2 percent) of consumers surveyed by GlobalData in 2016 feeling that Valentine’s Day has become too commercial, while more than half (52.3 percent) said that it is a waste of money.

Dasani added: “While we expect there to be an increase in consumer spending on Valentine’s Day this year, the more general lack of interest in the occasion means that retailers are going to have to work even harder to drive sales and win this spend.”

Westgate to open its doors on October 24, 2017

UPDATE Westgate Oxford, the new shopping centre to open in Oxford, it set to officially open its doors to the public on October 24, 2017.

The new 800,000 square foot shopping centre, which aims to transform fashion retail in the area, launch date ensures that retailers will be able to benefit from the upcoming Christmas trading period.

"Westgate Oxford is one of the largest and most highly anticipated retail and leisure destinations of 2017 and so we’re excited to announce that we’ll be opening its doors to the public on 24th October," commented Bert Martin, Development Director for the Westgate Oxford Alliance. "Visitors to Westgate can expect a first-class line-up of retail, food and leisure brands that will further cement Oxford as one of the most attractive cities in the country to spend time in."

At the moment Westgate Oxford currently stands at 70 percent pre-let, with fashion retailers such as Mint Velvet, Ted Baker, and Calvin Klein opening stores in the new shopping centre. These high street retailers will sit alongside of the 140,000 square foot John Lewis flagship store, which acts as the anchor to the centre. "Oxford has long been a sought after location for us so we’re really excited to see the scheme becoming a reality and becoming part of this great city," added Tim Harrison, Director of Store Development for John Lewis.

Located in the heart of Oxford city centre, the new shopping centre will see the west end of the city undergo a complete transformation, which includes the opening of more than 100 new stores, 25 restaurants and cafes as well as span of new public spaces created to blend seamlessly with the surrounding area. "The opening of Westgate Oxford is another landmark moment in the transformation of Oxford city centre. It will create more than 3,000 jobs and training opportunities for people living in and around the city," said Councillor Bob Price of the Oxford City Council.

"As well as shopping in an exciting and attractive environment, visitors will be able to enjoy the huge range of outstanding cultural and entertainment venues around the city centre, including the new Curzon cinema in the Westgate Centre and a programme of entertainment in the new square outside the John Lewis store."

CGI Image: Courtesy of Westgate Oxford

UK Mobile phone shopping to treble in 4 years

The future of shopping is mobile, with handheld devices expected to treble from 13.5 billion pounds to 43 billion pounds over the next four years. This means mobile shopping will account for 66 percent of all purchases.

This may seem a giant leap forward, but the British lag far behind the Americans and Chinese, says research from Google, PayPal UK and OC&C Strategy Consultants. These nations have faster loading sites and multiple mobile shopping platforms, with approximately 250 million Chinese consumers buying goods from messaging app WeChat in 2016.

PayPal UK mobile commerce director Rob Harper said: “Speed is an important factor in any shopping experience, but when it comes to mobile shopping it’s vital. Retailers can reduce the time it takes to browse and select a purchase, but if it takes too long to pay, they may lose that sale. It’s a problem that retailers can easily address.”

UK retailers not fully embracing mobile customer service

Customer service has a long way to go, with only 16 per cent of Britain's top retailers offer customer support through mobile chat versus 41 per cent of the top 100 US sites. Few companies have a presence on messaging platforms despite their growth beyond social networking sites, according to The E&T, an engineering and technology publication.

Comparison shopping is trend that is here to say, with approximately 80 per cent of web retail involving research, transactions and price comparisons through a smartphone by 2020. Retailers who use data analysis to calibrate market pricing we will be one step ahead in this category.

"The next evolution of mobile shopping will reduce the consumer journey even further. Contextual commerce will enable consumers to buy things at the point of discovery - whether that's in an email, on a Pinterest page or in a messenger app - rather than needing to click through to an online shop," Mr Harper said.

"Mobile technology is determining the future of e-commerce, and retailers need to act now to prepare themselves accordingly."

Photo credit: Edited software, source: Edited.com

AllSaints continues to target overseas expansion

British fashion brand AllSaints is continuing its expansion with its first concession in Spain, in the newly renovated El Corte Ingles department store in Madrid.

William Kim, chief executive officer of AllSaints, said: “As part of AllSaints’ on-going European expansion, the brand has partnered with the El Corte Ingles team to break back into the Spanish market.

“With over 80 years expertise in the Spanish retail sector, they were an obvious partnership choice for AllSaints. We are excited to work alongside them to drive further brand awareness in Spain and creating a seamless in-store experience that mirrors our online journey.”

The concession opened on February 10 and spans just over 430 square feet and features the brand’s womenswear spring collection. The space has been designed with the distinctive AllSaints aesthetic, including tailor-made fixtures and hand-crafted industrial display units.

The Spanish market is the latest entry for AllSaints, it recently opened its first store in Mexico, and last year launched stores in Peru and Chile. The retailer currently has more than 220 operated stores, franchises and outlets in 24 countries including the UK, Europe, North America, Asia and the Middle East.

Image: courtesy of AllSaints

British consumers spending increased by just 0.4 percent year-on-year in January, according to the latest UK Consumer Spending Index by Visa, which indicates that consumer spending is starting to lose momentum.

January’s slow growth of 0.4 percent marks not only a decrease on December’s 2.5 percent growth, but also a five-month low and aside from August, shortly after the Brexit vote it is the weakest annual growth rate in over three years, Visa said.

Visa managing director Kevin Jenkins said: “Following a bumper Christmas season, there were signs that consumers were starting to rein in their spending at the start of the New Year. Annual growth slowed down from 2.5 percent in December to a five-month low of 0.4 percent in January, as households monitored rising prices on everyday items and how this would impact disposable incomes.”

High street retailers took the biggest hit, with expenditure on clothing and footwear dropping 3.8 percent on the year, the fastest annual reduction since April 2012, while spending on household goods also declined by 2.7 percent.

Face-to-face spending also declined at its quickest rate in three years, dropping 3.1 percent, while e-commerce continues to hold its own, growing by 4.1 percent, albeit at a slower pace, said Visa.

Jenkins added: “Clothing and household goods retailers experienced a particularly difficult January. The traditional start of year sales did little to lift clothing spend, which saw the biggest drop in nearly five years. The high street as a whole suffered a disappointing month too, with spend falling at the quickest rate in four years.”