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John Ryan

Small May be Good…

…but big remains beautiful in some instances

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ACROSS MUCH OF Western Europe, retailers, particularly those operating large-footprint stores, have been looking at how they can become part of the city center.

This means thinking about both layout and offer. Long, long aisles do not form part of stores on local high streets, and the challenge is how to work out what the in-town shopper will want, rather than the edge-of-town, mission-based “shed” visitor.

As such, it seems reasonable to suppose that if there is action in the city center, or retailers would like there to be, the big stores on the urban periphery must suffer relative neglect. Yet, one of the biggest shopping center operators in the U.K., Westfield, has been relating how visitors to its two malls that bookend central London (Westfield Stratford in the east and the eponymous Westfield London in the west) have seen a rush on the part of its occupants to upsize.

These malls are curious beasts. In both cases, they are essentially located where the inner city gives way to the ‘burbs, and while they might not be considered edge-of-town, they are far from being central. They are, in fact, destination malls – of the kind that would usually be found where the downtown area yields to that part of the city where everything frequently looks more or less the same.

As destination malls, shoppers expect the stores in these Westfield shopping centers to merit the journey. Retailers calculate that this is achievable by making stores bigger, with the likes of JD Sports, Zara, Whistles and beauty outfit Rituals – all having recently opted to expand in these schemes where they already have stores.

The notion that the only way is downtown when it comes to success is a curious one because while there are certainly a good number of shoppers who live in the city center, there are those who do not – precisely because they don’t want to be there.

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For retailers, the task is striking a balance between shrinking existing formats to make them appropriate and appealing for city center denizens while, at the same time, creating much larger destination formats that shoppers will be prepared to travel to.

It is something of a conundrum, really, and not easily dealt with.

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