Retail property market
Our 2011/2012 financial year was a demanding year for everyone in the retail sector with non-food retail sales down 1.3% according to the BRC/KPMG sales monitor. In addition we saw a further shift in retailer demand away from smaller towns and high streets towards larger shopping centres and out-of-town locations. This combined with the rapidly developing multichannel approach of shoppers to create major challenges for retailers. Some have not survived but the stronger retailers are actively addressing their floorspace requirements leading to opportunities for us in our developments and existing assets.
The investment market reflected this trend with prime and secondary values diverging further. In the second half of the year we saw shopping centre values falling with a more marked decline in weaker assets, albeit on a very low volume of transactions. The retail warehouse market was more resilient.
2011 further challenged the notion that the internet will lead to the end of physical shopping environments. While online sales remained a threat to some bricks and mortar retailers and certain locations, others are finding ways to integrate the online world into their offer. Many retailers are now transacting online and fulfilling orders through physical stores and we have made efforts to ensure our centres support this activity.
During the year we found opportunities to work with online retailers. In London, for example, we created self-service delivery lockers for Amazon at seven sites. And at One New Change, EC4 we helped Ocado create a QR code wall that enabled customers to add items to their next Ocado order by pointing their phone at a product photograph. We also used social media to reach specific consumer groups while reducing our marketing budget.
People now carry the online world with them in their phone or tablet, and more shoppers are using a mobile device as part of their retail and leisure experience. IMRG and eDigital research from November 2011 shows that 24% of consumers have used their smart phone to access websites while out shopping, and 50% of those have accessed retail websites. In the autumn of 2011, 8.2% of visits to retail sites were through mobile devices; by the winter this had risen to 11.6%. To accommodate this trend, we have entered into an agreement to offer free wireless connectivity at our centres and their websites are being mobile enabled. We are also carrying out a trial with Google and Debenhams that will enable shoppers to conduct product searches using our shopping centre websites.
We have continued to see the value of a strong retail and leisure mix. The combination of shops with attractions such as cinemas, fitness centres, health spas, cafés and restaurants ensures that people are drawn to physical environments. We expect new patterns of consumer behaviour to generate additional requirements from occupiers, leading to new asset management initiatives and development opportunities.
Overall, the retail outlook remains challenging and property owners are having to take an even more active approach to asset management to create value. Continued uncertainty in capital markets would add to downward pressure on the sector, but it may also generate attractive buying opportunities. Whether market conditions worsen or we see a return to growth, the quality of our portfolio and our relationships will be increasingly important.
Every retail asset will be affected in some way. Many have the potential to thrive as new dynamics emerge. Retailers continue to be drawn to less expensive space that consistently trades well and asset managers will be required to continually review their assets’ attraction to the shopper and the retailer. Larger destinations are likely to do better than the overall market because of the scale of their retail and leisure offer. We will continue to ensure every one of our assets has a clear plan with flexibility to adapt to market scenarios.
Consumer behaviour is changing, not just with the growth of leisure and online shopping, but also through social networking and mobile technology, which can provide information to consumers while they are shopping. This will create even greater distance between the winners and losers in our market, from retailers to locations and property assets. Our strategy is well matched to this evolution.