Post-Covid preference signals renaissance for out-of-town retail in Northern Ireland

Two of Northern Ireland’s largest out-of-town retail schemes are bucking the nationwide trend of a steep decline in shopper footfall and spend, with big brand retailer sales at these locations outperforming those at other outlets across the UK and Europe.

Since opening their doors on 15 June, The Boulevard, Banbridge and The Junction, Antrim have enjoyed a significant rise in footfall comparable to the same period in 2019 and unlike many high streets, this hasn’t dipped dramatically as the novelty of being out wears off. In the last fortnight alone, between both schemes the footfall was up by as much as 15% than it was in the same fortnight last year. 

Major anchor tenants have reported outperforming many of the strongest UK schemes, with feedback showing Northern Ireland is consistently performing better than the rest of the UK.

Brands such as Beauty Outlet, GAP, Mountain Warehouse, Denby, Asics and Nike are seeing sales increases between 10.5% and 124.6%

Fresh air, free car parking and extensive square footage are just some of the reasons that owners Lotus Property attributes to the success of both schemes. 

Alastair Coulson, managing director, Lotus Property, commented: “With fresh air, green spaces, minimal touch points and one-level free parking, we have really been able to capture shopper confidence at a time when returning to physical stores may still be approached with caution. At both schemes, we also invested heavily into PPE, social distancing measures and hand sanitising stations to ensure a safe and comfortable shop for both staff and customers.

“As landlords, we take a 360ᵒ approach, which includes the likes of fabric improvements, marketing, research, working with our tenants, training, risk management – all to maximise income & footfall. We approach our schemes with a department store mindset to help customers stay longer and spend more. This includes getting the right mix of tenants and stock, ensuring point of sale is the best it can be and creating a desirable retail experience in the form of onsite activity that appeals to families and fashionistas alike.

“We’re prepared that post-Covid the future of retail may look very different but we’re very pleased with how the first month of reopening has gone and are greatly encouraged by it. We are confident that our approach will continue to attract shoppers for our tenants and despite the very strange year, we’ve some exciting developments on the horizon at both schemes, which is also encouraging for the overall outlook of retail in Northern Ireland.”