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Occupying the centre ground


 

 

Remember the Kirkcaldy shopping centre that was being auctioned off for £1? While this might be most notable as an excellent piece of marketing by the auctioneers – the eventual sale price was £310,000 – those with keener memories will recall that many of those parties interested in bidding saw it as a residential development opportunity.

 

The Postings – struggling in a changing consumer environment and losing £200,000 a year – came to mind this week after a couple of corporate announcements were made to the press. On Monday, shopping centre owner intu revealed plans to replace car parks and a House of Fraser store with 1,000 homes at its Lakeside scheme in Thurrock, Essex; this was followed on Thursday by Patrizia marketing The Walnuts in Orpington as a residential redevelopment play.

 

While intu’s plans are larger-scale, what happens at The Walnuts could in time be more significant. Fronting onto Orpington High Street, and woven into the fabric of surrounding buildings, what happens here could become a model for town centres across the country. Orpington’s town centre vacancy rate is below the national average at around 6.5%, but residential conversion is still an attractive option; if it can work somewhere where town centre remains relatively strong, it can surely work in places that have seen shops decimated in recent times.

 

For intu, it’s a similar story but with some crucial differences. With voids rising and falling valuations putting pressure on loan covenants, intu has seen an opportunity to diversify its portfolio and create some assets that will either generate a better return, or create value and provide some useful capital to work with. Without knowing the full ins-and-outs of the decision, it seems likely that new homes will be more useful than surplus car parking.

 

At a time when many (most?) of the UK towns are over-shopped, and many local authorities are struggling to hit housebuilding targets, conversion of retail space into homes – returning to their historic use in older communities – makes a lot of sense. And as both current investors and private equity spy some opportunities, we can expect there to be more of this sort of thing.

 

This is not to say it will be easy. Retail locations will have to consolidate and coalesce around a new, smaller commercial centres, and there will surely be missteps on the way. The solution is unlikely to be widescale permitted development rights for shops-to-resi, following the problems that have been seen with similar policies for redundant office space. But the local authorities that manage this process best have a genuine opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.

 

There remains a need for physical retail space – both in and out of town – but the requirements are less than they used to be. The internet and other changing dynamics have seen to that. But if high streets can be sensibly re-sized and helped through this shift, they may yet thrive once more.

 

Andrew Jefford, Account Director, Innesco 

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Coffee retail: wake up and smell the innovation


There is arguably no retail sector in the world currently more exciting, dynamic or downright necessary than coffee – and I’m sure countless big-city professionals will agree for their own personal reasons. At an industry level, it’s a market rife with activity across acquisitions and innovation that is currently worth around £10.1bn in the UK, having achieved 20 years of sustained growth.

2018 was hot for major acquisitions of coffee chains by international conglomerates. We saw JAB Holdings acquire a majority stake in Pret a Manger for £1.5bn and Coca Cola acquire Costa Coffee – a deal which completed in January this year. You may have noticed in the news this week that Coca Cola is gearing up to launch its brand-new Costa ready-to-drink product; a move that, according to Coca Cola CEO, James Quincey, aims to “target mid-day slump” and signals innovation in the company’s product portfolio. Though blurring lines between product categories is only a small segment of the major transformation underway in the coffee sector, with the changing face of coffee on the high-street taking the cake (pun intended) for the most significant and worthy of our attention in the run-up to #MAPICFood in Milan next month.

In recent years coffee shops have become the epitome of cultural hubs in retail. Smaller chains and artisan cafés are on the rise, and each is a destination to work, relax, socialise and learn; it is open, green, bright and welcoming; it sells paraphernalia, quirky homeware, unique gifts, jazz music, 90s board games – the list goes on. By becoming all-around cultural destinations, coffee shops are harnessing the power of community and inclusion to tackle the troubles faced by today’s high-streets head-on.

Even the biggest chains are realising the central importance of becoming, not only coffee specialists, but cultural forums in order to drive footfall. Complete sensory in-store experiences, such as in-house roasting and tasting sessions, are prolific. Starbucks is a prime example of this having unveiled its third Reserve Roastery in Manhattan in January; a sprawling outpost of sheer barista theatre, housed within an incredible three-storey copper, concrete and wooden store design “inspired by the history of manufacturing” in Manhattan’s meatpacking district. You can read more about Starbucks’ new store in Dezeen’s picture article.

Digital of course also plays a huge role here, with ‘Instagrammable experiences’ becoming one of the biggest drivers of footfall in the modern age. Some coffee chains are embracing technology even further, capitalising on the new fronts for customer engagement opened up by digital; smooth transactions, interactive menus, loyalty apps and smart payment systems, to name but a few. Chinese start-up Luckin Coffee also featured in the news this week, announcing its plan to open a store every 3.5 hours to dislodge its biggest market rival, Starbucks, after securing $150m in Series B funding earlier this month. Luckin has enjoyed unbelievable caffeine-induced growth in the last year and a half, exploding its presence from nine stores at the end of 2017 to 2,073 at the end of last year.

An outstanding feature of Luckin’s business model is its seamless integration of digital. Luckin enables its customers to order their coffee via an app and then watch live-streaming video as their coffee is made and delivered within 20 minutes. This core focus on technology, discounts and delivery has played a significant role in its rapid growth and sets a number of exciting new precedents for the whole of the foodservice sector.

We’ve merely scratched the surface here when it comes to the future of coffee, which is looking increasingly bright. Speaking on behalf of the whole Innesco team, we cannot wait to dig even deeper into the topic at MAPIC Food, which will kick off its conference programme with “Coffee: the new black gold rush”, exploring everything from authenticity, merchandising, and emotions in customer experience, to the reasons why coffee is the best bet for multinational food groups. It’s gearing up to be a tantalising week of #foodservice insights, and if you are yet to register, it’s time to wake up… and smell the innovation!

Andrew Smith, Senior Account Executive, Innesco

 

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Why is it now a better time for retailers to transform their businesses?


This week’s headlines, with announcements on falling profits by #Next, #TedBaker and #Kingfisher, reminded us once again that these are challenging times in #retailing. However, they are equally exciting, and there is an enormous value up for grabs for retailers who will see that there’s never been a better time to transform their business.

 

The good news is that, as the way consumers shop evolves, the model of retail is adapting with some retailers making bold moves to meet the new consumer needs and behaviour.

 

#Marks&Spencer and #Harrods have taken the opportunity to evaluate the role online shopping plays in delivering the overall customer experience, and both partner with retailers with sophisticated technology capabilities – #Ocado and #Farfetch respectively.

 

Consumers want to shop seamlessly between bricks and mortar and online; this is the primary shared objective of the partnership between Harrods and Farfetch – to ensure “digital customers receive the same exemplary service as those who visit the store.”

 

In the meantime, social is the new shop window: the place that consumers browse to find influencers to follow, ideas and inspiration. Some retailers have taken social media more seriously than others when it comes to integrating them into their #e-commerce strategy. For example, this week we read on the Guardian that 23 brands including Nike, Zara, H&M and Burberry have signed up a partnership with #Instagram allowing US users only for now to purchase products without leaving the app.

 

In cases where proximity and convenience matter, consumers still want to shop in stores, which explains why in the grocery sector innovation has focused on small urban store formats. #Aldi has followed this route with the launch of its first smaller high street brand ‘Local’ that opened in London’s Balham, and the question is how the new brand would impact the big four supermarkets if it’s rolled out to other sites.

 

According to #PCW’s 2019 Retail Outlook report, this year “shoppers will adopt a mix of coping mechanisms to shop smarter”. If this is true, the retailers who will be quick enough to adapt to the changing retail landscape and respond well to customer expectations will be the industry’s long-term winners. We have to wait and see who these winners will be.

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What was the social atmosphere at MIPIM?


Well, #MIPIM2019 has come to an end, proving once again to be a crucial platform for global real estate players to showcase their projects and share their insights and outlooks on the future of the industry.

Amidst the rush of event roundups that are already in circulation, we’d like to offer some unique #Inn_sights from the world’s largest real estate event, with a particular focus on social media; a fundamental driver of conversation during any industry event, setting the tone for the week and connecting delegates from around the world.

Over the course of #MIPIM, we created an insights panel through our social media listening platform, tapping into the biggest inputs of the event’s international online network. Social media listening may sound like just another bit of communications jargon, but we see it as an absolutely crucial function for real estate brands, with the potential to drive positive change, create new opportunities and, fundamentally, help companies, individuals and even whole countries do better business.

 

It is perhaps no surprise then that we’ve seen an explosion of favourable discussions about investment opportunities over the course of #MIPIM. With a fair share of 15%, “opportunities” was among the key buzzwords of the week, also including “city” and “investment” – owing largely to the presence en masse of local authorities looking to partner with developers, housing associations and developers to reinforce their development pipeline.

 

We were delighted to experience this first hand having been appointed to coordinate the international communications and social media for the country of Egypt, which this year launched the first every Egypt Pavilion at MIPIM.  Egypt made a monumental splash in its inaugural year – with online engagement with the #OpportunityEgypt brand surging as we rolled out a fully integrated campaign including international press opportunities, dynamic digital content and an industry-leading programme of sessions on the stand.

 

Our social listening also revealed great excitement around regional projects unveiled at #MIPIM’s conferences – the UK in particular. On the ground, it was also great to experience a constant buzz at the Oslo stand, where our client Oslo Metropolitan Area welcomed crowds of delegates to engage in insightful sessions on the Scandinavian investment climate, as well as have the opportunity to be publicly humiliated (in good taste) by Magnus Carlsen, World Champion and Grand Master of Chess.

 

All in all, we found #MIPIM30 to be an incredibly insightful, productive and enjoyable trip to the French Riviera and we’re already looking forward to next year. For now, we’ll be mapping out our involvement with Reed Midem events from now until March 2020 – in Europe and back in the UK – on-site and online!

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Is the grocery industry succumbing to merger fever?


It has already turned into a saga. Nearly ten months after announcing that they would be joining forces, Sainsbury’s and Asda merger’s plan has been torpedoed by the CMA. The reason being that it would weaken competition and have a negative impact on prices for customers. No doubt that this decision was hard to swallow for the two companies, especially given the context. They are both facing serious headwinds from discount chains and pure online players, and have to deal with the prospect of a potential hike of up to 50% on food prices in the likelihood of a hard-Brexit.

It is no news that the face of grocery shopping has changed significantly in recent years.  And still, 9 out of 10 people visit a physical grocery shop every week while nearly half of Aldi’s customers come for the main weekly shop these days, compared with less than a quarter a decade ago. Also and in recent years, Ocado and Amazon have emerged as online competitors while Just Eat, Deliveroo and Uber Eat are taking market share into the takeaway meals category. People’s grocery shopping habits are unquestionably different today than they were a couple of years ago but the problem remains. A merger between Asda and Sainsbury’s would have only lessened the low-cost options available for a customer aiming or needing to save on its grocery. It was neither the time nor the place to let that merger happen.

And still, the grocery industry remains buoyant thanks to the newly announced M&S and Ocado’s £750m deal. While M&S started testing food delivery in 2017, it has not yet launched a service and a tie-up with Ocado would help fill that gap. But will it work? For starters, delivering groceries to customers’ homes is an expensive business. Last year, Ocado lost £44 million on a pre-tax basis. Besides, most Marks & Spencer food customers are small-basket shoppers (below £20), while Waitrose’s average customer basket size which is well over £100 and makes the delivery costs easier to swallow. All change is definitely challenging but partnering with Ocado will give M&S access to a larger range of products and a larger average basket size. It also spares the company the time, cost and risk associated with building its own online distribution infrastructure. However, these benefits come at a price and according to analysts M&S may be paying a high price for simply being late to the party.

 

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Is heavy discount the new deal of retail?


According to the @FT, there is plenty of evidence suggesting that consumers are demanding margin-shredding discounts before they even consider opening their wallets and indeed, corroboration is plenty. Just as an example, it is now an established fact that #discountedRetail – as in outlet retail – is far surpassing the gloomy performances of full-price retail: the outlet market is the second most performing segment after online retailing.

But the @FT looked at evidence is a different and fascinating way by testing the resilience of British consumer through their appetite for posh food around Christmas. And the conclusion is that more consumers shifted to mid-price ranges around Christmas, which supports the evidence they were more cautious about their spending this year. Similar evidence was found in France, with discount and hard discount supermarkets attracting more customers than their mainstream counterparts over the Christmas period. Another proof that consumers tend to rationalise their spending, most likely based on the perception that their purchasing power is shrinking.

If evidence that consumers are demanding discounts are mounting, the question remains. To which point is this behaviour sustainable for retailers? Last month and quite surprisingly, ASOS made a profit warning after heavy discounting halved its operating margin, cutting its share price down almost 40 per cent. And if competition recently demonstrated its ability to maintain revenue growth while offering relatively cheap products to customers, a whole set of questions persists: will it last and can retailers afford it in the long run?

Noemie Mourot

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Could Twitter’s new in-house features make third-party tools worse?


It is the news that some of social media’s third-party developers have dreaded, and the news that social media managers have long waited for: Twitter is expanding its functionalities in-house. The networking service has announced this week that more capabilities and features will be available in a bid to maximise business presences on the platform.

 

The first upgrade comes from Twitter’s own third-party tool. Tweetdeck needs little introduction for those who have been in the social media space for quite some time now. The tool, which is useful for lining up a posting schedule, was just upgraded with the possibility to schedule tweets with video and multiple images. As part of the changes announced this week on Techcrunch, Twitter is also considering a controversial desktop layout revamp and bringing another functionality in-house with new analytics tool to track when your audience is most active on the platform.

 

The social media giant is playing catch up by adding these new features, which are already available from other social media management tools such as the popular platform, Hootsuite. Indeed, Twitter is very late to the party – which hosts a vast number of third party tools with different capabilities.

 

However, the key reason why Tweetdeck’s new advantages are important is that they will be customised specifically for the platform, increasing its appeal as a functional and efficient platform for business activities. Worthy of note is the latest EG podcast from Bricks & Mortar series with Susan Freeman, an experienced real estate lawyer, who reflected on the importance of building a social media identity for brands. She emphasised that just a few real estate leaders are using social media and how vital it is, in today’s digital landscape, to encourage them to embrace the shift to social. Consumers interact more with brands and social media remains a huge player in that. Now, with Twitter weighing in on more in-house analytics and publishing capabilities, the platform gains more credibility amongst social-shy property players.

 

With more and more businesses seeing the power of social media to market themselves, social media management tools are seen as vital, and it’s interesting to see Twitter on the path to cutting out costly tools by providing its own.  In an ideal world, Twitter would embrace the enormous opportunity to provide all functionalities into a single and free to use platform. At the moment, the social media giant is catching up at its usual slow pace – but here’s hoping these new Tweetdeck features are merely the beginning of something bigger.

 

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Co-op and Amazon plan for grocery growth


With our own aspirations for personal development in mind after the festive period, two growth stories of grocery chains grabbed our attention in Week 1 of 2019. Both Amazon’s Whole Foods and UK based-grocery chain Co-op announced plans for growth this week, with the former planning to increase its store count in US suburban locations, and its British counterpart set to open 100 new stores in key locations in London and the South East.

 

Indeed, while in 2018 sales in wider retail were continually impacted by shifts from in-store to online, the grocery sector seemed to buck the trend. In the US, online grocery sales account for only 2% of all sales, and remain statistically insignificant in the $800 billion grocery industry according to Forbes.

 

In the UK, while the big three supermarkets – generally preferred by consumers for the weekly ‘big shop’ – have invested heavily in their online offering, the fact is that online shopping is dominated by those weekly trips. Smaller ‘top-up’ shops account for just 18% of online trips, compared to 57% for in-store. (Neilson via Retail Times) There is clearly just cause for investing in bricks-and-mortar grocery – but that is not to say the sector is exempt from overarching imperatives to rethink store formats in the new age of retail.

 

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Whole Food’s planned growth is that the new stores will be some of the first to be built by Amazon – could this mean that they will be designed differently? Amazon has, itself stated that, with its new Whole Foods stores, it aims to expand its quick grocery delivery offering through Prime Now. The new stores could also facilitate fulfillment and returns – so expect them to be designed with plenty of Amazon lockers and online return points. Its growth strategy for Whole Foods is likely to be well and truly omni-channel – creating key added value to drive footfall to its new stores, and away from Walmart which currently operates a leading 5,352 stores in the US. (Forbes)

 

Co-op, on the other hand, as one of the UK’s smaller grocery players, and operator of aforementioned ‘top up’ stores, has been slow to move into online – but with Amazon eyeing locations for its first Amazon Go store in the UK, Co-op’s growth strategy is considered, and complemented by plans to renovate 200 existing stores. The retailer has stated that its new stores will open in key city centres transport hubs, university campuses and new communities in high rise residential developments. What’s more, Co-op is testing its new food-to-go concept in multiple UK locations, where shoppers under time pressure can grab self-serve products and pay at a bank of self-scan points.

 

Although bricks-and-mortar grocery has not yet felt the same impact from online as the rest of the sector, consumer preferences will continue to shift towards more convenient modes of shopping. With this in mind, as exemplified by Co-op and will likely be evident in Whole Food’s new stores, creating added value – whether through an omni-channel approach or innovative new concepts – will be key to the future of grocery shopping.

 

Andrew Smith

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UK house price growth in 2019: what are experts’ predictions?


In what has been a turbulent week, not to mention year, for British politics, recent reports show that UK house price growth grew at the slowest rate in almost six years in November, and much speculation has been made regarding predictions for the property market in 2019. Property firm Strutt & Parker has forecasted UK growth to stand at 2.5 per cent for 2019 – with the 5-year forecast from 2018 to 2022 standing at 18 per cent. According to the report shared on Mansion Global, transaction levels continue to be low due to a lack of supply in the market, all fuelled by Brexit uncertainty. Some would-be sellers are holding on to stock and opting instead to lease their properties until the market shifts once again.

 

In a poll on the Innesco Twitter page earlier this week, we asked our followers for their opinion on whether the residential market would go up or down in 2019. Out of some 350 respondents, a majority of 53 per cent believe that the market will go down. While 21 per cent anticipate for the market to stay at the same level it is now, only about a quarter – 26 per cent – thinks it will go up. In conclusion, the outlook for the coming year isn’t looking too bright.

 

There may however be a reason to, in true British fashion, keep calm and carry on – at least when it comes to prime assets. In an article in Property Week this week, property finance provider CapitalRise argues that the clamour around the declining residential market is exaggerated and that prime central London (PCL) property is still amongst the best-performing and property classes in the UK, with a proven track record of resilience. Looking back at previous crashes – the 1989 recession and 2007 financial crisis – PCL bounced back to pre-downturn levels nearly three years faster than the rest of London and the UK as a whole. This is largely because buyers in this segment are looking to invest on a different basis from buyers in other parts of the UK – often drawn to the opportunity to invest at a lower-than-average price. Furthermore, London’s status as an iconic financial and cultural centre will always guarantee a demand for prime assets in prime locations.

 

As far as Brexit goes, things are very much up in the air – with this week seeing Theresa May postponing the Commons vote on her Brexit deal, to which the EU responded that there is “no room whatsoever” for renegotiations, and the Prime Minister herself narrowly winning a vote of confidence amongst her own MPs by a mere 63 per cent. For the foreseeable future, the potential of a no-deal Brexit or a new referendum will still be because of consumer caution – and any predictions about the housing market will be dependent on what happens on 29 March.

 

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Why tax online retail?


The idea that online retail is gaining ground and slowly adding to the decay of physical retail is gathering momentum across Europe and in the US. Even though each market has its own way of dealing with what is now widely considered a threat to physical retail, the urge recently expressed by several countries to control the negative impact of online retail is rather compelling.

Last June, bricks-and-mortar retailers secured a big win over online counterparts as the US Supreme Court invalidated a ruling that had enabled online retailers to avoid collecting sales tax from customers. Closer to us, the EU is actively discussing the possibility of a wide-ranging digital tax on tech companies. And in the UK, Mike Ashley, head of @SportsDirectUK ‏and new owner of @houseoffraser, confronted MPs in a rather punchy select committee appearance earlier this week, advocating that “the internet is killing the high street” and that we need “20pc tax levied on online sales” to save physical stores.

Despite the fact that the US, the UK, and to a certain extent the EU, are famous for their liberal view on business regulations, one can only question why they are willing to enter this battle. Only one answer comes to mind: fear. Fear that physical retail will slowly die and draw in its wake the rest of the economy. But perhaps the death of the high street is less inevitable than it first appears: physical stores remain, by far, people’s preferred way of shopping.

A piece of research recently conducted by the @ICSC  adds to this proposition by concluding that bricks and mortar impacts click, which impact sales. As an example, the opening of a new physical store results in an average 37% increase in overall online traffic to a retailer’s website. Still more online and less physical retail you might say – but if you look closely, what this study shows is that online retail cannot sustain its growth without the help of bricks-and-mortar. One supports the other, or to say it differently: the performance of retailers in the digital world is very much linked to the presence of their physical stores. If you need further proof that physical stores are still valuable, @amazon has recently reported $8.6 billion in revenues from physical stores through the first six months of 2018.

There are undoubtedly issues to address, for example, the UK’s dysfunctional property tax system – business rates – which is too inflexible to adjust to the swift changes we are seeing, and currently favours online retailers to the detriment of physical stores. But these are not insurmountable, and the decline of the high street is not inevitable. It will take some imaginative thinking from retailers and policymakers – such as that seen from Mike Ashley this week – but the solutions are there. The high street’s decline doesn’t need to be terminal.

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