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Stability ahead

Published:  16 March, 2006

There will be stabilisation in the retail trade even though there are plenty of economic scare stories floating around the industry. That's the news Bridget Rosewell, founder of Volterra Consulting and chief economic adviser to the Greater London Authority imparted to the 650-plus delegates at this year's BCSC Shopping Centre Management Conference & Exhibition staged in Edinburgh.

Employment and wages were stable, she went on, and had remained reasonably stable, partly because of what has been called 'the Polish builder syndrome'. Although things were looking a little better for retailers in 2006 and there had not been any prolonged retail disaster, she could not see a return to the high levels of spending that occurred prior to 2005.

It would be hard to stop the surge in public sector spending, she said, and there would be a deficit in public finances. Property prices, too, had shot up and showed little sign of abating. On the downside, Rosewell believed that subsidies for regeneration purposes would be hard to come by, and saw shocks to come on gas prices.

Regarding competition from the internet and television sales, she believed these would become stable, and, although there would be an impact, they would not completely swallow stores' business. "Shoppers may be sleeping, but they haven't gone away. It will be harder to get them to put something into their shopping bags." Margins would remain tight and it was up to retailers to "chase those volumes."

Jo Swinson, MP for East Dunbarton and Westminster's youngest MP is no stranger to the worlds of consumer marketing and shopping centres, having worked for spaceandpeople.com before the last election. She believes that shopping centres should adopt a policy of "responsible use of public spaces" -- not by allowing politician to campaign in them, but by hosting local events and becoming a focal point for the local community.

Swinson said centre management should form close relationships and engage responsibly with politicians of all shapes and sizes at national and local level. This was relevant, particularly, to smaller centres, which should put themselves right at the heart of their individual localities. Perhaps, one day, shopping centres and supermarkets might even come to be used as polling stations for electronic voting, she said.

Those sentiments were echoed by new BCSC president John Strachan, global head of retail at Cushman & Wakefield, who said that shopping centre executives across the country were often involved in matters at the very heart of community decision-making, acting as regeneration drivers. And Strachan unveiled yet another awards scheme for the shopping-centre industry.

ACE (Achieving Customer Excellence) is being rolled out as a customer-service awards programme for centres. There will be various categories allowing all centres to be in with a shot. Judging will include several 'mystery shopper' checks. The awards will be presented at the BCSC management conference in 2007.