The retail sector is slowly starting to revive after its imposed lockdown, with strip malls doing better than shopping centres and ordinary shopping streets, according to a study carried out by sector researchers Retail Factory.
An originally American term, the strip mall is similar to a shopping centre turned inside out. Like a shopping centre, it has a mix of big-name businesses and smaller concerns, often including eating and drinking options and usually provided with extensive car-parking.
Unlike a shopping centre like Woluwe Shopping in Brussels or Wijnegem near Antwerp, it is not enclosed in a building, but the retailers are side by side. And unlike a normal shopping street, like Rue Neuve in Brussels or Meir in Antwerp, it is not part of the fabric of the town or city, but usually situated on the outskirts.
The Retail Factory found that weekday numbers of shoppers were at times higher in the first two weeks after lockdown than they had been last year. On the first Saturday after reopening, however, the numbers were 15% lower, and on the second Saturday they were down 7% on last year.
The obvious explanation is that people anticipated larger crowds at the weekend, and preferred to stay home, thus ensuring the crowds would be smaller.
“It was extremely bust in many retail parks last weekend,” said Jan De Nys, CEO of Retail Estates, which owns nearly 1,000 retail stores in Belgium and the Netherlands.
“Retailers confirmed to us that for the first time since the corona crisis, they sold as much as in the same week a year ago.”
On average, the number of shoppers was down over the whole week by about half compared to May last year. But the trend is upwards. And Koen Kennis, Antwerp city councillor for small businesses, foresees further growth as more lockdown measures are relaxed.
“Things are moving in the right direction,” he said. “The reopening of the food and drinks industry, and of the Dutch border, will make a world of difference to the shopping streets of Antwerp.”
The horeca (hotel-restaurant-cafe) sector is important to retailers in that it allows shoppers to rest and relax, and then to continue shopping.
Just as important at the moment, however, is the rule that means only one shopper may enter a store at a time, not including children. People shopping together, whether with partners or with friends, are an important phenomenon in the retail trade.