Wednesday, January 4, 2017

French shopping centres still popular - but for how much longer?

I last wrote in March 2015 about shopping centres - known as centres commerciaux - which are still flourishing in France, against trends reported in America. The contrast is remarkable but they say that where America leads the rest of the world follows - eventually. At the moment the two countries present a diametrically opposed oicture as the following statistics show.

Taking the USA first, there are an esimated 1 500 'shopping malls' and of these some experts estimate that 15 to 20 per cent, perhaps even one-third, are threatened with closure within ten years or less. The reasons given include online shopping - now accounting for 6% of retail sales and growing at some 8% per year - while Amazon alone has surged ahead with a 28% spurt......

America's giant retailers - J C Penney (1000 stores), Macy's (700) and Sears (600) - have been the stalwart pioneers of the American mall but are among the first to feel the impact of new ways of shopping. And when they decide to pull out of a shopping mall, some 200+ retail outlets can be affected as visitor numbers decline.

American commentators recount how the early shopping malls of the 1950s and 60s fulfilled a social role where you got to together with family and friends, wanted to see and be seen, joined others for coffee or meal, and enjoyed some of the adjacent attractions such as a cinema. It was normal to spend a whole day out.

Not surpisingly France and other European countries caught up with the trend and today - after Russia !) - Franc has the largest number of out-of-town shopping centres, currently numbering 1 200 sites. Leading the Top Ten is the Les Quatre Temps centre near Paris, with 228 shops and 46 million visitors annually, down to number twenty O'Parinord (83) with 210 shops and 12 million visitors.

The development of shopping centres was initially controlled by the loi Roger of 1973 which originally included a number of conditions - environmental, aiding job losses in town centres - which were gradually watered down and currently a further 2 million square mettres are added each year.

The spread continues and even in smallish towns such as my own (Perpignan) where there are centres commerciaux to the north, south and east of the town, with more planned, and dominated by huge retailers such as LeClerc and Auchan. A recent spectacular failure however has been the Centre dell mon built around the new TGV station with 15 shops (all closed) and two large hotels. There is talk of creating more offices or  using it to expand part of the local university. Reasons for the failure included lack of parking spaces, difficult access by a one-way street and the fact that rail passengers simply did not shop in the middle of their journey (many were going south to Barcelona or north to Paris!).

Figures for UK retailing show that Britain has some 46,000 shops lying empty (about 13% of the total), one third of them for longer than 3 years. Numbers of town centre shoppers (known as 'footfall') were 4% down according to recent figures, and out-of-town by 1.6% - both trends blamed on the rise of on-line shopping which now accounts for over 13% of all retail sales.

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