Industry view: Retail sector looks to the future

By Craig Stevenson, manager, Bon Accord & St Nicholas

Black Friday, the Christmas rush, Boxing Day sales. You could be forgiven for believing the retail world looks forward to January for a well-earned break from the frenetic pace of the last quarter of the year. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. The challenge for all involved in and around the industry is to build on the success of 2014.

Taking Bon Accord & St Nicholas as a snapshot of the retail scene across the north and north-east of Scotland, what we have seen in the past 12 months are very encouraging signs that consumer confidence remains high.

Understandably, in an area of the country underpinned by the energy industry, there has been a great focus on the potential impact of falling oil prices on the local economy. However, there has been no indication that the general caution around the oil and gas sector has had a bearing on High Street habits. Our malls enjoyed a very strong festive period and, as has become traditional, an equally encouraging start to the post-Christmas sales. In terms of footfall and spending, the signs have been positive.

Craig Stevenson

What we cannot afford to do is rest on our laurels. The “build it and they will come” mentality is not an option in what is an increasingly competitive environment. One of the most interesting Christmas trends underlines that theory. Toys and games, as you would expect, were at the top of the sales chart, but one of the great growth areas for the Christmas pound was not on gifts but on spending within the restaurants in our centres.

That reinforces our own belief that discerning shoppers want their day out to be an experience, not a chore. Those of us at the frontline of retail are well aware of the need to evolve constantly, and that will be the focus for 2015 and beyond. The blend between shopping and leisure is vital. The evidence of 2014 points towards an increasingly social element, people want to be entertained as part of their trip.

Of course, online shopping is a huge part of UK culture now, but it does not represent the end for the High Street. Retailers themselves, rather than turning their back on traditional shop floors in favour of the digital alternatives, are working hard to become multichannel organisations. That may be through click and collect, combining the convenience of online ordering with the buzz of a shopping trip, or with efforts in malls and stores to make the experience an enticing one.

Throughout Aberdeen city centre during the Christmas period, the signs of that could be seen in glorious Technicolor. From the ice rink at Union Terrace Gardens run by Aberdeen Inspired to the individual offerings from retailers and shopping centres, a great deal of effort was made to bring smiles to the faces of all who braved the crowds.

Events and attractions will continue to be an important facet, as will infrastructure. We have our own investment plans, with a major expansion of the centres to bring seven new restaurants and a cinema to the core of Bon Accord & St Nicholas, and there are a number of other landmark developments in the pipeline within the city centre – including much-needed hotel accommodation which will significantly enhance the retail and leisure mix.

All will serve to bring more people to the traditional heart of Aberdeen in what promises to be a very happy new year.

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