Essex may be a county known for its reality TV stars, Jamie Oliver and the birthplace of Anya Hindmarch and gifts and cards retailer Clintons – but it also happens to be home to one of the biggest shopping centres in the UK.
Enter Intu Lakeside, a 2,600,000sq ft retail destination that just got bigger. It recently unveiled a 225,000sq ft expansion and £72 million leisure extension in August this year.
Despite Lakeside’s already large size, Intu regional managing director Colin Flinn said there was a reason why the south-east England shopping centre expanded.
“The extension is very much in line with our strategy of transforming our centres, bringing people from further afield to spend longer and spend more and adding to the visitor experience which in turn helps other customers flourish,” he told Retail Gazette.
Since its expansion, the shopping centre is expected to increase footfall by 10 per cent – taking it from 20 million to 22 million.
“While footfall is currently up across the centre, the research we commissioned through CACI is telling us that we can expect a further 10 per cent increase in footfall as a result of the scheme being open,” Flinn said.
In addition to the expansion scheme, Intu has also spent £2 million on internal refurbishment at Lakeside.
“That’s sort of helped some of our customers come forward and do things with their stores,” he said.
“Both Zara and River Island have upsized and now look absolutely fantastic. Both of the new stores have click-and-collect, which is largely automated.
“We can expect a further 10% increase in footfall as a result of the scheme being open”
“It just keeps the pressure off the tills. Before, you’d find that people going to collect from Zara would clog up the till area. Having the automated system just takes that pressure away.”
After opening in 1990, Intu Lakeside first expanded in 2004, where it revealed its four anchor stores – Marks & Spencer, House of Fraser, Debenhams, and Primark.
As part of its latest expansion scheme, Flinn said one of the centre’s key anchors is Nickelodeon.
The toy store based on the US TV channel opened its first European flagship in London’s Leicester Square back in 2014, which permanently shut down in 2017 after retailers such as Argos, Amazon, Smyths Toys Superstores, and The Entertainer stole market share.
Despite the Leicester Square store closure, Flinn was positive about the Nickelodeon store opening at Intu Lakeside because the centre “is very much a family-oriented space compared with Leicester Square, which predominantly consists of couples and distracted tourists”.
“The catchment we’ve got here is very much in the spending money mentality”
Over the summer, it was revealed that some of the UK’s biggest shopping centre landlords were forced to make £2.7 billion in write-downs in the past year on the value of their properties, compared to just £232 million the year before, thanks to a wave of CVAs and administrations from struggling retailers.
One of those centres was Intu, which reported write-downs of £1.3 billion last year.
Despite these figures, Flinn said Intu was “focusing on transforming the centres” as well as giving people “different reasons to visit and spend longer and spend more which will help the centre’s retailers flourish”.
He added that leisure had a positive impact on retail, which is why Intu Lakeside now houses Puttshack, Flip Out and Hollywood Bowl as part of its leisure offerings. It also started making use of the 7000sq ft of public ground behind the centre, which Flinn said occasionally holds live performances on stage.
“With these leisure offerings, people are here for longer, they will do a leisure activity, and go and spend time and money in the shops,” Flinn told Retail Gazette.
“The catchment we’ve got here is very much in the spending money mentality.”
In the past few months, the centre has also offered unique experiences to customers, one of them notably being its “Upside Down House” experience which grabbed visitors’ attention over the summer.
Intu customer experience director Roger Binks said at the time that the Upside Down House had been “a huge draw at Intu Lakeside and perfectly complemented the transformation of this much-loved centre into a place to relax, unwind, eat, play and shop”.
Flinn told Retail Gazette that the centre relies on social media because it was “a particularly effective platform” – but it went beyond just being a gimmick.
“We’ve been signing up visitors for a number of years through subscriptions to our free WiFi that we have across centres,” he said.
“Social media of course, is very efficient in terms of spreading news about our events across to visitors.
“We use all sorts of platforms to advertise the centre given our reach.
“Throughout the centre, we use digital screens for which we put on our own messages, and we can also monetise them by third party advertisers.
“The lighting, illuminated with the screens, that’s all choreographed as well and is a point of difference for visitor experience.”