By Joost Koomen
The retail sector would normally gear up for the traditionally busy Christmas period, but the Covid pandemic continues to wreak unpredictable havoc around Europe and the world. The latest round of lockdowns and their inconsistent impact on European communities from Helsinki to Heraklion, and from Lisbon to Lviv, are not just a public health crisis. They threaten to have a disproportionate impact on Europe’s retail property sector too.
The need for a single European voice to represent the interests of the industry has never been greater. Europe needs an organization to promote and protect the interests of the people and businesses who develop, manage and invest in its retail and mixed-use destinations. It is a European sector that generates an annual turnover of 750 billion Euro and represents almost 160 million sq m of floorspace, employing a further 6 million people.
The European Council of Shopping Places (ECSP) was launched in October 2020 with 15 members, including six national councils and some of Europe’s largest developers and investors. It will promote the priorities of its members focusing on advocacy, events, research, and broader reputation and promotional activities. The new association will also host working groups focused on areas such as sustainability, research, public policy, security, property management and future trends. ECSP replaces the International Council of Shopping Centres (ICSC) which has retrenched to focus on the North American market. Its arrival could not be timelier with the current crisis. But beyond Covid, 2021 was already shaping up to be an important year for the sector.
Millions of people visit shopping places every day, depending on them for the many things they need and want. The value of the consumer experience to different communities, drawing upon a mix of retail, leisure, culture and sports is a critical element of a vibrant and successful urban environment. For example, 9.6 million visitors visited the Louvre in 2019, Europe’s most popular museum. By comparison Les Quatre Temps Shopping Centre in Paris welcomed 45.7 million people the same year. Now magnify that across Europe. Most towns and cities have at least one shopping center, but there is only one Louvre. Take that experience away and that vibrancy and success will soon be lost. With people stuck at home, e-commerce has been given a further boost, able to leverage the pandemic to drive digital sales. Enforcing a level regulatory playing field between online and offline retailing has become more important than ever.
The sector also has a responsibility in the drive for a more sustainable future. The European Union’s flagship Green Deal and its Renovation Wave strategy to reach its climate change targets identifies buildings as an important part of the solution, accounting for approximately 40% of total EU energy consumption and for 36% of its CO2 emissions. Health and safety will always be our first priority, but a tiered approach to the new Covid measures could help avoid blanket national closures. Less affected communities would therefore have more flexible access to essential goods and services.
It’s a busy agenda, reflected in ECSP’s drive for more members. While the priority for many is managing the immediate, the future will be determined by events and issues that are happening right now at a macro level, determining what that could look like. The more resources ECSP has, the louder its voice, the greater its value and impact will be to ensure the best outcome for the industry and the people it serves.