Thoughts from across the industry

intu's chief executive Matthew Roberts gives his view on the market.

Over the last few months, I’ve been meeting the CEOs of our top-30 customers to really understand the challenges they face and their perspectives on the future of retail. There are a few common themes from these discussions that I wanted to share with you.

First and foremost is an overriding view that the so-called ‘death of the high street’ is much exaggerated. The industry is evolving rapidly, but this is not a new phenomenon for retail where change is a constant. Planning for where today’s change will take us, is the crux of the challenge we all face.

The role of online in our changing landscape is again a topic much debated. But for me, and my peers across retail, it is clear that the relationship between online and physical is a symbiotic one. In a market where our visitors are telling us that brand integrity, experience and service are paramount, and the data tells us of the halo effect that physical stores have on online sales and vice versa – taking an ‘Amazon has killed physical shopping’ approach is too simplistic. The desire for experience and world-class service has been talked about for many years now, the difference today is that these needs are now common across all shopper types from Gen Z through to the retired generation. The impetus for change has never been so strong.

It is also clear from conversations with our key customers that there is a desire to have a more modern relationship between tenant and landlord. That includes a number of our customers who are keen to explore new forms of lease, where together we can share in the risk and reward, working side-by side to drive success for all concerned. It is for these reasons that in July I announced the appointment of Rebecca Ryman to the newly created role of customer relationship director. 

A role that will sit on our executive committee to help drive the performance of our customers. Our aim is a simple one. Drive footfall and dwell time – that’s why we have invested in a refreshed consumer proposition. ‘Here for life’ is based on insight and reflects the role our retail destinations have in the lives of today’s consumer.

The desire for experience and world-class service has been talked about for many years, the difference today is these needs are now common across all shopper types.

It allows us to continue to expand our catchment, reach new audiences and drive those all-important visitor numbers. At our interims in July, I talked about our focus on ensuring our centres remain thriving destinations, full of experiences that give plenty of reasons to visit. The best centres will not only be where the top brands are, but will be sustainable, community-focused destinations offering a wide range of uses.

They will be the beating heart of communities, the societal glue. We see the potential to evolve our centres further into places where people visit not only to meet, shop, dine and have fun but also to work, stay and live.

I recently visited the newly-launched leisure development at intu Lakeside. A sunny day had young children running through the water features in the public realm, whilst mums and dads watched on from the nearby deck chairs. Surrounded by new and innovative leisure offerings and restaurant brands not seen elsewhere outside of London, this new space presents a glimpse of the future. When you consider the opportunities for new communities to live in and around this space, the future of retail looks exciting.

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