2023 has been a year of resilience and even growth in the occupier sector, something that at the start of the year would have been difficult to foresee. Consumer spending continued strongly in the face of significant cost of living headwinds that have only appeared to bite towards the tail end of the year. The cost of borrowing and limited supply of debt has continued to impact investment activity across the sector.
As we move towards 2024, we’ve reflected on events and what this means for our marketplace moving forward, identifying trends that we expect to play out over the next year.
The reaper returns
Relatively few occupiers have survived where their model no longer resonates with customers. Those that remain and lack relevance will be at high risk of total failure during 2024. The combination of a stretched customer and debt side pressure will force an insolvency with little chance of rescue.
For occupiers with a viable proposition, but where debt is maturing or the existing private equity partner forces a sale, the prospect of a restructure will be high. For these businesses focus will shift to rationalising the store portfolio, cutting costs and introducing (more) flexibility to increase the health of balance sheets. CVA’s may feature, however many believe these often nibble away at the underlying issues where in reality a more drastic type of surgery (administration) is required.
But not in the capital markets
For owners, particularly those of large complex assets, we don’t anticipate significant action from lenders where debt is maturing.
In shopping centres, NOI performance has been strong and has even risen over the past 24 months, whilst yields have moved out to reflect the cost and availability of debt. Continuing to manage these assets whilst technically in breach of debt covenants will be seen as the best short-term plan for lenders.
Liquidity is likely to return in the mid to latter part of next year as interest rates stabilise and begin to fall. The early part of the year will be to the benefit of a small pool of well-funded buyers.
Supply is expected to begin to increase where funds are required to sell assets to pay down debt or provide investment elsewhere in portfolios. High quality stock should come to the market as defined benefit pension funds take advantage of rising gilt yields to transfer liability to the insurance market, releasing real estate in favour of more liquid products.
We’ll continue to see brands expand their direct-to-consumer offer by increasing their store locations. By doing so they can communicate their ethos more coherently and build loyalty that can’t be reproduced through third party partnerships.
Brands that have come from a pure play environment will continue to replicate this. As our lives and the decisions we make become more intertwined with technology and the influence of social media, the chance to physically interact with brands, products and stores will inevitably reduce. Despite the incessant growth of online and the evolving customer journey, consumers will continue to seek physical experiences. The activity from the likes of Castore, Nike and Gymshark emphasises this ongoing trend.
We are likely to see further refinement, with occupiers adjusting their operating model to be in closer proximity to their customer and curating their offer into a smaller format or using this as an opportunity to do something bespoke. The White Company have been successfully increasing their footprint in high quality regional locations in this manner and are expected to translate this in London Suburbs. Likewise, GCW client Dunelm, are expanding their inner London representation with a smaller inline format of 8,000 - 12,000 sq ft.
As China’s Temu and Shein continue to use a seemingly infinite marketing budget targeted towards social media feeds of their core demographic their impact will be further felt. The highly competitive pricing continues to win over a customer who may overlook quality or provenance, especially when faced with financial pressures. Having only launched in September 2022, Temu is already displaying monthly gross sales of $1 billion, and the UK is their largest market outside the US.
Both brands are directly impacting the pure play retailers such as Boohoo and ASOS, but the ripples are being felt by the likes of Zara and H&M too.
For all the hype surrounding affordable fast fashion there continues to be more interest and investment in recycling, reuse, and reworking of garments. This continues to move to the forefront as consumers are more aware of their own footprint and seek out sustainable solutions. The ongoing trend for vintage is undoubtedly boosting this category. Whilst brands are investing in the resale of their own products the comparison fashion market is largely served by boutique operators. The environment is ripe for there to be expansion in this area, and we have already seen brands such as Primark, Selfridges and Westfield incorporate pre-loved goods as part of their offering.
Luxury & Beauty
Both sectors are expected to be defensive particularly driven by the 16 - 24 year old demographic. A combination of visual competition on social media fuelling consumption, the ongoing availability of unregulated buy now pay later consumer credit and the impression that certain luxury goods are tangible investment pieces, will keep these segments buoyant. This is amplified in London by the continued return of tourism, which could be further boosted by a return to tax free shopping.
Gyms will continue to drive forward with their expansion, but this will be polarised between the larger 24/7 contract free offerings and an increasing number of boutique specialists, targeting professionals either where they work or the suburbs they reside in.
A growing subsector is the holistic fitness approach, where in addition to physical training the offer is augmented with dieticians, physical therapy including cryotherapy, performance coaching and cognitive and behavioural psychology. The drive for self-improvement, studying and sharing of data has driven demand for these services which are already extensive across the US.
These offers can be married alongside more traditional medical diagnostics and treatment which will continue to move out of a clinical setting to be located in an environment that is both more convenient and less prone to exacerbating patient anxiety.
These uses are ideal occupants and drivers of footfall in locations where repurposing of buildings and repositioning of places is being undertaken.
Both cinemas and homogeneous F&B offers are in for a tough year. The actors and writers strikes that have occurred during the current year have led to a backlog in production for releases of 2024 movies. With a more limited slate and fewer blockbusters, it’s going to lead to a challenging year for a sector already decimated and defined by high profile failures – Cineworld and Empire.
The consumer is waking up to the ubiquitous low quality, cookie cutter F&B offer. With significant downward pressure on disposable income, those who offer something different in the form of an experience or quality product will be the beneficiary. It seems unlikely we’ll go as far as they are proposing in France, but those who simply reheat food made in a central kitchen are going to struggle.
Competitive socialising continues to gain momentum with ever diversified offers. Where these can be brought under one roof as both Gravity and The Light have proved, this will increase dwell time and repeat visits to the benefit of a broader retail and F&B proposal.
Long live the evolution!
We see 2024 as an opportunity for growth, both for ourselves and our clients. There are undoubtedly significant headwinds on the horizon, but these will present openings for businesses that can move quickly and decisively. Key to capitalising on this disruption is understanding the granularity in our arena bringing together occupier behaviour, changing places and the financial landscape. By doing this we can place our clients ahead of the market and help to build sustainable defensive portfolios.