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Retailing - a changing world

The general trend for shopping centre rents is downwards
The general trend for shopping centre rents is downwards

One of the major press events of the year took place yesterday at the offices of real estate broker and advisor JLL. The annual review of the Belgian market in all its facets attracts all of the real estate journalists from the main press publications in the country.

The review covers several segments, but in the first of our reports, we look at the retail market, a domain which is seeing a substantial degree of structural change. Evelien Van Hoecke, who has been Head of Retail Agency at JLL for a few months, started by saying that all market players need to adapt their business strategy. This is because retail has to adapt to the new way of living (urbanisation) and working, along with the healthier lifestyle of the millenials. Along with this are the growth in e-commerce and the corresponding lower turnover in physical stores. In fact, she said, retail trends are changing so fast that fast changes are a trend in themselves…!

Changing landscape

One of the trends highlighted is that of variable rents, normally dependent on turnover levels. But while one major fashion retailer was mentioned which would, apparently, like to see this system being widespread, JLL does not believe that this is a viable proposition for the market as a whole. Landlords need a guarantee of income, and it is too easy for a retailer to pay lower rent if the shoppers don’t come in. Looking more widely, however, there is a shift in the power base from the landlord to the retailer (and therefore to the consumer). Retailer databases are becoming more important, and taking more parameters into account. Measuring footfall, as an example, is a much more technical operation now than just standing at the end of the road and counting once or twice a month…

Another trend is that retailers are widening their scope of activities to try and cover more of the market. To illustrate this with a hypothetical scenario, Evelien Van Hoecke used the example of eating. People either eat at home or in a restaurant. So if you have a finger in both of these pies (sorry about the pun) you win either way.

In figures

As e-commerce continues to make its mark, there is an impact on how the value of a building is calculated, and this has a knock-on effect on rental levels. The highest rental levels for a high street in Belgium are to be found on the Meir in Antwerp, at € 1,950/m²/year. For shopping centres, Woluwe and Wijnegem head the list at € 1,250/m²/year. However, and significantly, both of these are showing a downward trend. Retail warehousing bucks this trend but at € 165/m²/year it is not in the same financial league.

Overall take-up in retail property in Belgium looks set to amount to 350,000 m² by the end of the year. This is similar to last year but 5.5% below the five-year average. This take-up splits as follows (figures to early December): high streets – 97,000m², down 13%; shopping centres – 67,000 m², up 19%; retail warehouses – 167,000m², down 20%.


The retail market is undergoing transformation, and JLL says that the general sentiment in the market is gloomy, and that demand is weak except for retail warehousing. Adaptability will remain key, and we will see more food & beverage and more leisure outlets. Rents are under downward pressure and vacancy is on the increase. Demand for very large units is also diminishing.
Tim Harrup

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