CERTAIN times for retailers may now seem like a contradiction in terms.
With the dust settled on the rise of internet shopping, Amazon arrived in Australia threatening to deliver the kind of monopoly it has developed in America.
Despite the change, not all is bad news for traders in the retail sector.
Price Waterhouse Coopers, in the first quarter of this year, was unequivocal: “when it comes to consumer purchasing, the retail store still reigns supreme”.
Almost three-quarters of shoppers last Christmas said they primarily shopped in physical stores despite a rising trend of buying on mobile devices.
The resilience of Australian retail is to be applauded, but the days of the corner shop appear firmly behind us. With them may have gone the Hunter Street of old, now reimagined as more a dining stretch than a shopping one in an age when GPT’s Charlestown Square, Stockland’s Green Hills and Westfield Kotara are engaged in professional warfare to attract shoppers.
Retail is an industry that offers little room for error, which may help explain why Costco opted not to chance its hand at Boolaroo. Instead, it has withdrawn to scout for another site. Hopefully the benefits of trading in the Hunter will remain attractive, but certainty on that front is also premature.
A day before Costco’s decision was revealed, the Spotlight Group’s $90 million retail centre took centre stage and offered a rebuttal to any criticism of the area’s prospects of attracting retail tenants.
In the footprint of what would have been a Masters development had the chain not folded, Spotlight Group’s Zac Fried says the firm expects their planned development to provide 600 full-time jobs when completed in just over a year.
That good news, though, is tempered. Several tenants will migrate to Bennetts Green from elsewhere, with mayor Kay Fraser naming Belmont’s Bunnings and Newcastle’s Spotlight and Anaconda as future tenants.
That leaves the broader Hunter’s net gain somewhat less clear-cut if those employment figures reflect jobs shifting between suburbs rather than emerging from thin air.
That push and pull is likely the new reality of the sector, at least immediately, as Newcastle’s changing CBD also alters the demographics and foot traffic patterns that successful businesses must parse. Long-time tenant Spotlight’s mooted departure can attest to the fact that times are changing.
As parking declines in the inner city, it is perhaps unsurprising that some retailers reassess their customers’ needs and reconsidering their locations.
The fullness of time will reveal how much migration eventuates, and in which direction it most flows. As with the East End’s evolution, it will be a process as traders make up minds and test theories. In a city changing fast, the options are open.