Luxury locations outperform in post-pandemic environment.

Luxury locations

High-end destinations, especially within the South East of England, are the most buoyant retail locations in the UK with many having made a return to pre-Covid-19 levels of trading and footfall.


Luxury shopping venues very much dominate the top 10 of the 2024 Vitality Rankings from Newmark Retail, which considers the health of 1,000 UK retail locations. Topping the table is Cambridge City Centre that returns to the peak spot that it held pre-pandemic but slipped to 35th place when the ranking were last compiled in 2022.


It is followed by Cobham and then a raft of London locations comprising Wimbledon Village, Sloane Street, Kingston-upon-Thames, Knightsbridge and Westfield Stratford City. The only non-South East location in the top 10 is the smart Chester City Centre in the North West. 


The rankings are determined by various factors including vacancy rates, space adapted for other use, shopper spend per annum, and footfall figures. It is the positive changes in this criteria that have been reflected in the changed fortunes of Cambridge, which has seen a return of tourists, students and shopper since the end of Covid-19.

London has also benefited from a return of tourists and also workers – albeit many of them now working on a hybrid basis – with two of the biggest risers Sloane Street and Knightsbridge enjoying buoyancy in the high-end of the retail landscape. The city’s famous West End suffered incredibly badly from the pandemic falling to a very lowly 348 in the midst of Covid-19 in 2022 but now sits at a more respectable 37th place. 


Andy Metherell, head of consultancy & analytics for the UK & EMEA retail practice at Newmark Retail, says: “Luxury destinations have attained higher positions in this year’s rankings compared with solely commuter towns in previous years…the cost-of-living crisis is less likely to impact shoppers in locations such as Chelsea, Sloane Street and Knightsbridge.”


Moving outside the top 10 places in the rankings highlights the many smart locations outside London that have not so much returned to pre-pandemic vitality but are arguably enjoying more prosperity judging by their moves up the table. The likes of Sevenoaks, Harrogate, York, Harpenden, Wilmslow, Beverley, Tunbridge Wells and Exeter all feature in the top 50 having climbed up the rankings since 2022.


Metherell suggests affluent commuter towns hold high positions as local residents are more likely to undertake hybrid working and therefore shop in their local towns more often than before the pandemic. This contributes to the vitality in the area and strong performance from retail occupiers.


There has also been a recovery in the standings of shopping centres and major city centres as shoppers return to pre-pandemic behaviour. These locations had suffered particularly badly from the flight away from urban areas and conurbations. Rising up are Leeds City Centre (up 86 places since 2022), Liverpool City Centre (up 129), Edinburgh (up 204), and Westfield Stratford City (up 78). 


Interestingly Westfield London has fared less well, having fallen 14 places since 2022 and dropped a more dramatic 42 places since pre-pandemic when it held second place in the rankings. Its sister site at Stratford has definitely gained the upper hand over recent years.


One aspect that has become much more prevalent across all the locations – including the Westfield sites – in the Vitality Rankings is the share of hospitality outlets in the mix. Metherell says such a move helps locations to compete more effectively against online offers and provides shoppers with a more wide-ranging experience. 


He says the evolution of retail centres has been helped by the Government’s amendments to planning legislation that has made the conversion of retail, leisure or catering units potentially much quicker and “allows unproductive space to be transformed to meet local shopper needs”.


The newly accessible spaces is enabling global brands – especially within coffee and fast food – to capitalise by implementing nationwide expansion strategies. This is invariably providing local communities with greater variety and enriching the retail centres in which they operate. The hospitality sector looks set to play an increasingly important role in contributing to the vitality of shopping destinations.