Tourist retail place and space formations
1 Re-theorising the role of retail shopping centres as tourist attractions in economic development
For many decades, retailing and tourism were depicted as largely separate activities. Today, however, this is no longer the case. Given that ‘retail tourism’, whereby people go to particular places in order to go shopping, is becoming an ever more popular and prominent form of tourism, this chapter addresses how attractions are now being developed to capture such retail tourism.
In consequence, the chapter charts the transformations in thought and practice regarding the role of the retail sector in economic development. In contrast to the tourism industry, which for many decades has been widely recognised as positively contributing to economic development, not least by bringing external income into areas, retail ventures for a long time were negatively depicted as dependent, even parasitic, activities that rely on the wealth created by other sectors and contribute little, if anything, to economic development. In recent decades, however, this has begun to change. The intention of this chapter is to begin to unravel how and why retailing has started to be re-conceptualised.
To do this, the first section briefly sets out the changing size and structure of the UK retail sector, followed in the second section by a review of how the conceptualisation of the role of retailing in economic development has changed over time. This will unravel how for much of the twentieth century this sector was viewed as a secondary activity contributing little, if anything, to economic development and how, since the 1990s, it has started to be more positively depicted as a magnet for attracting external income and tourists, and a driver of local economic development, as captured in the trend of ‘retail-led economic regeneration’ (Lowe, 2005).
Given this re-reading of the role of retail ventures in local economic development, the third section then examines the particular case of regional shopping centres (RSCs). This will chart various waves of RSC development and how they have been increasingly recognised as honey-traps for attracting retail tourists, resulting in entertainment becoming integral to such developments. The final section then synthesises the finding that retail attractions are no longer viewed as dependent or parasitic activities but, rather, as magnets and drivers of economic development, and explores the future prospects for retail ventures in general, and shopping centres more particularly, by examining current thinking on the role of the retail sphere in economic development and how the on-going emergence of
the triple bottom line of the economic, social and environmental impacts might change the practice of developing retail attractions to generate external income.
Size and nature of the UK retail sector
In the UK in 2008, nearly 3.2 million people were employed in the retail sector, which equates to some 11 per cent of the total UK workforce. Indeed, almost 8 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) is generated by the retail sector; retail sales totalled about £265 billion in 2007, which was larger than the combined economies of Denmark and Portugal (British Council of Shopping Centres, 2008; Datamonitor, 2008).
Significant structural changes have also occurred in this large and expanding sector, especially in terms of the patterns of retail ownership. Until 1964, manufacturers could decide the price of their goods in the shops. Efficient stores, wishing to sell more, could not compete by charging their customers less. Large chain stores could not undercut village grocers. The abandonment of price fixing in the 1964 Resale Price Maintenance Act, however, meant that small amounts could no longer be bought from a manufacturer for the same price as bulk purchases. By bulk buying, chains could compete by cutting prices. A retail revolution resulted. The outcome was a shift from local to corporate ownership and an increasing concentration of retail capital. By 2006/7, the top four food and drink retailers (namely Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons) had 78 per cent of total retail sales compared with just 74 per cent market share in 2003/4 (Mintel, 2008). Of these, Tesco is by far the largest with a market share of 33 per cent in 2006/7 (compared with 32 per cent in 2003/4).
Nevertheless, the UK retail market has witnessed ever greater competition from foreign-owned companies. On the one hand, foreign discount stores, such as Netto and Aldi, have entered the UK market, which has higher net profit margins than other EU nations (Guy, 1994, 2007). Indeed, by 2006/7, Aldi had become the tenth largest food and drink retailer in the UK, with a turnover of £1,322 million and a market share of some 1.3 per cent, whilst Netto had a turnover of some £627 million and a market share of 0.6 per cent. On the other hand, although US-owned ‘warehouse clubs’ (e.g. Costco) failed in their bids to enter the UK retail market directly, major US companies such as Wal-Mart eventually gained market share by directly acquiring British retailers (Asda in Wal-Mart’s case). The long-term trend in UK retail ownership, therefore, is away from local indigenous ownership and towards national and international companies with multiple outlets, all of which result in an outflow of profits and income from the local, regional and national economy.
Re-theorising the role of the retail sector in economic development
Despite this restructuring and growth of the retail sector for much of the twentieth century, retailing received little, if any, attention from those involved in local,
regional and national economic development. Indeed, retail planning and economic development were widely treated as separate and unconnected issues. The retail sector, that is, was commonly viewed as a dependent activity reliant on the wealth created in other sectors for its vitality and viability.
Why was this negative dependent depiction of retailing adopted? To answer this, it is necessary to understand ‘economic base’ theory, or what is sometimes called ‘export base’ theory, which for most of the twentieth century has been a principal conceptual tool used to formulate local economic policy and theorise local economic development (Haggett et al., 1977). Assuming that an economy needs to earn external income to grow, this theory has viewed any economy as composed of two sectors: ‘basic’ sector industries, which generate external income and act as ‘engines of growth’, and dependent sector activities, which are said to merely circulate income within the area and are therefore viewed as ‘parasitic’ activities feeding off the wealth created in the basic sector industries. Grounded in this theorisation, local, regional and national economic development has traditionally sought to develop its basic sector.
What are considered basic and dependent sector activities, nevertheless, have changed over time. In the first wave of thought and practice, from the industrial revolution until the 1970s, the basic sector was viewed as composed of manufacturing, and services were seen as dependent activities. The focus in economic development was thus on developing and promoting manufacturing industry. Services were regarded as ‘lollipop’ jobs and of no real value to economic development. Indeed, this view perhaps persists. As Bachtler and Davies (1989: 168) point out, ‘the view that the economy is solely manufacturing driven still has widespread currency. The view is that services are wholly dependent on manufacturing and that service jobs are not “real” jobs’. Indeed, in many local government economic development strategies, statements are still found such as that ‘most services in the district are of an essentially local nature’ (Kirklees Metropolitan Borough Council, 1991: 6). So too do the groves of academe remain littered with such views. Campbell (1996: 49), for example, claims that ‘service activities depend on [manufacturing] for their survival and growth’, and Peck and Tickell (1991: 36) believe that ‘service industries are essentially “parasitic” in that they do not actually add to wealth in the economy, although they can help to realise the value of wealth created elsewhere’.
Retailing, in consequence, was widely depicted in first-wave thought and practice as a dependent (or parasitic) activity feeding off the wealth created by so-called basic industries. As Lowe and Crewe (1991: 345) state, ‘the retail trade is typically seen as an insignificant backwater, a sector which is somewhat tangential to the “real” world of production’. This view is captured by Lackey and Eckenstahler (1995: 86) when they state:
If you ask a room full of economic developers who their clients and prospects are, 100% would identify manufacturers. Many would talk about distribution facilities. Several would even discuss back office and corporate headquarters facilities. Few, if any, would talk about retail … yet each of their local
economies may be losing tens-of-millions of dollars and thousands of jobs annually from lost retail sales – dollars being spent by the residents of their communities, outside these communities.
Since the 1980s, nevertheless, this simplistic dominant/subservient view of the relationship between manufacturing and services has been questioned, not least on account of the twin trends of de-industrialisation and tertiarisation in the advanced economies and the accompanying new international division of labour (Dicken, 1992; Sassen, 1991), with control and command functions located in a network of global cities in developed nations. This demise of the centrality of manufacturing resulted in a re-evaluation of the role of services in economic development in a second wave of thought and practice. Producer services (services sold to other businesses) were shown to export (Beyers and Alvine, 1985; Coffey, 1995, 2000) and therefore incorporated into the basic sector alongside manufacturing as a motor of economic development. The old ‘manufacturing as engine of growth’ and ‘services as dependent’ dualism of the first wave was replaced by a ‘manufacturing and producer services as engines of growth’ versus ‘consumer services as dependent activity’ dichotomy in the second wave. Retailing, in consequence, continued to be firmly located in the dependent sector living off the wealth created elsewhere in the economy.
Since the 1990s, however, a third wave of thought and action has emerged. This has shown that the major sector remaining entrenched in the dependent category, namely consumer services, also fulfils an external income-generating function (Williams, 1997a, 1999). Numerous studies have revealed how consumer services such as tourism, universities, sports facilities and events, cultural industries and retailing all perform a similar function to export industries in that they generate external income for areas by attracting visitors from outside to spend their money within the area (Williams, 1997a).
A direct outcome has been a ‘retail turn’ in economic development theory and practice. The retail sector has been recognised to play a positive role in economic regeneration. Indeed, it has often taken the lead role in economic regeneration in areas unable to attract other sectors, whilst in other areas it has been used to bolster the attractiveness of the area to other sectors. Today, therefore, not only is retailing viewed as a basic sector activity that attracts people from outside the area to spend their money (i.e. ‘retail tourism’ as opposed to tourism retail expenditure) but retail attractions also sometimes take a lead role in economic regeneration (Lowe, 2005; Williams, 1997b). Indeed, given that shopping is now the second most popular leisure activity, exceeded only by television watching (Goss, 1993), it perhaps makes sense that retail economic development in turn develops ‘retail tourism’, by which is here meant attracting tourist shoppers to a place in order to spend their money.
Given this re-reading of the role of retail ventures in local, regional and national economic development, the particular case of RSCs will now be analysed. This will reveal the various waves of regional shopping centre development and how RSCs have become increasingly recognised as honey-traps for retail tourists and
therefore how entertainment has been integrated into their fabric in order to make them even more effective magnets.
Regional shopping centres and their impacts
Examining the history of the planned RSC in the UK, three broad and distinct waves of development can be identified, namely a first wave of new town, expanded town and in-town RSCs during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, a second wave of out-of-town RSCs during the 1980s and 1990s and a current third wave of in-town RSCs, which act as honey-traps for retail tourists and therefore as vehicles for retail-led urban regeneration. Each wave of RSC development is here considered in turn.
First wave of regional shopping centre development
The origins of the planned shopping centre lie in the work of Victor Gruen, an architect of the shopping mall during the 1950s in North America. Southdale in Minneapolis, which opened in 1956, was the world’s first enclosed (fully covered) mall, which was then replicated across the USA (Friedan and Sagalyn, 1989). In the UK, although the American model of planned enclosed malls was adopted, the US model of building free-standing suburban facilities was not followed. Instead, in the UK, shopping malls were ‘a vehicle for enlarging and modernising central area shopping’ (Guy, 1994: 181)...