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Retail parks for the new era:

New facilities, modernized infrastructure, and eco-friendly solutions as a recipe for success

The pandemic hit shopping centers and their tenants harder than open concept centers (retail parks), especially during the lockdown or shortened opening hours. In our country, customers increasingly turn to new trends, accept technology and migrate to online shopping, which leads to changes in the business model of shopping centers.

We talked to Olga Vlahović, leasing manager in Novaston Asset Management, who has many years of experience in significant projects such as Ušce SC, Immo centar, Mercator, and STOP SHOP retail parks, about how shopping centers and retail parks in Serbia had operated during the pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us how shopping malls and retail parks operate in the newly created conditions, and we experienced living outside the comfort zone. Initially, consumers felt safer and more secure in retail parks than in shopping malls, especially as there are outdoor parking lots and large stores, which helps with social distancing. Over time, we have adapted to the new conditions of doing business and communicating, which is reflected in shopping habits that have changed dramatically. The owners and tenants of shops have paid significant attention to maintaining high hygiene standards in order to provide a “safe shopping experience”. They also invested in improving the quality of air and optimizing space. People need to go shopping so retail continues to perform well.”

Is there still room for improvement in Serbia or market saturation is already noticeable?

“In the previous period, a great number of shopping centers and retail parks have been built in Serbia, but there is still demand for expansion. Investors are now turning to towns, which are, among other things, interesting to them because the construction of retail parks costs less and can be completed in a relatively short time and through several phases. Smaller places need such projects so their residents would not have to gravitate towards larger cities to do shopping. The new trends brought by retail parks enhance the development and improve the overall picture of the community in which we live. The shopping centers have become meeting places for young people, as well as the primary destination for fulfilling the needs imposed by modern lifestyles and the needs of middle-aged consumers (micro-location – a 30-45-minute-long drive). Numerous cultural events, concerts, themed days and weekends add to a positive image not only of the town in question but also of that part of the region. The trend of introducing innovative and sustainable practices in small towns, just like in big cities, can be seen throughout Europe. The mix of tenants and the customized concept of each retail park with accompanying facilities serve the primary purpose to provide leisure and fun, while the secondary goal is retail. It should be noted that the moment the market begins to reach its potential, we should make sure not to saturate it and thus prevent the situation we see in some neighboring countries where the retail market is saturated and new investments in this sector grinding to a halt.”

What innovations and trends will 2022 bring to physical retail in shopping centers and retail parks?

“World experts estimate that online shopping, led by Amazon, will supersede traditional shopping, so shopping malls are trying to attract customers by offering new content that the Internet has not taken hold of. In addition to the fact that armchair shopping in Serbia has not yet gained so much momentum, shopping malls investors are competing with each other in offering social content not previously available in our country, such as a theater stage with performances. On the other hand, retail parks are becoming more environmentally friendly through the use of renewable energy sources. Certain facilities will follow the green agenda of our country, which means that they will be completely self-sustainable in terms of energy. Clean energy will be provided by solar panels as a sufficient source for the entire center. This will also enable the creation of an independent energy system. Also, the owners of shopping centers are increasingly introducing chargers for electric cars, which is in line with global and national strategies to mitigate the negative environmental impact.”