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Why Are Outlet Villages So Successful?


I was talking to my neighbour last week and we were discussing what we were doing at the weekend. He said: “We’re going to Clark’s Village.”

That statement got me thinking. He and I live 35 minutes from Clark’s Village and 25 minutes from Bath. I don’t think he would have said, “We’re going shopping in Bath,” if he was, because he wouldn’t have deemed it noteworthy enough to disclose. The fact they were visiting Clark’s Village was enough of a significant event that it had to be mentioned.

Given my involvement in the outlet sector, I was delighted to hear that, but ultimately it’s not that surprising. It’s just a shopping trip with his family… or is it?

I had a meeting with an International Director from a quality premium brand yesterday and we were talking about whether or not outlet villages located near big cities cannibalise full price sales. The truth is, most consumers visit their local full price schemes about 30 to 40 times a year, but only visit outlets around 4 to 5 times*. So outlet visits can’t impact sales by more than 10% total.

“Well,” he said, “do people living in Oxford or Banbury only visit Bicester Village 4 to 5 times a year?” Now, as we all know, Bicester Village is rather exceptional, so it is unlikely to fall into the same bracket, but I made the point that even though there may be more visits, they are still considered visits. A trip to Bicester is likely to take at least two hours of shopping, plus a delicious lunch and the travel time there and back again, which all in all sets you back between £100-200 and takes 3-4 hours out of your day. It certainly isn’t a half hour pop to the shops!

Stopping by Oxford’s Westgate for shampoo and printer ink is a lot quicker and cheaper, but it’s not a day out. That’s okay though, because most consumers don’t have the luxury of several hours and several hundred pounds free every day, or even every month. By necessity and budget, we mostly visit the high street, wherever we happen to live. Full price stores have very little to fear from outlets.

I am taking a week off at Easter and thinking about how I’ll spend the week. I have to say, a visit to Clarks Village is on the cards, even though I spend all week immersed in outlets. Why, then, would I want to spend my spare time there? Well, I want my own experience. I want to see which new brands have arrived. I want to buy some sportswear at low outlet prices. I want to visit my favourite shops and see what new goodies they have in store. And I want to do it all with a friend, so we can have a bite together and catch up.

My visit to Clark’s Village is not just a shopping trip. It provides me with:

  • Excitement and curiosity (new shops, unexpected offers)

  • Necessary purchases (sportswear)

  • Emotional highs (purchasing goodies at low prices)

  • Social occasions (a day out with a friend)

No wonder outlets are bucking the trend, performing at 8% higher than last year compared to full price who are only at 0.8% higher**: outlets have already evolved, giving us the emotional connection we crave from our shopping experience.

And in this day and age, where consumers are seeking experiences, authenticity and emotional connection over mindless shopping, quality outlets who focus on these elements will succeed even as internet retailing skyrockets. After all, they provide something worth sharing.

*Ken Gunn, MD Pragma Consulting

** Figures from 2017, source Ken Gunn, MD Pragma Consulting


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