Taking a stroll along the Meir, the main shopping street in Antwerp’s city centre, one feels both the buzz and ease of the Antwerp shopping experience. The proximity and diversity of its offering has transformed Antwerp into a retail hub in the Benelux region, which comprises Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. The city was ranked as the favourite retail destination among retailers in CBRE Group’s Belgium Retailer Survey 2018.
Along the Meir, a pedestrianised street that sees an annual footfall of roughly 17 million people and is the most expensive in Belgium by cost per square metre, many stores focus on providing a unique shopping experience through innovative and modern retail concepts. A prime example of this eclectic approach can be seen in the Stadfeestzaal (the city festival hall), a neoclassical building on the Meir converted into a retail space that takes on tenants to rejuvenate the modern shopping experience.
“Antwerp has a lot of unique selling propositions and is a very multicultural city. That offers foreign investors in retail a lot of advantages and opportunities,” says Hans D’hondt, general manager of the Stadsfeestzaal.
The proximity of many shops within easy walking distance of one another also makes Antwerp an attractive shopping location. These range from high street brands to high-end luxury stores such as Fashion Club 70, an independent fashion agent that has exclusive Benelux contracts with many major Italian designers.
RetailDetail is a leading business-to-business retail network in the Benelux region that is due to become a tenant at the Stadsfeestzaal in early 2020. It currently operates a ‘retail hub’ at its offices, which tests and monitors some of the latest global innovations using sensors and data analytics.
“Retail is under pressure due to e-commerce, where several big companies such as Alibaba and Amazon take 30% to 40% of online business. We want to learn through our living lab and give back to the retail sector worldwide,” says Jorg Snoeck, founder of RetailDetail.
Antwerp also has a renowned homegrown fashion industry, which was ignited and popularised by a famous group of six designers that came from Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts in the 1980s, marking out the city as a hotbed of creativity.
For investors in Antwerp’s retail sector, the planning and permitting process is very transparent compared with other Belgian cities, due to limits on when the city has to respond to investors applying for new permits and opening new premises.
“You have the comfort that you will get answers from the city in very definitive timelines, which is contrary to the experience in other places where we operate,” says Isabelle Hayen of commercial real estate operator AHR Group.
Regulations make clear the responsibilities of both tenants and landlords within commercial lease agreements, and this “makes negotiating a lease agreement much easier in Belgium than it does, for example, in the UK”, she adds.
As shoppers, retailers and investors will find an easy experience and much on offer in Antwerp’s retail sector, there is no wonder the city continues to be a retail hub in the Benelux region.