Lifestyle Centres

A New Era of Retail Centres Aimed at the Changing Consumer and Community Needs

By Dr Dirk A Prinsloo
Urban Studies

Developers are no longer creating retail centres aimed solely at serving basic shopping and entertainment needs. They are supporting projects that appeal to customers’ changing lifestyle. Lifestyle centres are part of an emerging trend where a new breed of shopping centres creates a vibrant retail destination where people can work, live, and of course, shop. Changing demographics, urban revitalisation and consumers looking for alternative options are factors that have contributed to this shift in the retail industry.

A lifestyle centre caters for the retail needs as well as the lifestyle pursuits of consumers within its trading area. Existing lifestyle centres are primarily located near affluent residential neighbourhoods and have an upmarket orientation. These centres range between 10 000m² and 50 000m² GLA retail space, but can be bigger or smaller as well. The latest trend is to go even bigger. There are two important and common features of existing lifestyle centres, namely:

  • creating an open air environment;
  •  anchoring these centres with large upmarket tenants.

Amongst the most common tenant types are clothing stores, homeware stores, book stores, music stores and furniture stores. A lifestyle centre can also include one or more white cloth restaurants, and in many cases a number of cinemas.

A lifestyle centre usually includes a designer ambience and amenities and features such as fountains, street furniture, leisure time visits and casual browsing. Landscaped courtyards with gardens, walkways, tree-lined plazas, gazeboes, waterfalls, grand staircases, pedestrian promenades lined with benches and landscaping can also enhance the atmosphere and create the feeling of a main street with its town square.

The definition of a lifestyle centre is just a marketing term used for yet another type of retail development which resembles a small town and strip street development. All these features are included to attract more shoppers providing them with an opportunity to experience something different to what they are accustomed to. The main emphasis is to make retail a pleasurable and exciting experience, to increase the number of visits and to while away leisure time. In the past decade landlords have tried to lengthen shoppers’ visits with entertainment ranging from cinemas, amusement parks to aquariums. Those attractions often fell short in generating more frequent visits. In creating a main street and town square atmosphere, we see the return of the way in which retail originally started at the market place of the community.

A key component of creating lifestyle retailing is to bring in a mix of components such as residential developments, office space, hotels, churches, town halls, theatres, convention centres, cinemas, different types of entertainment, ice skating rinks, golf driving ranges, farmers’ markets and public libraries. Housing makes up a very significant part of most of the lifestyle orientated projects. In many cases the shifts we see are directed more at impacting on the residential component than the retail component. The challenge remains to develop residential facilities as part of a lifestyle centre that is attractive to the residents and that offers something unique for a specific lifestyle segment.

The best examples of lifestyle centres in South Africa are:

  • Broadacres Centre north-west of Johannesburg (close to the Fourways node). The centre fulfils two roles, namely convenience and destination shopping with ordinary line shops in the front and destination stores in a landscaped garden area at the back;
  • Constantia Village in Cape Town has developed over time into a kind of lifestyle centre with two 
  • different sections linked by gardens and a greenery which have created a pleasant atmosphere;
  • Ballito Lifestyle Centre is an ordinary convenience centre with a small component of lifestyle orientated stores surrounded by an interesting environment;
  • Melrose Arch is an example of a lifestyle centre with more than just the retail component. The whole development will eventually include the hotel, offices, residential units, a very large gym and more retail facilities.

Residential properties in Melrose Arch are currently selling for between R2,5 million and R7,5 million and unit prices of stands range between R1 million and R2,5 million. In total between 100 and 160 residential units will be available. According to estate agents they foresee up to 300 units eventually being developed over the next 5 years.

The challenge that exists is to provide good quality retail locations within a lifestyle centre. With the traditional design and layout of a town centre with its main street, there is a risk of creating dead-ends and poor retail locations. This must be avoided and effective pedestrian flows should be created throughout the lifestyle centre.

From the above-mentioned information it is clear that there is not a fixed definition for a successful lifestyle centre. The following marketing slogans and marketing material best describe the format of a true lifestyle centre:

  • “We see community members as partners; you will see them as your customers”.
  •  “We exceed expectations, offering a package of shopping, dining and living”.
  •  “We put life and style back into lifestyle and we put the village back into urban villages”.
  •  “The lifestyle concept caters from bedroom to boardroom societies”.
  •  “Lifestyle centres are being created to bring back the feel-good feeling”.

There are a number of lifestyle centres currently being planned for South Africa, with Bedford Square probably the closest to meeting most of the prerequisites mentioned above. The challenge to South African architects is to create a unique South African lifestyle setting, and not only another Tuscan, Italian or European street scene.