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The evolution of a retail paradise: Gold Coast shopping centres

Nick Nichols | September 8, 2021

Pacific Fair aerial

The dynamics that make Australia’s lifestyle capital a shopping destination like no other

When Pacific Fair first brought world-class shopping to the Gold Coast in 1977, it was the start of a city-wide retail revolution. Now, the Gold Coast is a shopping destination like no other, driven by a growing resident population and shaped by the needs of a thriving tourist economy.

These are the dynamics behind the Gold Coast’s unique retail experience, the shopper’s paradise that thrives in part because of the city’s relaxed coastal lifestyle.

The Gold Coast is now home to two of Australia’s largest shopping centres in Pacific Fair and Robina Town Centre; it boasts the largest luxury retail precinct in Queensland; it has redefined destination outlet shopping with the evolution of Harbour Town Premium Outlets; and it also is leading the way with boutique lifestyle precincts such Via Roma on Isle of Capri, The Lanes at Mermaid Waters and Queen Street Village at Southport.

“The nature of retail is constantly evolving,” says Marcus Brown, director of advisory group Bull & Bear Economics.

“But the changes in the sector over the past 20 years have been bigger and more significant than any of the changes that occurred in the prior 20 years.

“Today, Pacific Fair feels more like a resort playground than a shopping centre. Boutique retail and dining precincts offer something entirely different to deliver a buffet of retail and lifestyle experiences across the Gold Coast.

Night shopping at Pacific Fair Gold Coast
Pacific Fair Shopping Centre

“Brickworks at Ferry Road, Miami Marketta and Queen Street Village demonstrate how varied and different these boutique precincts can be. The need for ongoing evolution and transformation of retail centres in response to rapidly changing consumer preferences will not abate.”

It’s hard to ignore the power and influence of retail spending on the Gold Coast. Between them, the city’s six largest retail centres – Harbour Town, Westfield Helensvale, Westfield Coomera and Australia Fair – generate almost $3 billion in annual turnover. Pacific Fair and Robina Town Centre account for more than half of this total.

“With a combined turnover of $1.7 billion, Pacific Fair and Robina Town Centre sit within the ranks of Australia’s top 10 performing retail centres and are the only non-capital city retail centres to sit within the top 10,” says Mr Brown.

“In terms of sales per square metre, Pacific Fair and Robina sit within the top-five performing retail centres in Queensland and top 10 nationally.”

Balancing the needs of local residents and tourists is a key factor shaping the retail offering on the Gold Coast.

“The Gold Coast retail sector sits at the cutting edge of retail trends, with visitors having the highest expectations of retail experiences of any consumer segment,” says Mr Brown.

“This means that both major retail centres, like Pacific Fair and Robina, and boutique retail developments, have positioned themselves to deliver high quality lifestyle experiences which offer both a sense of glamour and reward. This is why the Gold Coast has seen such major investments in retail developments over the past decade with major retail centres repositioning themselves as lifestyle centres as well as seeing more and more boutique retail developments offering niche experiences.”

the visitor lounge at Pacific Fair

The Patio, casual dining precinct at Pacific Fair

Dine among The Resort retail precinct at Pacific Fair

Investing to meet demand

The significant growth of retail trade across the Gold Coast is driving ongoing investment in new and existing shopping centres. The spending spree in the lead-up to the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games alone totalled almost $1 billion with upgrades for Pacific Fair, Robina Town Centre, Harbour Town and Australia Fair.

Each of these has expanded their dining offering as part of a broader retail mix.

New investments were also made in the city’s north with the opening of Westfield Coomera, part of the wider Coomera Town Centre master plan, creating a new focal point for some of Australia’s fastest growing suburbs with the inclusion of dining and entertainment precincts alongside a versatile retail offering.

David Wilcox, director of property economics research at Urbis, says the evolution of vibrant shopping hubs on the Gold Coast from north to south was inevitable due to the linear design of the city.

“Unlike many of the capital cities, the Gold Coast doesn’t have many traditional high street shopping precincts, so destination retail is heavily concentrated in purpose-built shopping centres,” he says.

This has set the Gold Coast apart in providing a unique shopping experience, although Mr Wilcox also agrees that tourism has been pivotal in enhancing the shopping experience for locals.

“You only have to look as far as Pacific Fair for this,” says Mr Wilcox.

“It doesn’t look or feel like any other shopping centre, especially with its large outdoor, alfresco precincts. Pacific Fair also has succeeded in being a real cluster for luxury retail, not only on the Gold Coast, but it is regarded as the largest luxury retail precinct in Queensland.”

Inside Pacific Fair shopping mall
Pacific Fair

Pacific Fair has managed to lure some of the world’s biggest names in fashion to the Coast, including Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada, Tiffany & Co., Givenchy, Bvlgari, Rolex, Bally, Hugo Boss and Michael Kors.

“It has certainly been designed with one eye on the tourism market as well as locals and fittingly has become an iconic destination for any visitor to the Gold Coast,” says Mr Wilcox. “There wouldn’t be many tourists to the city from around Australia who haven’t visited Pacific Fair over the years.”

In terms of design, Pacific Fair has led the way in recent years.

“It is the centre many people across Australia look to as an example of taking a new approach to shopping centres,” says Mr Wilcox.

“However, Westfield Coomera is an also important emerging regional shopping centre that has really played into the multi-dimensional shopping experience with dining venues, outdoor spaces and the entertainment zone there which makes it a high-quality destination for the northern part of the Coast that is more than just shopping.”

The Kitchens, Robina Town Centre

The Kitchens at Robina Town Centre

Robina Town Centre

The Promenade, Robina Town Centre

A boom in northern exposure

Between them, Westfield Coomera and Westfield Helensvale account for almost $600 million in retail sales – and growing – as the northern Gold Coast’s urban transformation progresses.

While each of the Gold Coast’s major shopping centres is positioned differently in the market, Mr Brown says the overarching theme is to provide a lifestyle experience.

“Pacific Fair has a staggering diversity of retail brands, hospitality and entertainment and is strategically positioned to draw from the main coastal tourism strip,” Mr Brown said.

“After spending $670 million, Pacific Fair is positioned as Queensland’s premiere super regional shopping centre. While it’s not the biggest in Queensland, it certainly offers the greatest range of premium retail brands of any centre in Queensland, making it a ‘must do’ retail experience.

“Robina Town Centre and Harbour Town also offer lifestyle experiences across a range of budgets and experiences. Harbour Town remains the destination factory outlet centre in south-east Queensland and while you’re there you can access great casual dining and entertainment.”

Robina Town Centre has thrived as a dining destination since a major upgrade completed in 2009. The centre has three dedicated food precincts offering unique experiences suited to every taste and budget. The Promenade is a laidback lakeside dining precinct, a popular venue for social gatherings and special celebrations, while The Kitchens is a food lover’s delight where globally inspired cuisine takes on a local twist.

The Kitchens at Robina Town Centre

“We have enjoyed a rich history as one of the Coast’s favourite shopping, dining and lifestyle hubs,” says Kathleen Hart, general manager of Robina Town Centre.

“It’s a place that fosters a real sense of community and togetherness among locals, somewhere to meet family and friends, to shop, socialise, dine and experience. Over the past 25 years, the centre has undergone a succession of key developments and refurbishments to further expand our offer in response to community aspirations.”

The appeal of outlet shopping

Harbour Town, at Biggera Waters, is a prime example of a suburban retail centre that has evolved to meet the needs of tourists and locals. It draws visitors with major brands such as Coach, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Hugo Boss and Nike as well as iconic Australian brands Oroton, R.M. Williams and UGG Australia.

“Its origin as a factory outlet centre is the foundation of its appeal to locals, domestic overnight tourist and day-trippers,” says Mr Brown.

“The inclusion of Woolworths, JB HiFi and personal and health services diversified its role and function to include meeting day-to-day convenience and comparison-shopping needs, which stimulated foot fall outside of peak trading periods.

“Over time the addition of hospitality and entertainment elements broadened its appeal. These additions were primarily aimed at increasing dwell time at the centre.

Harbour Town extends the range of retail experiences on the Gold Coast and creates a major day-tripper destination from other parts of south-east Queensland.”

The Gold Coast’s CBD at Southport also is in the midst of a major retail transformation, driven by upgrades and urban renewal projects such as the $500 million Queen Street Village, a four-storey retail and entertainment centre accompanied by 11-screen cinema complex.

The new cinema combines with the Event Cinemas, including Gold Class facilities, at Australia Fair to make Southport the premier destination for moviegoers on the Gold Coast.

Australia Fair led the way in 2016 with a $25 million upgrade on its western perimeter, known as Australia Fair Metro, which has enhanced the public activation of the Gold Coast’s Chinatown precinct.

Southport primed for growth

Mr Brown sees significant potential for Southport driven by the expansion of the Gold Coast’s light rail network.

“Southport’s role and function will remain primarily focussed on local business and residents as the Gold Coast CBD, but the connectivity afforded by G:Link creates opportunities for well positioned retail developments to also target visitors,” he says.

“Delivering a critical mass of workers and residents in Southport is a key goal of the Southport Priority Development Area. Achieving this goal would mean that Southport would be able to leverage off a significant walk-up population of workers and residents to deliver boutique retail and hospitality developments that create a level of interest that appeals to both locals and visitors alike.

“The success of Southport will be based on how different it is to other centres, rather than trying to replicate other centres.”

Mr Brown sees online shopping as a key driver behind new investment in the retail experience generally, primarily due to higher consumer expectations regarding the quality of leisure time and experiences.

“The ubiquity of social media and a 24-hour media circle also means fashion and lifestyle trends change faster than ever. When you combine this with the onslaught of online retail, you have a compelling suite of drivers for retail transformation.

“Now more than ever, shopping must offer a multi-faceted experience that is on trend and consumer responsive. This had led to the best and most astute centre owners and retail developers embracing the principles of human centred design which places the consumer experience at the core of the design process.”

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