Bluewater in Kent has offered local residents and visitors from London the opportunity to shop from an array of retailers for over 20 years. As COVID-19 restrictions change and most have been lifted, consumers have returned to the retail destination with a purpose - to enjoy themselves.
TheIndustry.fashion recently visited Bluewater to see the how its fashion and beauty offerings have developed in the last 18 months, and how it is poised to continue its recent series of new retail openings.
As Bluewater waves goodbye to long-term tenants including Disney Store and Gap, who will both soon almost leave the UK high street entirely, the centre reports it has multiple new leases under offer, with some already announced - such as Carvela.
Taking a 1,196 sq ft unit, adjacent to Apple on Upper Guildhall, Carvela’s Bluewater boutique will be the brand’s seventh bricks and mortar store in the UK, and its first in the South East.
Stores like the new Zara continue to be popular with visitors, with the location now one of Zara's top performing stores globally. The new location debuted briefly in December last year, before local COVID-19 lockdowns forced it to close until April 2021.
The store is now 37,000 sq ft, double the size of Zara’s previous store at the shopping centre in Kent, and shares its design with Zara’s other global flagships in Barcelona and Dubai, making it a major coup for the popular UK shopping destination.
Vanilla has also launched at the centre recently - taking up a 3,616 sq ft unit. The new store features both the Blue Vanilla and Pink Vanilla labels and stocks an exclusive shoe and accessory collection.
TheIndustry.fashion had a chance to speak with Rob Hardie, Portfolio Director at Landsec, owners of Bluewater.
What are Bluewater’s post-COVID plans?
Although the pandemic has been incredibly challenging for the retail industry as a whole, Bluewater has remained extremely resilient throughout, performing well as a destination and continuing to introduce new brands and concepts. Looking forward, we remain committed to ensuring Bluewater maintains its reputation as a top European retail and leisure destination, bringing the best retailers, F&B operators, and leisure experiences into our unique setting.
Guest and staff safety continues to be a priority. By implementing the most up to date COVID-19 government guidance, we will ensure confidence in our physical retail remains strong, making the Bluewater experience as enjoyable as it always has been.
What has happened at Bluewater over the past year?
An incredible amount has happened at Bluewater over the past 12 months. In late 2020, we welcomed a brand new 37,000 sq ft Zara concept store to the destination. It is he first of its kind in the UK, and was at the time one of only three global flagships for the brand, the others being in Barcelona and Dubai.
In the past six months alone, we have also signed Vanilla for its first bricks and mortar store, and women’s footwear and accessory brand Carvela for a South-East debut.
In terms of experiential leisure, Hangloose Adventure has launched, which starts with Skywire, England’s longest and fastest zip wire, with a huge variety of additional experiences on the way in the coming months and years.
In April, in-line with the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, we also saw the return of the drive-in Luna Cinema, which delivers a state-of-the-art drive-in cinema experience, using the UK’s highest definition outdoor screens, in-car digital sound solutions, and a new click and collect food and drink offer. These experiential attractions are evidence of Bluewater’s commitment to evolving the ‘full day out’ experience at the destination, ensuring the overall offer is as engaging and relevant as possible, and reducing the ‘either / or’ choice our guests make when they visit.
Talk us through the launch of Vanilla at Bluewater, and the other retail brands at Bluewater it complements?
We are very pleased to have secured the debut signing for concept store Vanilla, the first time both concession brands Blue Vanilla and Pink Vanilla have been housed in the same standalone store. Located adjacent to H&M on Upper Thames Walk, the 3,616 sq ft Vanilla flagship store exclusively stocks new shoe and accessory collections, not available anywhere else.
Fashion-forward, on-trend womenswear brand Blue Vanilla delivers stylish and accessible fashion. The London-based brand operates on a global scale, with their e-commerce site shipping to 150 countries globally, whilst the brand itself can be found in stores such as New Look and House of Fraser nationwide, and on e-commerce platforms such as Next, Debenhams and Silk Fred. Pink Vanilla is a young fashion brand targeting ages 14-24, and offers outfits for all occasions.
An array of other womenswear and teen-orientated brands have presences at Bluewater, and the addition of Vanilla is complemented perfectly by them. These range from Next, River Island, White Stuff, Ted Baker, and Lipsy, to name but a few, all of which add to our comprehensive, inclusive fashion offering at Bluewater.
What are Bluewater’s plans for Q3 and Q4 2021?
We will continue to build on the success of the destination, and the pent-up demand caused by the pandemic, with a number of exciting retail, leisure, and F&B signings, as well as the launch of various short term experiences.
Following its previous success and popularity, The Beach at Bluewater is returning this summer offering a whole host of fun activities for all ages. It will be open from Saturday 17th July until Sunday 5th September from 11am to 8pm (weather dependent).
Bluewater will be welcoming back attractions such as the waltzers and bumper cars, alongside water-based activities such as the water balls and paddling pools. Classic fairground stalls and eating options will be available and, as always, there’s plenty of sand for those wanting to sit back and relax on a deck chair and lounge in the summer sun. New additions for 2021 include a cocktail bar for the parents to enjoy, and a new ride called ‘Wipe Out’.
What have Bluewater’s footfall statistics been like since the easing of COVID restrictions in May, and the lifting of lockdown on July 19th?
Bluewater has continued to perform both throughout the various lockdowns and since restrictions have been lifted. The confidence our customers have in what we offer is clear – personal shopping experiences are fully booked for the foreseeable future, and the guests who shop at Bluewater this way have a much higher spend.