Gatwick airport: your local shop: South Terminal becomes retail paradise

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The Independent Online
AS THE Christmas lights twinkled around the shopping complex, Di Page clutched her newly purchased gifts. 'I'm buying Christmas presents, I've already bought some socks and a huge bar of chocolate and now I'm going to the Body Shop.'

The location? Not a high street mall, but The Village shopping centre in Gatwick Airport's South Terminal.

Airport store managers report an increasing number of customers who are neither flying abroad nor meeting incoming passengers. These are people simply at Gatwick to shop.

The number of non-duty- free stores at Gatwick's two terminals has been increased over the last few years to 35, including high street names such as Burtons, Knickerbox, Tie Rack, the Body Shop and Dorothy Perkins. In addition there are 18 restaurants and bars, half-a- dozen bureaux de change and a post office.

While this is still a far cry from the vast shopping arcades at European airports such as Geneva and Frankfurt, BAA, which manages the airport, last year received around pounds 90m in revenue from Gatwick stores, half of this from the non-duty- free shops.

The stores offer long opening hours - from 5am to 11pm in the summer including Sundays, until 9pm in winter - and the convenience of shopping under cover.

As a result they are pulling in customers who would otherwise have no reason to go to the airport, encouraged by lower car parking charges and good rail connections. Some travel considerable distances - Di Page had come from Eastbourne - while others turn the trip into a family day out with a visit to watch the aircraft and have a meal.

These customers have turned Sunday into the busiest day for many stores and with Christmas approaching, the proportion of people visiting Gatwick just to shop is expected to multiply, rising to 25 per cent of all visitors to the airport.

While most of the stores are planning seasonal promotions and January sales, some are specifically targeting non-travellers living around Gatwick, the world's fifth busiest international airport.

Mark Sullivan, outer shops manager with Allders, said the range of goods stocked in the company's airport store suggested local people are increasingly using the stores. 'The shops are selling things you wouldn't want to take on holiday. We have big computer consoles and board games, the clothes shops stock women's evening dresses.'

Retailers have been helped by an advertising campaign from BAA, promoting a fair price guarantee under which retailers are contractually bound not to charge more for goods sold at the airport than they would in the high street.

Gatwick's increasing resemblance to a shopping mall is unwelcome for traders in towns around the airport, such as Crawley two miles away, who have already lost trade. Philip Hayden, treasurer of Crawley Chamber of Commerce, said: 'People are using the airport who would otherwise have come to Crawley or other nearby towns to do their shopping. We are concerned about it but there's nothing we can do.'

Real Life, page 24

(Photograph omitted)

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