The new era of station retail

Hamish Kiernan, commercial director of retail at Network Rail Property, explains how investment in better retail outlets is transforming the customer experience at stations in the UK.

Despite a well-publicised range of challenges facing retailers, including changeable weather and wavering consumer confidence, railway station outlets have enjoyed a steadier ride. For the last five years, station retailers have seen consistent growth, with sales at Network Rail-managed stations growing for 21 consecutive quarters. 

From gift and fashion stores to popular restaurant chains, there are now plenty of great quality retail and food outlets at railway stations for consumers to choose from. Network Rail is expanding the variety, choice and quality of retailers at stations even further, so that people can have a sit-down meal, buy a new outfit, or pick up some food for dinner without needing to go anywhere else.

As such, railway stations have become much more than just a stop on the daily commute – they’re now destinations in their own right for shopping, dining and socialising.

The evolution of station retail

Long gone are the days when the most people would expect to buy at a station was a tired sandwich and a lukewarm coffee. Now, shoppers are spoilt for choice, with a plethora of food and drink outlets available offering a variety of snack and meal options – from bagels and paninis to burritos and sushi.

Customer expectations have radically changed over the years, and station users are no different. They expect cleanliness and accessibility, and stations must now also work as shopping centres and meeting places, without losing sight of their core purpose.

Realising these requirements, Network Rail has committed to transforming the retail and dining offer at its stations and to create an improved experience that delivers on the expectations of those using our stations to travel, and those who visit to shop, eat and meet others.

What’s the reason behind its success?

With up to 207.7 million people visiting Network Rail stations each quarter, the consistent and heavy footfall at stations is naturally a big draw for many retailers. Getting retail right in places where customers are time-pressed and there is limited space can throw up unique challenges, and has taken years of practice and research to perfect.

The variety and choice of the offer brings a whole new level of convenience to the station experience. At London Euston, for example, you can top up your weekly food shopping, meet a friend for a pint, dine out, and get your shoes repaired – all before catching a train home. The ultimate aim is to offer best-selling products that people want to buy, all while maintaining the safe and efficient operation of the station.

A catalyst for wider regeneration

It’s not just retail sales that are growing. Station investment has also led to a rise in overall customer satisfaction since 2016, with 84% of passengers ‘very satisfied’ or ‘fairly satisfied’ with Network Rail-managed stations. This is further evidence of the success, variety and quality of the retail offer at stations, and all profits from retail activity are reinvested back into the railway, meaning that more sales lead to more opportunities for expansion.

The success of retail activity is not only delivering benefits for Network Rail and its station users, but the communities around the stations too. New retail developments drive job creation and the innovative use of existing space can unlock land previously thought to be inaccessible. This has been a catalyst for wider regeneration around stations, facilitating housing development, new jobs and economic growth.

Network Rail is committed to investing in the retail space at its stations, and by following the blueprint outlined above, we believe that we are on track to build on our successes in the future. With London Bridge expected to deliver over 50 new retail units, additional space now available at London Victoria and constant upgrades to our offer, it is full steam ahead for railway retail in 2018 and beyond.



Grev Jones   17/11/2017 at 13:33

Long may the investment and growth continue. Some of our bigger stations do indeed offer an intoxicating range of retail establishments though there's of course scope for improvements be it through unlocking space or changing consumer habits.

Andrew Gwilt   18/11/2017 at 18:17

Been to Birmingham New Street twice. It amazes me that a railway station and a shopping centre can be redeveloped into 1 big place not just for shoppers. But for people who pass through Birmingham New Street to get on the train they need to go where they needed to go.

Lutz   20/11/2017 at 23:17

If you look at Waterloo for example, these developments have been to the detriment to commuters whom have lost facilities for the purpose of providing additional capacity, but the new facilities cater more for the local business community and long distance travellers. Similar detrimental changes are proposed elsewhere, so it is not clear how this property development is directly beneficial to commuters.

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