In the retail industry we’re constantly hearing how consumer attitudes have changed. Shoppers no longer want to simply shop, they all want an experience and it turns out the same is true of other industries. A recent trend that has emerged in the leisure and hospitality industry is Competitive Socialising. Essentially this is built upon the idea that people have grown bored of ‘going for drinks’ and are looking for an element of excitement to their socialising. It seems that regardless of the activity, when it comes to recreation, consumers are all looking for new experiences.

Companies such as Flight Club, Swingers and Bounce were among the first to embrace this emerging trend offering Darts, Crazy Golf and Ping Pong respectively. But, there have been a number of other stand-out ideas. Whistle Punks, who offer urban axe throwing, were one of the success stories of Competitive Socialising way back in 2017 and have since expanded to cover London, Manchester and Birmingham with two more locations expected to open this year.

Traditionally, Competitive Socialising has been set in a bar or a club. However more recently, a number of Shopping Centres have started to see the potential in adapting space to accommodate for these new activities.

While Ping Pong Parlours in Shopping Centres are nothing new, we’re definitely seeing a shift in the number of Centres embracing alternative leisure activities. In the past few months we’ve seen everything from Escape Room style challenges to bowling alleys and even an adult ball pit take over space within a Centre, more often than not on a permanent or long-term basis.

As the retail industry continues to evolve it’s become clear that Centres must be adaptable. By being adaptable and open-minded towards new trends landlords can begin to attract a more diverse tenant line up, which means they can appeal to a wider selection of shoppers.

According to a report there are currently 56 Competitive Socialising activities operating in schemes across the UK. These are spread across the sectors of Urban Mini Golf, Bar and Game, VR Gaming and Against The Clock Experiences. According to the same report, the percentage for each of those sectors that is located in a UK retail scheme is 36%, 3%, 30% and 14% respectively. Interestingly 53% of the Bowling sector is currently located with a UK scheme. It could be argued that Bowling is the most well-established example of Competitive Socialising for shopping centres, having been implemented into UK retail schemes long before the trend was heard of. Savills reports that Bowling still anchors 50% of leisure parks and 16% of in-town leisure schemes.

These concepts have proven popular with shoppers because it allows them to have an experience they can’t get anywhere else, meaning that landlords need to strike before the market becomes over saturated and many of these concepts are easy to replicate. Consumer attitudes are always shifting and landlords can capitalise on the current trend of experience over buying.


Leisure accounts for just under 15% of consumer spend at present. However, this figure is expected to grow over the coming years. Existing leisure operators are already beginning to adapt their current offer to include other sectors of the Competitive Socialising phenomenon. Hollywood Bowl for example have started trialling mini golf courses in certain venues.

Escape Rooms have been the breakout star (excuse the pun) and have the advantage of being adaptable to meet changing trends, increasing their longevity. Fit-outs for these rooms can be done with any size budget making them a more cost effective option than some other activities.

As with all things, the future appears to belong to technology. VR and AR technologies are improving year-on-year and as the technologies become more common place, the price of fit-out and hardware is getting cheaper and cheaper. Of course a problem with VR is that some operators are only offering solo experience, removing a lot of the socialising element of Competitive Socialising. However some companies are finding innovative ways to change this.

VR Simulators for example have created a VR racing centre with full motion chairs with fans so players can feel the wind in their face and more importantly the ability to race against up to 12 friends. These VR arenas are likely to become more common place over the coming years and while they require more space than the solo pods do, this is still considerably less space than other activities, increasing VR’s appeal for landlords of Centres of all sizes.

The industry has to diversify and grow and landlords need to move quickly in order to reap the maximum benefits.

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