Knight Frank

Ecommerce growth drives surge in warehouse development

Some 40 million sq ft of new warehouse space in developments larger than 50,000 sq ft is scheduled for completion in 2021, according to the latest research from Knight Frank.

This compares to 20 million sq ft last year. 

Much of this new space is already committed, with retailers and distribution companies opting to satisfy their requirements through build-to-suit solutions.

The company asserts that this rise in development activity can be attributed to the long-term strategic planning of retailers in response to ecommerce growth.

According to Knight Frank research, online sales accounted for 27.9% of total retail sales in 2020 and, with non-essential shops closed, ecommerce penetration rates reached a record 36.3% in January 2021.

The data also revealed online sales rose to £34bn year-on-year in 2020 and is expected to grow a further £41bn over the next four years, which is driving additional requirements for warehouse space.

The firm’s analysis shows that every billion pounds of online sales requires approximately 1.36 million sq ft of warehouse space. 

As a result, retailers and distribution firms have rapidly upscaled their operations by expanding delivery services, which saw warehouse take up exceed 50 million sq ft last year, compared to 34 million sq ft in 2019.

Due to robust levels of demand, the level of availability — particularly of high quality space — has diminished over the course of 2020, which is driving development.

Vacant warehousing remains tight across the UK, with 46 million sq ft of space currently available, representing 10 months’ worth of supply at current take-up levels. 

However, most of that space is in second-hand units that either do not have the right specification or the right location. 

Charles Binks, partner and head of industrial and logistics at Knight Frank, said: “The robust forecast for online retail and increased competition for high specification and well-located assets is driving development activity. 

“However, the availability of land or suitable sites remains a key constraint.”

Claire Williams, research associate at Knight Frank, commented: “High levels of take up in developments larger than 50,000 sq ft and the chronic shortage of quality space are encouraging both build-to-suit and speculative development. 

“This is because many of the units currently available don’t offer the right space or locations to support the growth of online sales and B2C deliveries. 

“There is a need for more urban warehouse space, located close to the customer, in order to replenish stock in the required timeframes.”

Knight Frank noted that competition for space will continue to drive rental growth over the next five years, as well as longer average lease lengths. 

The strongest annual rental growth is expected in London (3.2%), followed by the South East (2.7%) and Eastern (2.7%) regions.

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