Westfield New Store Research

Hardly – it is the country’s second largest Mall, after the Metro Centre and larger than Bluewater. It sits on a major public transport hub and it fells a gap in the market. It will attract customers from a wide area and it should be a great success. And, yes, it is next to the Olympic site. But the Olympics are a red herring so far as this development is concerned. They could never have justified building such a development on their own and the Mall would have gone ahead whether London got the Olympics or not.
Leaving aside those who believe that we already have too many shops, there was a clear opportunity at Stratford sitting between Romford, the West End and Lakeside. There’s no doubt that this centre will be a great success.
Certainly there is huge interest in it – the crowds on the opening day were enormous and effectively prevented from having a good look round. So this is something of an interim report.

Design

The centre ticks all the boxes. Anchored at one end by John Lewis and Waitrose and at the other by M&S it has a wide range of shops and cafe and restaurants to stop and take a break. It is geared up for shoppers who want to spend several hours there. In addition there are leisure facilities – cinemas, restaurants, ten pin bowling, casino in separate blocks apart from the main mall. It makes a pleasant change to find part of the development in the open air.

And there are new stores there. Forever 21 opened its third UK outlet and the business already has its followers. Pitched at price points a little above Primark it is aimed at that disposable fashion market which has proved so popular. Yet to our eyes, however attractive the merchandise, the store looked bland and owed more to the risk averse dull US fashion scene than to the UK.

Other retailers manage far more excitement. Primark has opened and H&M will do so soon. All Saints (granted – at the other end of the pricing spectrum) is there with its familiar format, though with perhaps fewer sewing machines than we are used to. And there are usual suspects such as Republic and Fat Face.

Pull and Bear, another relative newcomer to the UK from the Inditex stable has a far more exciting store. In fact Inditex is there in force with Zara, Bershka (though not Massimo Dutti) as well.

River Island, Superdry and Hollister are there, but not Ted Baker. Needless to say, Top Shop has also opened, setting the standards for display and producing a real sense of excitement. The contrast with Forever 21 could hardly be greater.

John Lewis

At the other end of the spectrum, there’s John Lewis and this is a great store. One doesn’t expect a revolution from John Lewis, but this store is incrementally better in many ways. In particular we’d highlight the menswear section and the hands-on electricals display.

The centre

The development is unlike Bluewater or Shepherds Bush in that it is on three floors (four if you include the fact that most of the outlets on the top floor have an upstairs as well). It may be because of the crowds on the opening day, but there didn’t seem to be enough communication between them. Overall the centre is recognisable from the same design team as Shepherds Bush and it does not mark any advance on it. Nor does it have the designer/luxury section of the West London development. But it is not downmarket – being anchored by John Lewis and M&S ensures that.

There is free car parking for two hours. But like Shepherds Bush parking is limited and the way to access the centre is by public transport.

What about the recession?

The media, of course, ever keen to find a negative angle said – why open an outlet like this in the middle of a recession? The simple answer is that it is being developed for the longer term.

But there is more to it than that. This sort of centre in Stratford is what consumers want. One only has to cross the road to see the old Stratford shopping centre to see what a huge advance it is. The centre will take from many smaller shopping centres over a wide area but it also provides a focus for Stratford which is seeing so much development, partly because of the Olympics site.

Even in tough times consumers need to shop and they will go to the centre that serves them best.

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