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Weekend at Westfield

December 14, 2008| By Tim Danaher

I visited Westfield London several times during its construction, and spent opening day there, but had never actually visited as a shopper. With not many shopping days until Christmas and no presents yet bought, it was about time I did, so I spent yesterday there. These are my observations:

  • Given that it was forced to contribute tens of millions of pounds on public transport, Westfield must be disappointed that it’s a nightmare to get out of Shepherds Bush station into the centre. Yesterday would-be shoppers were being ushered out of the station via an emergency staircase because the escalators couldn’t cope.
  • While the centre has several entrances, it’s clear that the vast bulk of shoppers are entering via the south-eastern corner, which is great news for House of Fraser and, to a lesser extent, M&S, and bad news for Next and Debenhams, which seemed much much quieter. There is a lack of public seating meaning that, around M&S particularly, a lot of people were sitting on the floor eating, and the catering in the centre was struggling to cope, with enormous queues.
  • The shoppers, on Saturday at least, appeared largely affluent and just what Westfield will have hoped for. People have told me that in the evenings it attracts a lot of local hoodies, but that certainly wasn’t the case on Saturday. Most of the shoppers seemed like they were suburban Londoners or Home Counties dwellers of the type who say “I haven’t been to Oxford Street in years.”
  • People doubted The Village, the luxury area which includes brands like Gucci and Prada. But all those shops which have opened in that area - many haven’t yet - were looking healthily busy yesterday.
  • The centre’s offer is heavily biased towards fashion, but that’s not what most people buy as Christmas presents. Which was great news for HMV and WH Smith, and smaller operations such as Red 5 and The Entertainer, all of which - but particularly HMV, which was endearingly shambolic - were rammed. Even Foyles had a good few shoppers. The non-fashion offer felt narrow for such a large centre though.
  • I knew Richard Hammond was short, but he’s really miniscule. Like the shortest grown man I’ve ever seen. He was signing books in Smiths and inexplicably had attracted a large crowd.
  • As expected, some of the international fashion brands you’ve never heard of are clearly finding life tough. As also expected, Hollister most definitely isn’t.
  • The large central atrium doesn’t work. It feels like a big empty space, even with Santas Grotto in the middle, and the some of the retailers around it seem to be suffering.

Westfield has done itself a disservice with it’s heavy-handed charges and adversarial approach to its tenants, especially the smaller ones who are very angry indeed. But it has changed shopping in London and for the better. Westfield is nowhere near where I live and ironically I had to change tubes at Oxford Circus to get there. But with the rain lashing down it was well worth the extra 15 minutes journey. It was very shoppable - clearly busy but at no point unpleasant and you can’t say that about Oxford Street, rain or shine. I’ll be back.

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