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An Independent Retailers review of a Visit to Westfield Shopping Centre London

My daughter Veronie was very keen to visit Westfield shopping centre for retail therapy, I was keen from a research perspective. So along with Helen my wife we alighted at White City walked past the iconic BBC building and into Westfield. The entrance from the tube feels like the back door, first up is a burger king, angular  staircase and escalator – I have had better entrances.

Up the escalator and things begin to look as you might expect of a shopping centre. On further inspection it takes on the feel of a modern Airport departure lounge with rows of seating and sumptuous relaxation areas. The central atrium is altogether more impressive, light, airy and clearly a space available for performance too.

The one striking thing at 11.00 on a March Tuesday morning is the lack of people or as us retailers call it footfall. A break at Starbucks,  at the insistence of Veronie – wants a Frappuccino, where a small coffee comes in hideously thick and bucket size mugs.

From Starbucks I can see Oliver Bonas a retailer who receives rave reviews in the Gift trade journals. I watch for half an hour, not one person goes in, mind you there were hardly masses passing. I decide to be the first in. Windows not particularly attractive, internally not particularly inspiring. Curious fashion mixed in with a range of Oliver Bonas jewellery and gift accessories in a tiny space. Feel disappointed that an up and coming company in our industry looks so unappealing, little focus or identity. You feel that if you sold the whole contents of the shop you would not make a months rent.

Next stop Hollister. Now we are happening, Hollister is relatively new to the UK and less well known than it’s me too Abercombie and Fitch. You would be forgiven for thinking you were in Abercombie and Fitch – very similar layout, clothes in neat piles lit very discreetly with pools of light – I always thought they did that in A&C to hide the price tag! On teasing out the price on a Hollister tee shirt I am pleasantly surprised, not bad value at all for a preppy branded product and clearly the public agree as mums with hand fulls of garments queue to pay.

The anchor stores are Debenhams – true to form Half Price Sale, House of (I am trying to find an identity)Fraser and M&S. On the way into HOF there is an upmarket bit, De Beers, Tiffany and Louis Vuitton to open soon, brand s not normally suited to a mall, time will tell particularly if the Champagne bar is anything to go by, 4 customers at 1.00!

Feeling hungry we explore the food area. This is a real treat, food of all types and ethnicity in a good atmosphere. The offer is wide and varied with some exotic options Tiffinbites, Yo Sushi and Vietnamese along with the English options of Roast and Pies.

We settle on Yo Sushi where the food conveyor belt is going at the speed of a Lewis Hamilton Selectric’s set making grabbing food a risky business. They also have a sound system that periodically bleats out messages in tourrets style! Food good and quick and suddenly around us there is a transformation. People are appearing, queues only previously seen at Hollister are now forming at most of the food serveries, the place has come to life.

After lunch a final tour, wife and daughter go in separate directions, I settle down in a comfy chair and consider would we like to trade from here?  The answer would be yes but like most Malls I would not be able to make any money as a small independent retailer, so no!

The verdict from the girls is that it is relaxing and the food area is great but the overall retail experience is not compelling. Veronie would prefer Bluewater, so too Helen for Mall shopping but Oxford Street and Bond Street have the retail anchors and theatre that really gets me excited and from which I can learn something in our quest for constant improvement. Next stop Oxford Circus!!