Construction at London’s £1.45 billion retail and leisure destination Westfield Stratford City was completed on Wednesday, and with four months to go until the grand opening negotiations with retailers regarding letting space have stepped up a gear.
Secured lettings are already at just over 80 per cent which in this cagey retail climate is highly impressive, indicating that retailers are confident in the potential of east London as a major go-to shopping hub.
Development Director John Burton is optimistic that if the Westfield team continues at the current rate there is no reason why the centre cannot be fully let when it opens to the public on September 13th, which will help attract the maximum number of shoppers early on.
“We like to open with a bang as it provides an early sales boost to retailers,” he explained.
“There were close to 200,000 people who visited Westfield London in White City on the first day of opening in 2008 and we’re expecting similar levels here.”
Westfield Stratford City’s anchor tenants are John Lewis, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer, and Burton is adamant that securing the former for what will be its first new London store in 20 years, was a major coup and something that subsequently encouraged other retailers to commit to the site.
Established names confirmed for the centre range from the value retail offering that east London is renowned for, such as Primark, to high-end retailers like Hugo Boss, which will add a new flavour to a previously deprived part of the UK’s capital city.
“The first tenants to sign up were John Lewis and Waitrose, which went someway to dispelling the myths about opening in east London,” Burton said.
“John Lewis is renowned for doing its own research and it has an incredible database in terms of cardholders. They understood better than anyone about the opportunities trading in this part of London will bring.”
Traditional shopping centre and high street names such as New Look and Next will join international brands like Hollister, Nike and Forever 21 across the three-floored 1.9 million sq ft development – in total there are 300 retail units to be filled.
With the additional attraction of 50 places in which to dine, the site will be the largest urban shopping centre in Europe, and this accolade seems fitting considering its status as the Olympic Stadium’s next-door neighbour.
Much of the build-up to Westfield’s opening in September has been entwined with the excitement surrounding the 2012 London Olympic Games, but the centre will need to standalone as an event destination in its own right once the crowds return home after a summer of watching sport next year.
Although the plans for a shopping centre go way back to the start of the last decade and were never intended to play a part in the build-up and running of London’s greatest sporting spectacle, the two developments are closely linked and should combine to great effect during the Games.
Westfield will effectively be the gateway to the Olympic Park for those travelling by public transport to the stadium, as they will pour out of either Stratford or Stratford International station and be channeled through the centre.
On the busiest day of the Games it is expected there will be around 360,000 people making their way through the shopping hub, and the development team have worked closely with planners to ensure it can manage the crowds by creating spacious shopping thoroughfares, wide walkways and easy navigation routes.
John Lewis’s top floor, which looks out across to the giant stadium, will sell Games merchandise in the build-up to the event, and many of the other tenants will look to capitalise on the larger-than-average footfall by tailoring their offering to the vast array of tourists filtering through Westfield during that time.
With strict guidelines sure to be enforced regarding which brands can be shown in the Olympic Park, as well as a restriction on the number of bags visitors can have with them, it appears multichannel retail may have to play a central role at Westfield during the Games.
Games ticket holders who want to shop before entering the stadium will not be happy about spending money only to be told they cannot take it through to the Olympic Park, so a solution will need to be found.
“Of course we want people to combine the Games with shopping, and we are developing solutions to allow this to happen,” Burton commented.
Whether that is through special delivery to hotels or homes, adding extra storage facilities or providing un-branded bags, it is unclear how this particular challenge will be solved – and it is one that has the potential to tarnish a customer experience.
The Development Director believes retailers are sophisticated enough on a multichannel level to make this work, and having met construction targets on time and on budget there seems no reason to argue with him.
Of course, Stratford’s new shopping centre cannot rely on one month of high visitor numbers alone, so is it confident about attracting customers over the long term?
“Historically people have turned their nose up at east London,” Burton states.
“With its population demographic we identified a big opportunity and with its transport and access we thought we could tap into a bigger market.
“Our 45-minute catchment area contains 4.1 million people and we are confident there will be plenty of reasons to visit east London when the Olympics have gone.”
As well as the plethora of shopping and food outlets to attract people to the region, the sporting legacy left behind by the Games such as the Aquatics Centre and Velodrome should bring an abundance of visitors to area. Nearby Greenwich is a popular tourist attraction too.
Tapping into tourism will be essential to the centre’s ongoing success once the Olympics have finished, and there are certainly enough reasons for people to head to the area.
A host of retailers have shown their commitment to Westfield Stratford City and are frantically undertaking the fit-out process. If all goes to plan, visitors cannot fail to be impressed by what the shopping centre has to offer.