Westfield Stratford City opens to much fanfare in east London today as the only major UK shopping centre development to be unveiled in 2011.
Pussy Cat Doll and girlfriend of racing driver Lewis Hamilton, Nicole Scherzinger, is performing a special concert for visitors and the futuristic Vue cinema will start screening during the day, but it is the retailers on site that are set to provide the real theatre.
Many of the companies leasing space at the new £1.45 billion retail hub are trialling new concepts and layouts as they look to reinvent themselves in the face of a challenging and changing consumer environment.
A host of fashion retailers, such as Hobbs, Reiss and River Island are bringing fresh ideas to their retail offer, while the design of Inditex-owned Zara’s new look outlet has been described as “extraordinary” and conveying a newfound “simplicity and elegance”.
Bill Giouroukos, Director of Operations for Westfield UK/Europe, commented: “Inditex has chosen three exceptional locations it is also opening Pull & Bear and Bershka stores at the centre; not just in terms of visibility and anticipated footfall, but in terms of their surrounding tenant adjacencies.
“Stratford City is keen to establish its own identity in east London with a collection of strong UK and international retailers. We are working closely with all retailers to encourage new innovative store designs and fascias - and Inditex is no different.”
Indeed, as one of the centre’s anchor stores, John Lewis is keen to convey this feeling of innovation through its first new London outlet for 20 years.
Customers visiting the department store, which has created around 750 retail jobs at its Stratford branch, will for the first time be able to test a range of technology and electricals products before they buy.
It follows a growing trend in the sector to allow shoppers to interact and receive demonstrations prior to splashing the cash on items that are rarely cheap.
Commenting on the reasons for the changes when designs for the store were first unveiled in August, Buying & Brand Director at John Lewis Peter Ruis said: “Inspirational and interactive, the provision of additional services will enable us to get closer to our customers’ needs.”
Highlighting the growing requirement to cater for shoppers in all channels, be it physically in store or interactively on mobile or web, he added: “It will work seamlessly with our online offer, to reflect the multichannel nature of the majority of electrical purchases.”
Westfield already operates shopping centres in London’s White City, Derby, Nottingham, the West Midlands, Tunbridge Wells, Guildford and Belfast, and boasts impressive occupancy rates in each.
In an interview with Retail Gazette in the summer, the Australian firm’s Stratford City Development Director John Burton said that he saw no reason why the centre would not be fully let come September 13th 2011 but as it stands the raised curtain has unveiled a site with only 96 per cent of units filled.
It may not be fully occupied but there has been no shortage of interest in the development, especially since John Lewis and its sister company Waitrose, as well as fashion and homewares specialist Marks & Spencer, confirmed themselves as anchor tenants.
Burton said that many retailers followed the lead of these retail behemoths and decided that if the site was considered worthy by companies of such high stature, then it was suitable for them.
Alongside its strong focus on fashion and food, as is the case with the majority of modern shopping and leisure destinations, Westfield Stratford City provides a platform for a diverse range of retailers, from jewellery specialists Goldsmiths’ new concept store to luxury children’s company Bebe Bisou.
Other notable arrivals include French fashion brand The Kooples, which recently opened a store in central London, Tommy Kids and US clothing trader Forever 21, with the latter two continuing the growing part retailers from the other side of the Atlantic are playing in the UK retail drama.
Local pride and Olympic dreams
Westfield has stressed the importance of serving the east London community in which its stands, and thousands of jobs for local people have been created by its opening. The announcement last week that men’s streetwear brand Base has returned to its east end roots by opening at the centre is another nod to the area.
The family-run business has opened its Base and Boys Base fascias 21 years after it closed its Stratford store and moved away from the area in a seemingly permanent move away from the area of its birth.
Reflecting on the importance of maintaining a local heritage at Westfield, which is also fostered through the centre’s internal food market on the lower ground floor reflecting traditional east end trade, Base Managing Director Marc Granditer said: “Base is returning to Stratford with a mixture of nostalgia and confidence.
“We are proud to play a small part in the regeneration of the local area with Westfield Stratford City and look forward to renewing old acquaintances as well as making new friends.”
It seems at present that east London cannot presently be referenced without a mention of the 2012 Olympic Games in the same breath, and last week Westfield became the first shopping centre to be named as an official sponsor of any Olympics, helping the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (Locog) reach its domestic sponsorship target in the process.
Naturally with the Olympics arriving in London within a year of Westfield opening, the event is going to play an important part in the shopping centre’s early development, and many of the retailers are shaping their product mix and services with the Games in mind.
As the gateway to the Olympic Stadium, overlooking the venues where millions of people will descend next summer, Westfield’s visitor numbers in 2012 are sure to be significantly high – in fact an incredible 360,000 people are expected to make their way through the centre on the busiest day of the Games.
Locog CEO Paul Deighton called Westfield “a perfect fit” as an Olympic sponsor because it is set to be a major destination for both athletes and spectators during the event.
“Alongside the Olympic Park, Westfield Stratford City is a tangible example of how east London is at the start of an exciting new journey,” he explained.
“It is with great pride that this deal takes us to our target of raising £700 million in domestic sponsorship.”
Although the Olympics are an intrinsic part of Westfield Stratford City’s early development, plans to build the centre were already in place before London was awarded the rights to host the Games and the retail hub will need to remember what its initial plans were when the self-proclaimed ‘greatest show on earth’ moves out of town.
Legacy has been the buzzword used in conjunction with the Olympics ever since the bid was won, and with the innovation on display at Westfield and the investment and enthusiasm from large companies leasing space there, today’s opening could be the beginning of an east London retail legacy all of its own.