In her role as Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield’s chief marketing officer for Europe, one of Myf Ryan’s remits is to provide customers “a reason to get off their couches”.
Thanks to the “hugely interesting environment” of retail, Ryan said she was “passionate” about understanding customers and having them “at the core of everything” Westfield did.
One of her biggest career challenges so far was attempting to “transform” the Westfield centres into “a true destination business”, rather than just a place where people make transactions for what they need or want and then leave.
Ryan’s career with Westfield started in her home country in Australia before an opportunity with the shopping centre giant brought her to the UK. For the past two years or so though, her company’s ties with Australia were severed when European shopping centre operators Unibail-Radamco acquired Westfield, to become what it now knwon as Unibail-Radamco-Westfield.
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The company an extended history. Unibail was founded in 1968 as a finance-leasing unit by a firm called Worms & Cie, while Rodamco Europe was created in 1999 from the split in four units of the Rodamco fund, created by the Robeco group. In 2007, Unibail-Rodamco was eventually born from the merger between Unibail and Rodamco Europe.
Ryan served as Westfield Australia’s group marketing manager from 2008 to 2010. She moved to the UK shortly after to work as Westfield’s general manager, overseeing everyday activities at the firm’s west London and Stratford shopping centres.
However, things changed quickly when Unibail-Radamco took over Westfield Corporation in 2017 for a reported price of $24.8 billion (£21.92 billion). While the acquisition included Westfield’s centres across Europe and the US, it didn’t include its stable of Australian and NZ shopping centres – although the Westfields all over the world continue to retain the same red branding and logos.
In her current role with Unibail-Radamco-Westfield, Ryan oversees global brand strategy and positioning, brand marketing, digital strategy, digital marketing, product development, corporate affairs and PR, and tourism.
She relocated to Paris, the company’s headquarters, in 2018 to continue working in the same role with the added responsibility of brand and strategic marketing.
“It’s about offering things like events and entertainment but it’s also about participating in shaping the city in which we’re present“
In the last year, shopping centres in the UK had reportedly taken a £2.7 billion hit thanks to struggling retailers, which on the outset, posed a danger to Westfield.
According to figures from Growthdeck Property’s investment arm, shopping centre landlords were forced to make £2.7 billion in write-downs on the value of their properties compared to just £232 million the year before.
Despite these figures, Westfield has seen a year-on-year success. Its London centres recorded an overall 6.4 per cent year-on-year uplift in footfall for the first six months of 2019, with 39.72 million visitors across both centres.
Ryan attributed the success to Westfield’s strategy, which is focused on “concentration, differentiation and innovation”.
“Concentration is where we focus on the best assets in the best locations, differentiation is ensuring our assets have a unique selling point, and innovation is where we bring the best brands and the best experiences to market,” she told Retail Gazette.
She emphasised the importance of companies having a unique selling point in today’s “much more competitive world”. She also believes the Westfield destinations are built on “transforming” experiences.
“The consumer has become the most important person for us”
“It’s about offering things like events and entertainment but it’s also about participating in shaping the city in which we’re present and helping to influence how people come together, whether they’re living, working, shopping, connecting, or being entertained,” she said.
To highlight her point, Ryan said the Islamic Eid festival which took place at Westfield London back in June was a “great example” of the firms efforts in bringing people together.
She added that the events, which have so far attracted 50,000 people to the centres, also played a part in improving the local area’s retail scene.
Meanwhile, monthly surveys are a strategy Westfield has adopted to better understand consumers as it looks to “carefully make decisions around how it will impact the customer”.
“The consumer has become the most important person for us and every decision that we make is about how will this impact the consumer,” Ryan explained.
“We do monthly surveys in both of our two London assets where we interview a minimum of 500 consumers every month to learn more.”
Ryan added that the surveys help Westfield understand what customers believe should change about the centres, what their views are on the changes, what retailers they visit, what’s important to them, and what retailers they’d like to see.
She also said the surveys helped Westfield organise events and expand its retail portfolio.
In March 2018, Westfield London unveiled its £600 million expansion, 10 years after opening its doors to the public for the first time. The expansion included a new John Lewis store, as well as new leisure offerings such as Puttshack and All Star Lanes.
The project also led to Westfield London becoming the UK’s largest shopping centre, with 740,000sq ft of space.
Ryan said that along with surveys, Westfield also undertakes a wide ranging annual future research programme called How We Shop, which helps Ryan to “keep ahead of the curve in terms of the trends that are coming out”.
“The previous How We Shop report actually highlighted trends such as the Trending Store which launched at Westfield London as a platform to advertise retailers’ most trendy clothing,” she told Retail Gazette.
The new How We Shop report for the whole of continental Europe is expected to be released in early 2020.
Westfield’s determination to expand hasn’t ended, either, with Ryan pointing to its Destination 2028 concept. She said the motivation behind the concept came from the urge to illustrate what retail destinations could look like in the next decade.
“There’s been an enormous shift over the past 10 years, so why should the next 10 years be any different?,” she added.
Meanwhile, one development that is currently ongoing is Westfield Croydon, which is being done in partnership with fellow shopping centre giant Hammerson. But the £1.4 billion project for south London has been delayed – construction was expected to begin this year in September, with the opening date slated for 2023.
Speaking to Drapers, SME businesses said the establishment would be “too little too late” to save Croydon’s struggling retail scene.
“Westfield is absolutely committed to Croydon”
However, Ryan insisted Westfield was “absolutely committed to Croydon”.
“We are currently reviewing the scheme so that it fits for the future changing consumer needs,” she told Retail Gazette.
“It will include mixed use, including residential. We will be providing delivery timeline updates once we have completed the review of that development.”
While trying to grow Westfield’s brand awareness as well as help expand the company, Ryan admitted to not having a main platform for advertising. Instead, Westfield relies on platforms that are relevant to the campaign it launches.
“Most recently, we launched the new ‘Come Together’ campaign, which was created for the rollout of the Westfield brands across the 10 new assets in continental Europe,” she explained.
For each market, Westfield used a traditional mass market medium such as billboards, while also undertaking a large amount of activity through social media channels because Ryan believes it’s a “much more relevant touch point for the younger consumers”.
“Our media strategy has shifted quite dramatically as we’ve taken the approach of the customer into the channel, so rather than it being online or offline, it is now very much around ‘we have to be communicating consumers through whichever channel they choose to communicate’,” Ryan said.
She was also positive about the future of Westfield, and re-iterated the committment to ensuring the continued success of its UK and continental European centres.
“The single biggest challenge has been the seismic shift in what a shopping centre actually needs to mean to consumers of today,” Ryan said.