Can London's £1.6bn megamall Westfield hit target?

LONDON - Westfield London, the much-anticipated West London shopping mall, will become the biggest in-town shopping centre in Europe when it opens its doors next month. However, its launch comes at a difficult time, coinciding with a retail slowdown that has caused the fall of many high-street stores.

The centre hopes its positioning as a premium entertainment hub, with 265 shops as well as a food quarter, library, gym, spa and 14-screen cinema complex, will help it ride out any recession.

The 43-acre site, which took five years and £1.6bn to build, is anchored by Next, Waitrose, Debenhams, Marks & Spencer and House of Fraser. In consideration of its affluent catchment area, which includes Holland Park and Kensington, the mall will also offer a dedicated area for luxury retailers. The Village, which has been designed by New York architect Michael Gabellini, will be anchored by Louis Vuitton and house 40 inter-national luxury brands including Prada, De Beers and Gucci.

According to Beth Dunbar, The Village's retail design manager, tenant brands have been encouraged to build flagship stores and were given strict shopfit design guidelines. 'Many of the shop fronts are 8m high, which doesn't fit the regular store format of some high-street retailers. We have encour-aged them to do something different,' she says. 'The standard is extremely high and the retailers are trying to outdo each other.'

Several brands are relaunching to coincide with the centre's opening on 30 October. Lingerie chain La Senza, for example, will expand its high- and low-end ranges ahead of the opening of its biggest UK store on the site. Specialist retailer London Luggage, meanwhile, is repositioning as a high-end brand with expanded premium offerings for the opening of its flagship store on the development.

Rival shopping destinations in the London area are steeling themselves for the opening. Brent Cross, which opened in North-West London in 1976, will run an ad campaign at the end of the month, while The New West End Company, the retail management body that represents London's West End, is investing £1.5bn in the area over the next five years.

However, neither attributes this activity to the arrival of Westfield London, and the latter's head of communications, Jace Tyrrell, claims that the centre will not be a threat. 'London's West End competes with Paris, New York and Milan,' he says. 'Half of our visitors are tourists who are unlikely to visit a shopping centre in Shepherd's Bush.'

Linsey Wooldridge, senior marketing manager at Westfield UK, disagrees, however. 'There is a lot of money coming into London,' she argues.

'Our marketing communications will initially target Londoners, but from next year we will go after high-spending tourists, too.'

While some experts believe that Westfield London will prosper in the densely populated and affluent West London area, others warn that shops may struggle after the novelty wears off. 'Any new destination attracts initial interest, but there has been a recent tail-off in people going to out-of-town destinations. More consumers are shopping in their local areas,' says Helen Dickinson, UK head of retail at KPMG.

Sven Olsen, global account director at Leo Burnett, who worked on the launch campaign for Bluewater, believes that Westfield London will have to promote itself as a unique shopping experience to maintain footfall. 'It may have retailers such as Prada and Louis Vuitton, but if you have the money, wouldn't you rather shop for those brands on Bond Street?' he asks. 'Westfield London is going to have to work a lot harder than that to differentiate itself from London's other shopping areas.'

With the bigger Westfield Stratford City site in East London due to open ahead of the 2012 Olympics, Westfield London must also work to ensure that it won't become overshadowed and outdated in just three years' time.



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