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160,000 flock to Westfield Stratford

Retailers hit first day sales targets but said many visitors left empty-handed.

Despite more than 160,000 people descending on Westfield Stratford City on its first day of trading, some of its retailers were left disappointed as thousands came to spectate and many left empty-handed.

The £1.45bn mall had been expected to receive 100,000 shoppers but more than 160,000 turned up - equalling the number that visited its sister site, Westfield London in Shepherd’s Bush, on its first day of trading three years ago.

Although fashion retailers hailed the first day as a success, with trading higher than a normal store opening, they said many people came just to see firsthand Europe’s largest urban shopping mall, which at 1.9 million sq ft is roughly the size of 25 football pitches, to watch the entertainment, including singer Nicole Scherzinger, and to enjoy some food and drink in the spacious refreshment areas.

Fat Face chief executive Anthony Thompson, who was “very pleased” with the retailer’s opening day takings, said: “We beat our expectations and were significantly up on our budget. But against the number of people in the scheme, we probably did less business than we expected. A lot of people were there out of curiosity rather than for serious shopping. The real test will be over the next few weekends.”

Lawrence Davies, owner of premium indie Choice, said the first day was in line with expectations, but added that “most people weren’t there to shop” rather they “were there for the freebies”.

Larry Meyer, chief executive of fast-fashion chain Forever 21, agreed that many people were window shopping rather than parting with cash. But he added: “Sales were very good, above expectations.”

John Lewis buying director for fashion Peter Ruis said: “Obviously the day was more of a party than a typical shopping day, and with the various events [happening in the centre] navigation across the centre was hard. In that context it was a real surprise to see such exceptional sales. So yes, an exciting start.”

Reiss brand director Andy Rogers, who likened the day to a “Wembley Stadium concert”, said trade was like a “very good day on [Chelsea’s] King’s Road”. He added: “Many people were leaving empty-handed but there was definitely shopping.”

Opinions from retailers were also mixed over the performance of the first day’s trade compared with the Shepherd’s Bush opening.

Ken Bartle, chairman of footwear retailer Jones Bootmaker, said: “It was a really good day. It was better than we thought. We took twice as much as on the opening day at Westfield Shepherd’s Bush.”

But Michael Ziff, chief executive of Barratts Priceless, which opened a Barratts store at Stratford, said the footwear retailer’s takings were down compared with its Shepherd’s Bush store’s opening day. “People weren’t shopping, it was busy with spectators and people who wanted some leisure. Trade wasn’t as good as White City but was probably within 10% of the takings,” he said.

Despite the number of spectators, retailers said they were optimistic over the future of the shopping centre, which contains 300 stores.

Steven Cohen, managing director of value menswear retailer Blue Inc, said: “A store matures over a period of time and a shopping centre matures over time, but we are still very satisfied with our first day.”

Read more news and view image galleries from Westfield

Drapers comment

One thing that united the likes of Zara, John Lewis and Topman as Westfield Stratford City opened was facelessness. Or, rather, the lack of facial features on the mannequins.
It was pretty much the only trend. The two anchors, John Lewis and Marks & Spencer, showcased new equipment and in-store displays and overall there was a feeling of newness, but occasionally the finer elements had to be pointed out. Topman brand director Dave Shepherd was typical of the evident enthusiasm as he pointed to new wooden fixtures, suspended rails and tweaks to accessory displays.
The big question is why a good number of retailers failed to be under starter’s orders. H&M had a hoarding announcing it would be open on September 30. But perhaps the real stars of the show were the few unoccupied external units. The Westfield team had filled the windows of these with beautiful visual merchandising.
John Ryan, stores editor

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