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How London's West End can capitalise on the Elizabeth Line

oxford street 1

Construction on the first section of the new Elizabeth line of the London Underground is nearing the finish line, heralding a potential 44% increase in sales in London’s West End by 2021. Drapers takes a look at how retailers plan to make the most of it when it opens in December.

By December 2018, the new Elizabeth line – also known as Crossrail – will open seven years after its £14.8bn construction began in 2011.

Retailers in London’s West End – which includes Oxford Street, Bond Street and Regent Street – are expecting turnover to surge by 44% to £13bn in the three years to 2021 after the 24-hour line opens, while footfall could grow by an additional 69.6 million visitors during the same period.

To steel themselves for this influx in an already crowded shopping district, retailers are rethinking how their flagships in the area will operate.

Debenhams, for example, is reviewing its experiential offering. Store manager Elizabeth Hardy says: “Experiences are on the agenda for us, both at Oxford Street and across the business as a whole. Our Redesign strategy [centres] around sociable shopping, and we want to encourage the whole family to come in and essentially spend the day with us.

“We’re very much looking at use of space in the store – making sure we have new fashion and beauty offers, and that we’re ready for [the footfall] when it comes.”

For Selfridges, establishing a public space for shoppers to dwell in is paramount. This involves a new triple-height customer entrance on neighbouring Duke Street, fronted by trees, a fountain and stone seating. The building will also feature bronze shopfronts.

A spokeswoman for Selfridges confirmed that construction will finish “by the summer”, alongside completion of its 60,000 sq ft accessories hall, which has been in development since 2014.

The retailer will also fund a permanent, “large scale” installation by artist Darren Almond at the Bond Street station entrance to the Elizabeth line.

We are looking at whether the entrance at the back of our store is appealing, since visitors will be coming in from there

Elizabeth Hardy, Debenhams

Jace Tyrrell, chief executive at retail representative organisation New West End Company, observes: “Retailers are going through a tough period. Profit is challenged for a whole range of reasons, from rates to costs, so we need to create different spaces and experiences in and out of the buildings.”

New West End is working with its partners on public realm improvement projects to pedestrianise more areas in and around the retail district, including a £9.85m scheme in Bond Street, expected to complete this autumn, and one in Hanover Square in Mayfair, which aims to begin works this month.

Tyrell adds: “As we look at our business plans over the next few years, we’re really focused around big transformation projects – at Oxford Street, Bond Street and Regent Street – and how we animate and curate spaces around the West End.”

Since buses are set to be rerouted to the roads behind Oxford Street’s stores, shopfloor layout is also a priority for retailers.

Hardy says Debenhams is reviewing its floor plans: “We are looking at whether the entrance at the back of our store is appealing, [and if] it has the right product assortment as well, since visitors will be coming in from there. [We want to make] the right commercial decision, and how we can maximise [it].”

She adds that “eventing” is also a key aspect, referencing the retailer’s collaboration with Elizabeth Arden on spa experiences, which has brought 1,400 spa appointments into the Oxford street store over two weeks in February.

“For us it’s about how we can market these services and what we can do in stores to give that experience to this increased footfall that will be coming,” says Hardy.

Additionally, the department store is reconsidering its trading hours and staff shifts, since it expects more shoppers to visit the West End in the evening when its accessibility increases. Later trading is also highlighted as a growing trend in retail.

Hardy says: “We’re looking at our trading hours on a week-by-week basis, so we’ll be very reactive to that. We extend our trading hours to 9pm or 10pm sometimes and that’s something we’re expecting to see – much more footfall after work with the addition of the Elizabeth line.

“So we’ll be looking at our staffing patterns, everything around that, to make sure we can fully capitalise on that extra footfall.”

Crossrail figures suggest that the Elizabeth line will bring another 1.5 million people within a 45-minute journey time to central London.

This, says Arup director Alexander Jan, will provide a significant opportunity for employers to “employ more people, because there will be a 10% increase in morning peak capacity.”

He adds: “It’s important [that companies, organisations and public sector bodies all] take advantage of the scheme in order to provide greater employment opportunities for Londoners and beyond. That will then hopefully moderate asset price growth and allow some of the [businesses] that make the West End so special and unique to survive in a commercial environment, where they would otherwise have been squeezed out.”

If the numbers are correct, this is the answer we’ve been looking for

Mark Henderson, London Luxury Quarter

Outside the primary Oxford Street, Bond Street and Regent Street areas, nearby districts such as Mayfair and Soho also expect a significant boost in footfall from the Elizabeth line.

For Mark Henderson, chairman of Savile Row tailor Gieves & Hawkes, the launch is highly anticipated.

Henderson, who is also chairman of the retail body London Luxury Quarter, which covers Mayfair and St James’s, observes: “Looking back over the past few years, we saw a point where it looked like everyone was heading out of the West End to go to Westfield [shopping centres in White City and Stratford].

“If the numbers are correct, this is the answer we’ve been looking for, and I feel optimistic about the chances of it all working.”

For Henderson, a key priority is ensuring that footfall from the new Tube line flows outwards from the core retail streets, and away from their purpose-built shopping centre rivals. This involves campaigning for increased capabilities for mixed-use projects in the public realm.

“It strikes me that we are short of good events space. There are points where we do want to have some commercial use in [nearby] squares, such as Grosvenor Square.”

Keith Bailey, location director for Mayfair at property group Grosvenor, which has been consulting on improvements to Grosvenor Square in recent months, agrees: “We feel a responsibility to provide that broader offering for the additional millions of people visiting on the Elizabeth line.

“Shopping centres [are evolving to offer] leisure and food and beverage, so the West End needs to look at itself in a similar way and provide interests, culture, community and experience in the streets around, and accessible from, the core retail streets to complement them.”

The Drapers Verdict

The launch of the Elizabeth Tube line is expected to pave the way for a flood of new visitors, workers and residents in London’s West End.

To take full advantage of the soaring footfall numbers that are predicted, it will be important for businesses with stores in the area to keep their local operations under review, from customer offering to staffing strategy.

Optimising floor space will also be crucial, since back entrances to stores will gain higher footfall numbers from re-routed traffic. The scale of potential opportunity for growth will be vast, so retailers should prepare to adapt their approaches to maximise their sales potential.

Timeline of Elizabeth line launches

Dec 2018: Paddington to Abbey Wood (Elizabeth Line, through new tunnels)

May 2019: Paddington to Shenfield (Elizabeth Line platforms)

Dec 2019: Full service, including Elizabeth Line services to Reading

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