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Stratford faces an identity test

It took me 25 minutes to get from River Island to Forever 21. I was engulfed by a mass of shoppers, moving at a snail’s pace over a distance that under normal circumstances would have taken me three or four minutes.

It took me 25 minutes to get from River Island to Forever 21. I was engulfed by a mass of shoppers, moving at a snail’s pace over a distance that under normal circumstances would have taken me three or four minutes.

This was the scene during opening morning at Westfield Stratford City this week, which equalled those seen at its sister site in White City in terms of first-day footfall, as the masses descended to see what all the fuss was about.

The site was officially opened with a traditional for-the-cameras ribbon-cutting ceremony featuring the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, and a host of retail VIPs including Marks & Spencer’s Marc Bolland and Arcadia’s Sir Phillip Green. Boris blustered through a speech that included references to French tourists visiting the new centre - which apparently offers many brands 20% cheaper than across the Channel.

But in the audience most of our thoughts were closer to home. Who exactly was the target UK audience for Stratford and how would it affect trade elsewhere in the Southeast?
Lakeside and Bluewater must be worried, for a start, although those I spoke to in the West End, having weathered White City quite successfully, were less concerned. They see Stratford as having more of a focus on the leisure economy, with its restaurants, cafes, and cinema making it a night-time hub.

My view is that while the individual stores had made a huge effort with some stunning shopfits, the centre itself, with lower ceilings and linear layout, lacks the wow factor of White City, and certainly it is less aligned with luxury. If you fought past the crowds on the walkways, the numbers of people actually shopping were significantly less.

Once the dust settles it will be interesting to see who the loyal shoppers are. After the Olympics, Stratford will need to find its place in the UK retail ranks to prosper longer term.

Caroline Nodder Editor-in-Chief

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