The night before opening it was still a building site, but Westfield London shopping centre in White City snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, with 85% of shops ready for opening day.
It was a shame that US young fashion chain Hollister wasn’t ready and that much of the luxury area The Village was a wasteland, but in the end the opening last week was a triumph.
The layout of Westfield London works well, but did every retailer raise their game in terms of store design, as Marks & Spencer chairman Sir Stuart Rose claimed? M&S certainly did, with clearer departmentalisation and better flooring, even if they were coming off a low base in terms of the uninspiring look of their new stores.
Next only made slight progress in terms of the recent impressive image seen in its latest stores. Young fashion chain River Island always seems able to move up a gear in terms of visual merchandising and stay ahead of the copycats, while House of Fraser did a great job in matching its new upmarket positioning, and another department store, Debenhams, played it safe with a classy but dull black and white look.
But sportswear retailer Sports Direct plumbed new depths with a cramped, untidy store that is rightly banished to a loft reached by a narrow staircase from the upper mall.
Apart from asking why Westfield wanted Sports Direct in the centre and how far Brent Cross shopping centre will be hit by customer deflection, that leaves just two questions: why didn’t Westfield put as much effort into the centre’s exterior, which is uninspiring, and how many of the new shops will still be there when the rent-free period ends?
Nick Bubb is a retail analyst at financial services firm Pali International