While unexpected snow may have fallen, retail’s spring collections have sprung. Drapers headed out on our Hit or Miss survey to rate the retailers of the new Westgate Oxford shopping centre.
The £440m development opened last October, adding 100 units to the city’s retail offer. Drapers’ mystery shopper tested 16 womenswear stores, judging each one on its product offer, value for money, customer service and overall shopping experience, plus presentation – its visual merchandising, design and layout. Each category was marked out of five for a maximum total score of 25.
As Westgate is brand new, the general standard of stores was extremely high and, while some retailers were let down by tame product offers or overly summer-focused ranges, many excelled as they showed their most up-to-date store concepts. The fresh stores and open space made for a thoroughly enjoyable experience – exceeding centres surveyed in recent seasons’ Hit or Miss reports, and making the case for shopping centre modernisation.
Stores were visited on 13 March.
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In a sea of plain glass storefronts, Reiss’s moody, dark-tinted windows, arranged into zigzags stand out with a minimalist, premium look. Slatted wooden display shelves and tables in pale wood and heavy marble, along with statement beam decorations inside, give a sophisticated feel that chimes perfectly with the product mix.
A nice touch is a subtle use of perfume throughout the store – it elevates the experience as a premium, thoughtful addition.
Changing rooms are hidden from view of the wider store and maintain this level of sophistication – they are spacious, and have high ceilings and flattering lighting. A tilted mirror in the cubicle is the only flaw, as it makes my reflection looks distorted.
The service in Reiss is by far the best of all the stores I visited. There is only one member of staff on the shop floor when I enter, and they are busy with another customer, but I am nonetheless greeted quickly and offered assistance. They offer sizing and styling advice, and are very friendly. When in the changing room, I am offered a pair of heels to try with my outfit, and the assistant checks whether I need any other sizes or items while I am trying on. Other customers are also receiving a similar level of service at the same time, despite the small number of staff in the store.
The overall premium feel is reflected in the product offer, which focuses on chic formal separates and smart dresses. All the pieces are relatively pared back and sophisticated, and acknowledge trends with clever cuts and luxurious fabrics.
A metallic pleated midi-skirt (£150), for example, is trend led but in a grown-up way. The price points are generally quite high, and while the products feel beautiful – good quality and thoughtfully designed – many are 100% polyester and some prices graze £200 for non-natural fibres, which is not great value for money.
This pricing level is generally consistent, so a shearling jacket at £925 stands out as a discrepancy. While it is good quality, it is too much of a jump in price from the rest of the offer.
Mint velvet score
Contemporary and cosy, Mint Velvet presents classic, casual basics in a relaxed, stylish manner. Parkas, light jackets, jeans and jumpers form the core of the collection.
They are all good quality, well made in pleasingly tactile fabrics, and generally priced appropriately, although there are exceptions.
A cashmere mix slogan jumper is soft and chic, and good value at £69, but in contrast, an embroidered cactus-pattern top at £79 feels pricey for a simple piece. Pops of colour – tangerine and pink in particular – and quirky prints and slogans, such as a sketched face print and “COSMIC” slogan jumper, give a vibrancy to classic cuts and basic items.
Alongside the strong range of casual items there are several standout statement dresses, which add a daring note to a generally everyday – albeit playful – collection. A fully lined leopard-print maxi-shirt dress (good value at £119) is a highlight. It combines a daring print with a classic shape that results in an approachable take on a bold look.
The design of the store gives off a similar sense of simple contemporary luxury that reflects the quality of the clothing. Slate grey walls, wooden flooring and slanted metal fittings lend a sophisticated Scandinavian vibe. With its coal-toned interior and warm lighting, the store draws the eye when I am walking through Westgate, and the well-styled mannequins in the windows – dressed in a chic selection of basics – represent the best of the collection.
The changing rooms are spacious and well lit, although I initially struggle with the long curtain before I am assisted by the staff.
When I request a different size dress from the attending shop assistant, it appears almost immediately, along with the offer of a pair of heels to wear and test its length.
The staff are friendly and chatty throughout my visit, and add to the warm atmosphere in store.
Ted baker score
Ted Baker’s Oxford store pays homage to the city’s rich heritage in a quirky manner that sets it apart from other generic shopfits. Boating references are dotted throughout – oars replace door handles and are hung from the ceiling on rope netting. The fitting rooms feature sumptuous red leather seating, reflecting the city’s famous punts.
The rest of the store mirrors Ted Baker’s product predilection for botanicals, and feels like an English garden greenhouse. Wrought-iron shelving is used to display accessories, along with low table displays that mean the eye roves through the store. However, it is small and packed with product. Manoeuvring around some stands is a squeeze, and I knock myself on some of the shelving.
Ted Baker is the only retailer tested where staff noticeably carry portable tablet devices, which they use to order alternative sizes into the store for next-day delivery – a handy and useful feature. However, staff are very hesitant to assist with fit guidance. Ted Baker’s 1, 2, 3, 4 sizing is not the standard 8, 10, 12 or S, M, L – and although they do assist when I ask, advice is not offered willingly or with confidence.
The brand’s classic styles – florals and a focus on party dressing– dominate the offer. While these items no doubt draw in the loyal Ted customer, the product that really shines is the contemporary Colour by Numbers range. It is fresh, playful and feminine – a youthful update on the typical Ted Baker aesthetic.
Highlights in the range include a striped knitted dress (£139), feather-print shirt dress (£169) and fringed cable knit jumper (£139). They are well made and premium quality – clever details and rich fabrics justify the price. The range sits well alongside the main line and is unique enough to tempt in a different kind of consumer – making for a cleverly varied offer.
& Other stories
& other stories score
The wide, spacious interior of & Other Stories is bright, airy and calming. Lit in warm tones and with pot plants dotted around the space, it has the pleasantly welcoming feel of a trendy loft apartment.
Accessories and jewellery are displayed on minimalist bookcase-like stands that simultaneously showcase the product in an interesting way and add to the store’s relaxed browsing experience.
Fitting rooms are spacious and pleasant – a handy magnet in the cubicle curtain ensures it stays closed. However, there are only six fitting rooms, which seems like too few given the large size of the store. The changing area is unmanned, so I am unable to request other sizes from the staff when trying on items. Aside from this, however, the staff are friendly and helpful. They direct me to the website when my size is not in stock in store – although click and collect is not available.
& Other Stories shines with its product offer, which blends feminine pieces and sporty separates. Ditsy floral dresses in sheer fabrications dominate the mix in a wide range of shapes and styles, but sit alongside oversized hoodies and straight-leg jeans for a more masculine feel.
Pieces that reference the Western trend are a strong addition, and a direction not seen in other trend-led stores – a studded cropped black jacket (reasonable value at £125) and shirt dress with piping (well priced at £69) are a subtle interpretation.
The mix of items feels distinct from that of other stores with a similar target market. It is appropriate for a chilly March – jumpers and coats are on show, and summer items such as swimwear are present but not dominant.
Value is good, and sits at the upper end of the high street. A trench coat for £110 is solidly made, and has a delicate cuff detail, while dresses are around £70. One red midi-dress with tie detailing (£89) is a standout in terms of value – it is cut to hang flatteringly, and comes in a vibrant and bold shade of scarlet.
Uniqlo is known for its basics, but it is the subtle integration of nifty bells and whistles that shines in its Oxford store. With a huge glass storefront dominating one side of Westgate, the Uniqlo branding is eye-catching, and mannequins in the vast windows are dressed in a rainbow of bright colours.
Inside, the collection is arranged according to colour. The store is packed with racks and stands, all of which are neatly organised, except for a single rummaged stand on the second floor. However, there is no clear logic to which items belong upstairs or downstairs, and the collection spreads indiscriminately over the two floors. The same style of puffa jackets, for example, appears both downstairs and upstairs.
The changing rooms are a little cramped, have unflattering lighting and are slightly chilly.
The aforementioned puffa jackets are a highlight – excellent value at £59.90 for a premium-quality item that is well made, well fitting, warm and available in numerous colours. They are the retailer’s signature for a good reason.
Hooded trench coats (£79.99) and floral midi-dresses (£34.90) add a casual, trend-led spin and are made with technical fabrics for wind- and waterproofing. It is a smart addition for a relatively low price, and good value.
Uniqlo offers a comprehensive in-store ordering system: a touchscreen station where any item on the website can be sent either to the store or to a home address. Uniqlo also offers free, same-day alterations for trousers. Despite the relatively low prices, this feels like a premium service.
Although staff are difficult to locate in such a large store, the fitting room attendants are helpful and efficient. They are able to provide more details on the alteration services and retrieve alternative sizes very swiftly.
The overall experience is one of practicality and pragmatism, in which everything is arranged and designed to execute its purpose. It is not a particularly exciting experience, but shows impressive functionality.
Primark’s Westgate store moves away from the functional nature of some branches, and is pleasantly designed and merchandised. The entrance features trend-led spring products arranged on white wire racks, and quirky neon signage makes for a fun addition.
The mannequins are elevated above the collection, so their outfits can be easily seen. They are all styled in a summery manner, and the collection is very casual. I am, however, unable to find some of the items displayed on the mannequins, which is frustrating. A floral midi-dress (£15) and broderie anglaise shirt dress (£10) are both good quality for the affordable price. The activewear is particularly impressive – it has a large range and wide sizing offer. The items are also good value here: £5 cropped tops and £8 leggings in fashionable prints.
Despite the impressive front to the store, the racks are untidy, particularly towards the back of the shop. Some rails are crammed to bursting with product, and it is difficult to search through the sizes. The jeans and T-shirt sections are untidy, and a lot of items are falling off their hangers. Even during my visit 30 minutes after opening, I find items soiled with orange foundation marks.
Primark picks up points for its excellent fitting rooms. They are clutter free, flatteringly lit and spacious, and have doors that close fully and multi-directional mirrors that allow outfits to be seen from every angle. Crucially in this large store, there are at least 20 fitting rooms – including two dedicated cubicles for disabled people. The fitting room staff are too busy to fetch additional items for me, but employees elsewhere in the store are very helpful. When a product does not have a price tag, it takes less than a minute for the staff member to call and find out the cost – it is done immediately and in a friendly fashion.
Cos has carefully targeted a niche aesthetic of minimalist, pared-back and experimental high street designs. The Westgate store perfectly epitomises this, and the shelves and space are impeccably neat and geometrically precise – the store is broken into cubes by heavy, brushed metal display racks with wide open spaces, making it easy to browse. Clothing is organised by colour, which is aesthetically pleasing but sometimes confusing – co-ordinating styles end up dotted across the store.
The collection features an appealing palette of apple green, pink and burgundy set against the dominant neutral tones, and the collection as a whole is a strong and varied offer. In among the structural dresses and crisply cut separates, Cos also features some unusual and less wearable items. A voluminous bright green midi-dress (£69), for example, is interesting to look at but hard to imagine as a bestseller, as it seems neither flattering nor particularly well made – it has loose thread ends and a falling hem. In general, however, the fabrics feel like good quality and items are well made, which benefits Cos’s minimalist aesthetic – designed to foreground fabrics and cuts. It also reflects the brand’s more premium positioning. A short-sleeved shirt costs £59 and a casual pair of chinos are good value at £55.
While staff are helpful, they are slightly brusque. They tell me that sizes and styles are sold out in store, but do not offer any alternative methods of buying – and they do not direct me to buy online.
White stuff score
In collection and store alike, White Stuff brims with whimsy. The theme of “head in the clouds” is celebrated in the store’s eye-catching windows – featuring fluffy clouds and motifs of apples, lips and donkeys – and continues throughout the space. Lamps hang from ladders on the ceiling, while books crafted into sculptures and bike handles adorn the walls as artwork.
In the fitting rooms, each is individually decorated in a homespun manner, with mismatched door knobs and blackboards outside, as well as flattering lighting and soft carpeting. They are not staffed, however, so I am unable to request alternative sizes.
I am not greeted on arrival into the store and am ignored by staff until I approach them to ask questions. They are quick to highlight the store’s click-and-collect service, but do not give a great amount of detail.
The space is cosily crowded with product, all of which holds a sense of eccentricity. Shapes are generally loose, and with long hems and sleeves. Fabrications tend to be either jersey or linens in bright patterns and painterly florals – all of which are well suited to a mid-market customer. The price points – £35 for a jersey T-shirt, £59.95 for a viscose dress – are reflective of the quality of the items. They are not a particular bargain, but lower than other stores, such as Hobbs, that target a similar customer. The variety in prints and a more colourful, boho-inspired aesthetic set White Stuff apart from competitors such as Joules.
The store is very pleasant to browse – there is a Wendy house for children in the fitting rooms, free tea, coffee and biscuits on offer, and a community message board, crammed with adverts for craft classes, tutors and dog walkers. If anything, the curiosities on display distract a little from the product, and make the store feel a little wild and rambling, but they do not overly damage the experience.
Hobbs appeals to its mature target market with impressive accuracy in its Westgate store. In a small space the shop manages to create a traditional townhouse aesthetic with panelled walls, sconce lighting and wooden flooring. The lighting is warm and inviting, and is equally flattering in the changing rooms, which are spacious and softly carpeted, albeit unattended by staff.
Unfortunately, the front of the store is dominated by the Sale. Although it is relatively neatly displayed, it does not reveal the store’s potential.
The windows are also dominated by Sale promotions, and tulip-shaped stickers displayed across the bottom of the glass look cheap – undermining the classy design and product within the store.
The collection comes in flattering shapes and fabrics. Dresses are made from soft cottons rather than stretchy, clinging materials, and designs feature classic pencil shapes and empire lines, as well as structured skirt suiting. Sleeveless pieces are displayed alongside co-ordinating cardigans or jackets – clever merchandising that is helpful to shoppers.
The colour palette is generally muted, but there are occasional pops of lime green and pink alongside dainty florals, which make for a stylish and interesting take on smart dressing.
Compared with stores with a similar price point, the pieces feel particularly well constructed, and are good value for money.
A £179 suit jacket and £159 dress are structured and solid but still elegant, and a cotton-mix shift dress in a floral print (£139) uses a plush, textured fabric to elevate an otherwise simple item.
Staff are friendly, speak fluently about the different designs and styles they have on offer in store and online, and can order items into the store via click and collect.
Joules’ signature combination of florals and stripes is the focal point for its Westgate store. Walking in through the charming yellow shop frontage, the overwhelming impact is of Joules prints across items from sun hats (£24.95) to dresses (£59.95), rain macs (£44.95) and tops (from £19.95) – not to mention the lifestyle offer. While the print is pretty and no doubt sells well, it feels overly dominant and makes the store seem very one-note.Dotted throughout these pieces, however are several well-priced, high-quality and good-value takes on British staples. A star-knit jumper in a cotton and wool mix (£64.95) is cosy and playful, and I like a crisp cotton shirt with a butterfly print (good value at £44.95)
While most items are well priced, some of the T-shirts seem a touch expensive for basics: a sleeveless viscose top is over-priced at £49.95. The full-price offer is well geared for the changeable British weather – jackets and rain macs sit alongside jumpers and wellingtons, making for an appropriately seasonal offer and not simply holiday dressing.
Joules is partly in Sale when I visit, which undermines a beautiful store. The entrance is messy thanks to Sale rails, and the window displays are given over to Sale advertising. Other than that, the store is light, airy and pleasant. The changing rooms are spacious, and have solid doors and nice carpets, as well as plenty of hooks for clothing. A couple of scuffs on the wall and a very small seat let down an otherwise pleasant area.
The fitting rooms are unmanned as I browse, but an attendant appears as I make my way over – although when I try to ask for other sizes, I am unable to find an assistant without returning to the main store. Sizes are fetched from the stockroom very swiftly, and I am offered the option to order alternative sizes or colours into the store if I wish.
Despite a modern, glass storefront and appealing window displays of summer separates, Westgate’s Next store seems confused by its own proposition. The visual merchandising and design of the store is fantastic. It taps into a chic feel similar to & Other Stories and Joules – pot plants, mosaic floors and basket lamps, as well as soft furnishings, plush sofas and rugs, convey an overall effect of a luxe, bohemian home.
This was particularly evident in the fitting rooms, which are clearly designed to cater to group shopping trips. A sofa sits in the centre of the area, and there is comfortable seating in each cubicle. Flattering peach-toned lighting adds to an overall cosy feel. Although the fitting rooms are unmanned, shop floor staff are friendly and attentive, and have good knowledge of the click-and-collect and delivery options for out-of-stock products.
The strong store is let down by the product, which feels limited and dated. Jersey and linen basics in floral prints dominate the offer, and the collection is focused on summer dressing and boxy shapes. A linen skirt at £22 is excellent value, but is displayed in large numbers in six different prints and dominates the casual section of the store. It makes for a rather dowdy focal point, and conceals more interesting items.
The strong activewear offer targets a more mature consumer and features bright colours on leggings in a subtle way. The formal and eveningwear options in the store are limited to just a few dresses and smart separates. Some of these items jar with the mumsy feel that dominates the casualwear offer.
In the same store as a boxy linen shift dress Next displays a pair of directional metallic rose gold pleated culottes (£30) – the contrast is so strong that it is hard to imagine a demographic that would seek out both styles.
An in-store scent can make or break a shopping experience. Some retailers tested used subtle, neutral perfumes, but on entering Oasis I am greeted by an overwhelming, sickly, flowery cloud. The entire store is designed with an hyper-feminine aesthetic, although this is much more palatable visually than it is nasally. Dainty floral decorations, white wood panelling and a soft pink colour scheme give the feeling of a girly home. This is echoed in the store exterior, which looks like a large townhouse.
There are several details in the store that make visiting Oasis a pleasant experience. A “letterbox” behind the tills where the staff put used hangers is a charming touch, and each product is wrapped in tissue paper upon purchase. This gives a more premium feel to a mid-priced retailer.
However, there is a confusing split halfway down the store, where the open airy space gives way to a dark carpeted area. This does not seem to serve a purpose – such as dividing daywear and eveningwear – as product is varied throughout the store.
Staff are helpful, friendly and, chatty, offering advice on styling options for the items I try on.
Unfortunately, in the fitting rooms there is no chair in the cubicle, I have to put some of my items on the floor, and the curtain fails to completely pull across the door.
Floral prints and classic dresses dominate the product mix, which is generally good quality, but occasionally feels over-priced.
A bird-print wrap dress for £55 is sophisticated and well-made, but a jersey wrap dress in an extremely thin fabric and almost cartoonish design feels over-priced at £40 – H&M and Primark offer similar styles and quality at half the cost.
As one of Westgate’s flagship stores, this branch of H&M is vast. It has white flooring and walls, strong – but not harsh – lighting and a huge array of product. A particular draw is the sizable beauty offer, which is lit with a soft golden glow. The rest of the store is attractive, but the beauty area shines and feels like the focal point.
Entering the store, trend-led items dominate the mix with a range that is low priced, reasonable quality and good value. A pair of pearl-embellished jeans (£34.99) are chic and well made, and the pearls are securely attached as studs, rather than loosely sewn on. Catwalk influences are evident, and Balenciaga-inspired floral dresses and sportswear separates are dotted through the store. The shop, though, is dominated by basics – floral shirts appear in seemingly endless variations.
With a collection spread over two large floors, the offer begins to feel slightly repetitive when walking around the space, and there are too many similar items. The back of the store is full of basics and far less engaging than the entrance. Quality is generally good value for the low prices, but some items are impractical – for example, a white polka-dot wrap midi-dress (£44) is almost entirely transparent. A selection of roll-neck jumpers (£24.99) are badly pulled out of shape by their hangers.
It is difficult to locate members of staff, even in the fitting rooms. These are brightly lit and have a good multi-directional mirror. When I ask for additional sizes I am advised to check a nearby H&M myself, rather than being offered online delivery. Compared with the multichannel offers of most other stores, and the inefficiency of staff in highlighting these, this is disappointing.
Unlike many stores, the Superdry offer feels wintry – a small summer offer is hidden in a corner. Good-quality puffas and parkas are good value at around £104 – and placing them at the store entrance is a smart choice given the icy weather that grips the country in the days after Drapers’ visit. The summer offer does not reflect such value for money. A striped jersey dress is practically see-through, and is over-priced at £34.
Beyond outerwear and branded hoodies, Superdry’s offer is heavily influenced by high-end brands channelling the heritage sportswear trend. Colours and patterns overtly reference the style of Tommy Hilfiger. The collection does not feel very original and the designs are not as appealing as those they mimic. The sportswear offer is strong, however: a good range of leggings and sports bras come in sturdy well-made styles and bright colours.
I am cheerfully greeted on entry to the store – one of only two places this happens during my visit to Westgate. The staff are helpful and quick when they direct me to the fitting rooms, and swiftly fetch alternative sizes.
The store is large, and has a huge amount of product. The dark walls and dim lighting mean it is a little overwhelming and hard to navigate – at one point I almost fall over a mop and bucket that have been abandoned next to a rack of T-shirts. The layout displays a huge array of products, and so it is impressive how neat the store is.
Superdry branding is at the foreground. Spotlights shine directly on to products – for a retailer so focused on bold branding, it shows off the product very effectively. The huge orange Superdry logo on the front of the store is also the perfect lure for a brand-focused shopper.
Although the changing rooms are spacious, and have hefty doors and large mirrors, they feel very exposed as they are located within the men’s coats section. I am reluctant to actually try on my items given how visible the fitting rooms feel. I would be unwilling to emerge having tried on items to look in the secondary mirror, as I would be visible throughout the store.
River island score
River Island marks its 30-year anniversary in 2018, and the large, bright Westgate store is full of celebratory decorations themed around neon “30” road signs. These are fun and quirky, and draw the eye into the store, as do the vibrantly dressed mannequins surrounding them.
However, the clothes are a little lacking. Given the focus on an Instagram-friendly, selfie generation, none of the designs really draw the eye, and there is a focus on basics rather than the trend-led pieces River Island normally offers.
Almost half the store is given over to jeans, most of which are skinny, jegging styles, and a lot of the offer feels predictable and limited – this may be in part because of the dominant Sale section. There are exceptions to the focus on basics – a pair of trend-led flared jeans (reasonable value at £42) are fun – but even some of the more daring items feel dated or of poor quality. A tasselled sweater (£35) is flimsy, its tassels are falling off the sleeves and its dirty pink colour just looks grubby.
Prices are generally low, but some seem expensive for the quality. In addition to the pink sweater, a pair of silky trousers in a thin material with loose hems do not justify a £42 price tag.
The fitting rooms are unmanned and I struggle to find staff even when I look back into the store. Although the multichannel link-up to stores is strong – the options for next-day click-and-collect and to order from the store to home are signalled by signs on the wall – they are not mentioned by the busy staff when I ask about sizing and style availability.
New look score
Despite the store being barely six months old, New Look is already looking rough around the edges when Drapers visits. The space itself could be excellent. It has high ceilings, bright lighting and a modern, minimalist aesthetic, and also features charming “boutique” detailing such as cage lamps and panelling on walls. The store’s glass frontage is very impressive: colour-popping campaign images and summer-focused clothing create a bright and appealing window.
Unfortunately, the store is unkempt. There are balls of dust on the floor, scuff marks on the walls and stairs, and broken light-bulbs. Clothing is frequently dangling off hangers and some racks are only stocked with one item or are entirely empty. This is particularly disappointing given that I visit at 11am on a Tuesday, not long after the store opens. I am prevented from entering the fitting rooms by a pile of boxes, and I am told
I cannot try on items because the fitting rooms are closed for the day. No reason is given. Staff are friendly, but are busy elsewhere and are reluctant to assist me as I shop.
The offer is dominated by thin jersey basics, and there is no clear trend-led lure within the collection. While these basics are good
value – £8 for two jersey vests, for example – everything feels extremely safe. Floral and boho summer dresses and basic denim are nice enough, and a fake leather, burgundy bucket bag (£15.99) is sophisticated. However, New Look cannot compete with Primark or H&M in terms of price, quality or design, and the basics at Next are better value and quality.
Swimwear and summer items dominate the store, which seems premature given that the spring season has only just launched. There is not much that could be bought and worn immediately. Given the snow that falls across the country three days after Drapers’ visit, it is hard to imagine New Look’s warm weather offer holding much appeal for local shoppers.