Monday, 27 April 2009

Shop Talk: Westfield

Back in October when the Westfield mega-mall opened in London, we blogged about this event without much enthusiasm (to say the least). Now, almost six months later, we've finally got round to visiting it and we were really impressed. So impressed were we by the immaculate interiors and the large, calm (near deserted) shops, that we ended up buying things, totally uncharacteristically, from Uniqlo, and a couple of other 'high street' stores. All the usual high street suspects are there, along with several supermarkets and department stores, and lots of places to eat, and there's a large range of mass market fashion shops (ranging from H&M and New Look, up to the more exclusive ones like Reiss and Cos), while the shopping environment is infinitely preferable to battling along a crowd and traffic infested Oxford Street to get to these brands' flagship stores. Inside Westfield everything is there within close proximity, it's bright, it's climate controlled, it's peaceful, there's a lot of polished stone everywhere, there's smart furniture to sit on if you get tired, and the lavatories are really nice. Yes, it's a bit bland and soulless (but Oxford Street isn't?!) and, yes, it's a bit tacky in a sort of Dubai-esque way (it all feels very 'non British'.. far too polished and customer-orientated), but it is much smarter than other British shopping malls, and it puts a whole different spin on shopping for 'high street' clothes, and experience that is normally associated in our minds with battling along a heaving, dirty street to get to an equally packed store that resembles a bomb site, with merchandise spread everywhere.

The quietness, of course, is a bit of a problem for Westfield, even though it's partly why we liked it so much (seeing places like Topshop and Uniqlo calm, and orderly, with space to breath and a good staff-customer ratio is quite novel, and it completely changed the way we perceive the whole experience). Granted, it was around midday on a rainy monday when we visited, but there have been reports that Westfield hasn't been attracting as many customers as they would like, with a few of the shops struggling to stay in business, and in some ways the timing of their opening couldn't have been any worse given the current economic state. Still, there was definitely life to it when we visited - just not too much, as is the case on Oxford Street - and a £1.6 billion project has to have a fairly long term outlook.

We were also surprised by 'The Village,' the luxury shopping area. We had rather assumed it wouldn't take off, but nearly everything was open (although Louis Vuitton, Valentino, and M Missoni were still under construction) and there were people browsing who looked like potential customers. There were very glossy Prada and Miu Miu stores, and others include Versace, Dior, Mulberry, Salvatore Ferragamo, De Beers, Tiffany & Co, Jo Malone... the designer fashion stores predominately sell accessories only, with a few pieces of basic ready-to-wear (no outlandish runway pieces), but that's what seems appropriate for the location, and we thought it could definitely work (if only people still had the money to spend!) as an alternative to Bond/Sloane Street and the West End department stores for buying luxury accessories.

Prada at Westfield. Image from Sfilate.it.

Westfield is never going to replace Liberty and Selfridges, and various small shops in Soho and East London, as our primary shopping destination, but when we are looking to go to chain stores (and not just for clothes) we'll probably head there first. Personally, we're not convinced about spending in the luxury area ourselves (aside from the fact that the designer brands we like best aren't featured, when we stretch the budget on designer stuff, which really isn't that often, we like to get full mileage from our purchases by going to the 'proper' central London boutique/department store), but we can imagine others will, particularly those who like branded luxury more than creative runway pieces, and who buy more frequently than we do.

Westfield website is here. Westfield did not pay us to write this. We actually visited rather hoping it would be a real stinker, enabling us to do a deliciously mean hatchet job on it, but not so.

1 comment:

  1. I like Westfield! I'm taking my mum there this week. I thought it was quiet the last time I went but this week there was a huge puff piece in the papers about how they've exceeded their targets already. Surely they can't lie? I like the fact that the Village is dead quiet. On the one hand, if I wanted to buy something from Prada, I think Westfield would be the place to go as you would have all the staff to yourself. On the other hand, if I'm paying Prada prices, then like you, I want the Bond/Sloane Street experience (translation: no riff-raff)!

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