The first impression – other than the sheer scale of the place as I approached – was of friendly, helpful staff. The car park attendants were lovely – and it’s really pleasing to see a free motorbike parking policy in place. Very civilised.
The car park tickets are also fun, with rub-off panels so you can remember where you left your car! This is useful since there’s a vast amount of parking (as well as signposting to which park for which shops).
The fit-out of the centre’s of a high quality – reminded me of the luxury malls in Hong Kong. Good flooring, variations in textures and colours of materials, as well as a good variety of shop frontages and eye-lines. The quantity of shopping is numbing – there’s so much that people will develop their own favourite ‘areas’ – much like people will shop certain streets in London. That gives you an idea of the size of the endeavour as well as a subtle success in creating zones of homogeneity and focus.
There were a number of new (to me, anyway) brands, as well as retailers clearly taking steps to broaden their reach. I was gutted that the MOST exciting new store – Beard Papa’s – was not yet open. Totally distraught, but I’ve made a mental note to go back as soon as it’s open. You can see the range of shops on the directory.
I was there from 2pm on a Friday and the place was packed. Circulation seemed good though with only Nando’s having a sizeable queue. Santa’s posh grotto had a busy gathering but seemed to be moving quickly. I couldn’t tell whether people were shopping actively (lots of bags) or just shuffling – no one’s offered to give me any facts I can publish 😉
Visiting the House of Fraser store was wonderful and uplifting with a good dose of ‘retail theatre’. HOF is approach Selfridges-like level of display in some sections – Menswear, Women’s Accessories and bags in particular. Made me sad that Selfridges had not gone for an anchor store there.
I thought of this on Saturday as I shuffled through John Lewis (my mission: tights for the girls and a new steam iron). The crowds were shuffling and suffocating, the christmas decorations an annoying taunt that the crowds would only get worse and the queues at the checkouts (with the world’s nicest and most patient staff, it must be said) were mission-defeating.
In the space of two days I had reason to ponder both why I love ecommerce (no queues, ease, information, access) and why I love some shops (retail ‘theatre’, presentation, stimulus, service, knowledgeable advice). Westfield’s combination of good shops (not just rent-a-mall clones), personal and helpful service, retail theatre and a pretty painless parking/access experience bodes well. The aim must be to blend the best of retail and etail – with the additional benefits of a ‘programmable’ set of spaces (from cinema through to public event zones). In difficult trading times the hope for continued retail success has got to be a characterful blend of the best of all worlds.
I’m now officially allowed a week off from shopping to concentrate on selling!