Editor’s blog: Bad timing for Westfield

With the world economy in a tailspin and UK shoppers hunkered down in their trenches wearing tin-hats, the one thing you really wouldn’t want to be doing this week is opening a 1.7bn, 43 acre, 265-store mega shopping centre in central London. But that’s exactly what the luckless Westfield, the largest urban shopping centre in Europe (right on MT’s doorstep here in West London) is doing: Mayor Boris is cutting the ribbon (and probably falling over his bootlaces) on Wednesday.

Westfield is a serious piece of work: it took 13m man hours to build, should create 7000 jobs and is hoping for 20m visitors each year. The plan when it was conceived was to create a middle-to-top-end venue that would draw destination shoppers away from Bluewater and lakeside Thurrock. The thinking was sound, but the reality into which it is being launched is chilly. Even Westfield’s slogan – ‘Shopping in a new light’ – will have an unfortunate double-meaning.

They’ve done a good job persuading plenty of big names to take space – M&S, Topshop, Next, Waitrose, as well as Tiffany and Gucci. Even the (slightly past it) Abercrombie & Fitch is pitching in.

Quite apart from agonising about levels of footfall, another nightmare for Westfield is that a good number of the outlets – Karen Millen, Coast, Oasis, House of Fraser – are rented by Baugur, the stricken Icelandic investor. The Aussie landlords will be wanting to get those rent cheques cashed – assuming they can get their hands on them in the first place.

On the plus side, the entire staff of Grazia magazine has been dragooned into producing an issue of their gorgeous mag from inside a giant Perspex pod at Westfield. So there are some bright things to look forward to…

In today’s bulletin:
Markets tank again as panic goes global
Sales slide is no small beer
Editor’s blog: Bad timing for Westfield
MT’s Little Ray of Sunshine: Knowing me, knowing you
The Snowball Effect

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    I like the Grazia idea. Which shopping centre would the MT editorial team decamp to if it had the choice?

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    The covered bazaar in Instanbul. It may lack Westfield’s glitzy glamour, but those Turkish shopkeepers have got it where it counts. They are such kamikazi salespeople they make Philip Green look like an amateur.

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    And the theme of the issue you’d produce? The mind boggles …
    (surprised by the choice, to be honest, my money was on Bluewater …)

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    Well, you have to admit that Istanbul would be more fun. The retail therapy issue, which would work equally well in Bluewater or the Bazaar, come to think of it. How stores are coping with the downturn, the changing patterns of shoppers behaviour and how to extract maximum spend even when money is tight. What Ray Kroc called ‘The art of letting the customer have it your way.’

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    The downturn has produced the most amazing opportunities for Westfield. The media are so desperate for good news stories they have given it a level of editorial and front page publicity that money just couldn’t buy.