It’s been 10 years since Westfield shopping centre opened its doors to much fanfare in White City, and this week its £600m expansion opened a full six months early.
Westfield London, as the west London outlet is called, is already the largest retail destination in Europe and it has more potential customers than ever as residents at the redeveloped BBC Television Centre have started moving into their new homes across the road. But with online shopping more popular than ever, traditional retail is on the back foot. What can Westfield do to redress the balance and get people excited about going out to shops again?
Retail guru Mary Portas has spoken about the “death of stuff”, meaning consumers are still spending, but on fewer things and more on leisure activities and experiences.
To that end, Westfield’s flagship John Lewis, covering 230,000sqft, has been refitted to pull together experiential innovations from its other 49 stores. Its Westfield London home has been conceived as a seamless whole in which customers browse acres of elegantly designed, calm space at leisure.
“Department stores are our heritage and Home has been our foundation,” says Anna Rigby, John Lewis’ head of buying for textiles and home accessories.
The first port of call is the Experience Desk and Lounge, which acts as a concierge to the store’s activities, experiences and services. They’re there to book you appointments and direct you to workshops, cooking demos and design advisers, whether that’s for the home design service, personal styling, choosing a holiday with Kuoni, tech support for your computer, a full-body massage, a haircut, a cocktail at Smith & Sinclair… the list goes on.
I was especially impressed by the Apple Smart Home centre, which demos three entire rooms (entrance, living and bedroom) controlled by Apple’s Siri, with technicians on hand to come and install anything you like the look of in your home.
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And the store looks great, too. Screens subtly pulse with beautiful room set photography; LA beauty concession Hourglass beams its Instagram feed from mini-screens; and the Home section has a strong mid-century vibe going on, accompanied by John Lewis Fusion ikat prints and embroidery, all set against a background with pops of orange, yellow and zingy spring green.
The store’s motto is “shop, do and learn”, and part of that is providing a point of contact for a personalised service. Once you hook up with a home design assistant or personal stylist (or a “partner”, in John Lewis parlance), you can keep in touch via text and email once you leave the store for help, advice and updates.
The Discovery Centre is another new concept for the store, which offers workshops throughout the week. On opening day, shoppers could choose a fabric and have cushions made up by Herbert Parkinson.
If interactive, tech-savvy, smart shopping is the future of retail, then count me in.