West Elm’s entrance to the UK furniture and home market will help reinvigorate the premium end of this sector, filling a gap that is currently underserved.

West Elm’s entrance to the UK furniture and home market will help reinvigorate the premium end of this sector, filling a gap that is currently underserved.

Visually, the 12,000 sq ft West Elm store on Tottenham Court Road is hugely impressive, with room sets highlighting how the products would fit together in the home. The store squeezes a lot in, without being overcrowded and cluttered, successfully promoting the brand and ranges available. West Elm is working hard to assimilate with the local market and a significant proportion of its products are locally sourced. Promoting this will prove popular with customers who are unsure of the brand.

There is no doubt that there is a gap in the market for a premium homewares and furniture retailer selling classic, contemporary products. West Elm can fill this gap, taking advantage of the housing market recovery and increased spending on home products. The retailer can fare better than French Connection, The Pier and Habitat if it successfully promotes its brand, and also has the ability to steal customers from the likes of John Lewis, House of Fraser and Zara Home due to its high quality, desirable and contemporary products. The store has a captive audience of home shoppers on Tottenham Court Road, making its chances of succeeding even higher.

While the retailer is not a household name in the UK, it has been online here for the last two years, and the UK was chosen along with Australia as a destination for physical stores due to high demand. It is also planning on bringing its Pottery Barn fascia to the UK, however strong online demand is not a reason to flood the relatively small UK homewares and furniture markets with two similar retailers. While in the US there are distinct customers for each brand, with West Elm catering for a younger customer than Pottery Barn, the UK market is not large enough to provide the same opportunity, which will mean both fascias will be looking to steal market share from the same retailers.

West Elm is likely to be a success because of the quality of its products, and the fact that there is a gap to be filled by a more premium home and furniture retailer in the UK. If all its future stores look as strong as its debut offering on Tottenham Court Road, then with successful advertising and marketing the brand will become a household name. However, the addition of Pottery Barn, although catering for a slightly different customer, seems to be a sign that Williams Sonoma is trying to run before it can walk in the UK.

  • Michael Macdonald is a retail analyst at Verdict