As the start of the Olympics nears, John Ryan visits Westfield Stratford City to see how retailers are gearing up for the big event.
It’s the first summer of trading for Westfield Stratford City and as the scheme nears its anniversary, it appears to be caught in a tug of war.
On the one side is the seemingly elusive British summer, which has put paid to many fashion retailers’ hopes of a bumper season and led to a slew of early Sales and deep discounting.
On the other is the Olympics, which begins at the end of next week and is what many retailers in the mega-centre have been pinning their hopes on.
To an extent, the period prior to the Games is the lull before the anticipated storm, although neither side’s cause will have been helped by the closure of the mall’s car parks some weeks ago.
However, none of this has prevented those retailers on Sale from adopting a distinctly minimalist approach – perhaps an attempt at austerity chic.
And many of those not on Sale have looked at ways of getting into the Olympic spirit without falling foul of the numerous ‘thou shalt nots’ that have characterised LOCOG’s restrictive attitude to the ways in which everything, from groups of rings to references to ‘Games’, can be used.
The other phenomenon that seems to be stronger than ever as the Olympic opening ceremony nears is the pop-up shop. At least two more of them have opened at the centre in the past fortnight. This may be a reflection of the many ways that retailers are seeking to market themselves in the current climate, but it will also be the inevitable consequence of a scheme that is nearly full, but never entirely so.
Primark is one of several retailers that uses a combination of the Union Jack and the pennants of many other nations to remind people that a truly pan-national crowd is heading this way. The legend in the window reads ‘A Summer To Remember’ and it may well be so, but the subtext, overt or otherwise, is that the Olympic Park is in the view of many trading in this centre, their back yard.
Primark may be a value retailer, but its windows now boast video screens with baroque frames that reinforce both brand and the low-price message. And, as has been the case in retail since April, when in doubt use the Union flag as a backdrop to the window. Primark does this to good effect.
Arcadia’s leading fashion brand may not be sponsoring the Games, but the open front to the store, with a modish army of flag-waving mannequins, betray a distinctly patriotic intent. Some of them carry Union flags, while other banners emphasise the word London.
Topshop typifies a trend that is evident across the majority of fashion retailers at Westfield Stratford City – substantial groups of mannequins used to create impact, although this is one of the better examples. Topshop has made much of its association with London, particularly as it continues to open overseas, but this visual merchandising treatment shows that the Brit theme is still important in the home market.
At present, there are two H&M stores at Westfield Stratford City. One is the permanent shop, nestled among the fashion offer on the mall’s upper level, while the other is outside on The Street, where H&M has opened a pop-up store. Both, however, are pushing sportswear. The permanent store is more interesting in terms of its visual merchandising, with male mannequins carrying out exercises on parallel bars in one window, while the other features the female equivalent using the same equipment.
In-store, the plinth at the front of the store has mannequins that may not be wearing sportswear, but the attitude is entirely physical.
The H&M Sports store, on the mall’s exterior, has a rather simple take on the matter of sports attire, with a running track down the centre and a series of white inverted V fixtures and moody-looking black-and-white graphics around the perimeter.
The monochrome nature of the interior allows the stock to do the work with highlights, such as the gold running shorts and acid lime jackets being easy to spot on the mannequins, and the mid-shop equipment, in consequence.
The H&M Sports store is open, like many other pop-ups at the centre, until the Olympic flag is finally lowered over the nearby park.
There is a Sale on at Oasis and this is one of the few retailers in the whole of the centre that does a bit more than putting a few posters with a percentage-off message across its windows.
This is the ‘fab-u-licious sale’, in case you were in doubt, and Oasis uses the line of mannequins with palms pressed against the window to ram the campaign home.
Oasis has, in fact, been using lines of mannequins in its stores and windows for the whole of this season, so there is a pleasing continuity about what has been done now that clearance time has come around.
The other point that makes this display interesting is that while there are mannequins in the window, they are not about selling specific garments – this is a monotone scheme with nothing allowed to distract from the fact that there are bargains in the store.
Levi’s Tailor Shop
The jeans brand has also opened a pop-up store at the centre for the duration of the Games. This is a shop that wears its heart on its sleeve – although it has now been open for two weeks, there is no mistaking that this is a temporary space. The interior, for the most part, has been built of untreated wood planks and plywood, with an ambience that is not unlike a house under construction prior to the walls being finished. Concrete floors, steel runner rails and scaffolding-style shelving complete the look, but the real point of the store is that jeans can be altered while customers wait.
This facet of the store has been writ large at the front of the shop, where a workshop-style space has been constructed. A construction site interior, therefore, where as well as jeans, there are T-shirts on sale bearing the legend: “Now is your time London”.
There is a Sale at Cos, the grown-up brand from H&M, and in case you were in doubt about that, the two windows feature blank rolls of paper with nothing whatsoever on them. Decals with ‘Sale’ in red and the ‘All at 50% off’ message have been applied to the window, while the interior has the same minimalist take on discounting.
As a campaign, this is close to being the most elemental in the centre, although a short distance away Zara has finally moved away from its dark glass-shattering graphics Sale material (which seems to have been in use for years) to freestanding white boards in the window with the word Sale in black.
Both stores deploy white mannequins in a low-key manner. And in both stores it is quite hard to see how much more pared back things could be. Sometimes more really is less.
Westfield and the games
Opened September 13, 2011
Olympics start July 27, 2012
Olympics finish August 12, 2012
Current in-mall fad Pop-up shops
In pictures: Retailers gear up for London Olympics
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Store gallery: Westfield limbers up for the Olympics