What do an ITV weather presenter, the NSPCC, Chinese tourists and Brexit all have in common?
Answer: they will all have an impact on Christmas in London’s West End this year. And how do I know this?
I recently attended a breakfast roundtable on the kind invitation of the New West End Company, the business voice of the West End, there to meet with their very personable CEO, Jace Tyrrell and a number of distinguished retailers, writers and analysts together with Lucy Verasamy, former Sky TV weather presenter and now face of the ITV weather. We were gathered to discuss the retail outlook for Christmas 2016 in the West End and a largely positive one it turns out to be.
“After a difficult 2016, the outlook is that the year will end on a more positive note”
London’s West End district, lest we forget, is not only the economic powerhouse for the UK but unrivalled globally as a shopping destination, encompassing as it does, Oxford Street, Regent Street and Bond Street. Some of the figures are simply staggering; according to the New West End Company within just 6.34 hectares there are over 600 stores and 219 flagship outlets for global brands. In addition, the West End employs 150,000 people – 3% of the total UK working population and generates more GVA (Gross Value Added) than the City of London representing £5.4billion over the festive period alone.
Over mince pies and coffee we debated the challenges and opportunities for the West End this Christmas, generally coming away feeling cautiously optimistic that after a difficult 2016, the outlook is that the year will end on a more positive note; three key factors contributed to this:
- The Weather
That perennial excuse for retail when sales are poor, the great British weather will inevitably play its part this year and whilst the odds on a White Christmas are not good, the best conditions – clear, crisp and dry – look like they will prevail.
Any self respecting article these days needs to include comment on Brexit and it appears that although our pound abroad is suffering this of course means the reverse is true for tourists coming to London. And those from China, the Middle East and the US are especially prevalent. Coming here because of the weak pound but also preferring London to other European cities – the events in Paris and Brussels for example having a positive impact on the increase seen in visitors to London. And of course, what of the Trump factor? First indications are that this will have a positive effect.
- Experiential shopping
The West End is home to many leading brands’ flagship stores and visits to the likes of Apple, John Lewis, Hamleys, Polo Ralph Lauren and Michael Kors new flagship store on Regent Street bear this out. More use of personalised offerings and bespoke products are making the stores more vibrant, dynamic and enticing destinations for shoppers. Whilst online continues to grow apace, as we know, stores still account for the vast majority of transactions.
So, whilst it is true that Brexit remains a worry for many people, the vagaries of the British weather notwithstanding, shoppers generally forget their worries at Christmas and are happy to spend; meaning there’s good cause for optimism.
Add to this the traditional illuminations, traffic free Oxford and Regent Street at various times during the festive period, the night tube service and Black Friday and the signs are that pre-Brexit, this could be one of the West End’s best Christmas periods for a long time.
Andrew Busby is ranked 25th most influential UK retail twitter account and founder of Retail Reflections & The Retail Advisory Board. He is a regular contributor to Retail Week and a member of the IBM Futurist programme.