Image: Westgate Oxford Alliance
It seems like Oxford has been waiting forever for the new Westgate centre to open. And now that it has, has it been worth the wait? Dr Tim Denison, director of retail intelligence, gives his verdict following a recent visit to the centre.
I went along at the weekend electing to use Park & Ride as recommended on the website as parking is limited at the mall. The bus isn’t a direct-to-door, non-stop, shuttle bus experience, but a service that stops en route and drops you a good 10 minutes’ walk from the mall itself, exposing what the rest of other retailers in Oxford have to offer.
The mall itself was busy, it has to be said, but I couldn’t help wondering how many other people were like me, coming to see what all the fuss has been about. Certainly the number of shopping bags was scant. The second thing that struck me was the number of empty units and the ongoing building and snagging work. Westgate is still very much work in progress. The architectural use of space that was available for the re-development is unquestionably clever and, like Liverpool Two, I like the outdoor, fresh air feel to the place. It also has a sense of offering a recreational experience not just a retail destination, thanks to the theatre provided by the likes of the roof garden eateries.
Oxford has been shouting out for a John Lewis anchor store for decades. Does it deliver? There are certainly some new interesting elements such as the amount of space dedicated to services such as The Experience Desk, where shoppers can get advice on how to make the most of their time in the store, and the dwell areas within the store where special events are held. Curiously however, the fashion brands represented there largely mirrored the mix of brands with their own stores in the centre. Not sure also about the centralised pay points which served to highlight that your shopping experience will include queueing.
Would I rush back? Probably not. It is a definite improvement to the ‘70s carbuncle that it replaced, but it has also helped me realise that I like the fresh air shopping experience and Leamington Spa gets my nod over Westgate Oxford.
Dr Tim Denison is Director of Retail Intelligence at Ipsos Retail Performance. He is a regular commentator, broadcaster and conference speaker on retail matters, particularly those related to behavioural issues. His primary role is in helping retailers to understand how their customers shop their stores and why they behave the way that they do, using Ipsos Retail Performance’s unique set of measurement and research tools.