Analysis: UK Olympics mall may have to settle for silver

Wed Sep 7, 2011 7:30pm EDT
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By Mark Potter and James Davey

LONDON (Reuters) - A less-affluent catchment area, stronger competition and more congested roads mean Europe's biggest urban shopping center, which opens in east London next week, may struggle to match the success of its sister mall in the west of the city.

Few analysts doubt Westfield Stratford will pull in millions of Britons over the coming weeks, despite a gloomy economic backdrop, as shoppers flock to explore its 300 retail outlets and 50 cafes and restaurants in the run-up to Christmas.

The 1.45-billion pound ($2.32 billion) project should also get a big boost next summer from the neighboring Olympic Games.

Australian developer Westfield reckons about 70 percent of the Games' estimated 10 million visitors will pass through its 1.9-million-square-foot (177,000 square meter) temple of shopping.

Over the longer term, Westfield Stratford should also benefit from the global trend toward "destination" malls, which offer dining and leisure facilities alongside shops, allowing families to spend the day in one location.

With restrictive planning laws, Britain has fewer such malls per capita than the United States and Australia, and retailers' enthusiasm for them is shown by the fact Westfield Stratford has about 95 percent of tenants in place, including top chains such as John Lewis, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer.

Yet some analysts think Westfield's east London project could have a tougher time than its White City mall in the west, which also launched during a turbulent economic environment in 2008 but sailed through the recession.

Sales at that mall leapt 20 percent in the first half in a stagnant retail market, and are tipped to smash 1 billion pounds this year.   Continued...