Today is Westfield's 10th birthday - the proper Shepherd's Bush one rather than the scuzzier one in Stratford. It would be easy to write a post bemoaning how consumerist the place is, but also pointless, given that's the reason for its existence. So instead I've challenged myself to list ten things Westfield gets right (as researched yesterday on a failed trip to buy a woolly jumper).
10 things Westfield gets right
1) It's a one-stop shopping centre
London's retail offer is world class, but pre-Westfield it lacked a decent shopping centre. Most large British cities have a central area where all the big shops are, somewhere to head to find all the big chains. But even Oxford Street never quite delivered on that front, being too linear, too overcrowded and unforgivingly unpedestrianised. Westfield is an unashamed mega-mall, the largest shopping centre in Europe, an indoor place where that brand you want is never too far away. From engagement rings to shampoo, from House of Fraser to Carphone Warehouse, and from Louis Vuitton to the Post Office at the back of WHSmiths, all your weekly purchasing needs are catered for here.
2) It's possible to spend the day here
Westfield's multi-level circuits provide a potentially endless mall experience - browsing here, nosing there, and popping back to pick up that bargain you spotted earlier. Flustered families can hire a kiddy car for their littl'un to drive around in, or drop their charges off at Kidzania, the ultimate middle class babysitting opportunity. When that pales, numerous food and drink opportunities are available, plus a cinema, a gym, mini golf, a bowling alley and (imminently upcoming) the obligatory ice rink. There's even more than one loo, just to ensure visitors don't stray. Arrive at 10am, depart at 10pm, and make day of it.
3) It has excellent dining choices
We eat out far more often than we used to, and Westfield knows this, hence its dining options are genuinely multifarious. The entire southern terrace is lined by restaurant chains, each with a few tables out front (but safely under cover) to push the point home. There's nothing especially foodie here, more your Jamie's Italian or Carluccio's, but even at noon on a Monday the restaurants are busier than many of the shops. The concept of a pick-n-mix food court is nothing new, and £11.50 for cod and chips is hardly good value. But Westfield is now so confident a dining destination that friends can simply agree to meet here, and decide where in the world to splash out after they arrive.
4) It's ridiculously well connected
Close enough to the centre of town to feel important, but far enough out to be drivable, Westfield's found the sweet spot. No successful shopping centre survives without a car park, so Westfield embraces the concept with stacked and basement parking spaces. At £6 a day it's not even terrible value for money, assuming you're bringing the family and intend to buy plenty to lug home. Then there's the tube station they tarted up in 2008 so it was ready for the crowds, plus the extra tube station they helped fund on the Hammersmith & City line, not forgetting the tumbleweed bus station where the multiplicity of buses regularly exceeds the number of waiting passengers.
5) It's been carefully zoned
Consumer, know thy place. In Westfield's southeastern corner is The Village, an unashamedly luxurious quarter dripping with chandeliers and premium brands. Packing Versace and Aquascutum, plus smart concessions where pillboxed ladies preen jewellery on cushions, this is the bit which lures international travellers with currency to spend. Close by is a young, zippy, fashion-led segment, then another bloc for aspirational accessories, until eventually you wend down to the Burger King and Superdrug zone. It's like walking from Mayfair to Romford in the space of a few minutes. Whatever your budget, you'll feel comfortable somewhere.
6) It's easy to get round
I hate walking through Stratford's Westfield, whose linear triple-decker malls are too narrow for easy passage, and proper nightmarish at the height of the weekend. Shepherd's Bush's Westfield, by contrast, is blessed with broad passageways, vast piazzas and, best of all, alternative routes. It even boasts plenty of mid-mall space for nail bars, aqua massage, a proper barbers and somewhere to plonk down for an anti-ageing mask. I'm sure you've noticed Westfield doesn't believe in providing stairs, but numerous escalators are available for whisking between floors, ideal for when you suddenly realise what you want isn't up/down here but down/up there.
7) It has places to sit and rest
A lot of retail venues like to keep you on your feet so that you're forced to take refuge in a cafe or restaurant when you start to fade. But Westfield has bucked the trend by placing clusters of benches, stools, sofas and chairs at strategic points around the ground floor for public use. And these are being well frequented, not for consumption of comestibles but as somewhere to sit down and check your phone. One clump was overrun by a group of teenagers pretending to talk to each other, another by a family allowing each member some social downtime, and a third by strangers intently scrolling through Facebook updates. How clever of Westfield to have spotted the zeitgeist and provided some digital breathing space.
8) It knows its target audience
For its tenth year, Westfield launched a major promotional campaign featuring four characters they think embody the W12 experience. The chosen foursome appear repeatedly on all the display screens. One is Nigella Lawson, appealing to the smart, older, female demographic, and another is James Corden, representing the blokier lad who likes to splash out a bit. The third is Miss Piggy, which is inspired, hinting at glamour, sass and sheer family-friendliness. And the fourth is some model I couldn't name, which is how things ought to be for the maintenance of fashion cred. They may not appeal to you, but as an exercise in ticking all the boxes in as few faces as possible, this is a quintessential quartet.
9) It keeps reinventing itself
Staying ahead of the game is important, and Westfield has spun out its success with a huge northward extension. The new arm adds considerably to the retail offering, including electrical goods and a fresh focus on interior design, not to mention the John Lewis flagship tagged on at the end. There's even a Waterstones imminent, to make up for the Foyles which faded soon after the place opened, which is a store I might actually spend some time in. When Westfield plasters 'Something Exciting Coming Soon' across an unlet unit or empty mid-mall concession, they are overegging the pudding somewhat, but it is the promise of novelty which keeps 'em coming back.
10) It retains the wow factor
It's easy to get blasé about Westfield, now that London has two of them, with one more on the way. But if you haven't been before, the original still dazzles. I was standing outside Zizzi's when a grey-haired woman in a Crazy Cat Lady t-shirt approached up the escalator and said, simply, "wow". And she was only looking down the restaurant arcade - I can't imagine what she said after she stepped inside and saw miles of mall under the enormous spangly roof. Sure, it's a temple to consumerism, and sure, I couldn't find a woolly jumper I liked anywhere at a decent price, but ten years on there is nowhere else in London quite like it.