London regularly ranks highly on the MasterCard Global Destination Cities Index for overseas visitor numbers and spending, and the West End retail district, centred on Bond Street, Oxford Street and Regent Street, is one of the most profitable in the world, with an annual turnover of more than £8.8bn ($12.8bn).
The West End is home to more than 600 domestic and international brands including Selfridges, John Lewis, Primark, Forever 21, J.Crew, NikeTown and Hamleys. All top 10 global luxury brands by value have a presence on Bond Street, and 96.5% of all ground floor use on Bond Street is by retail brands.
While London locals are drawn to trendy districts further east such as Shoreditch and Clerkenwell, international visitors are key consumers in the West End, accounting for 25% of total spend.
Yet the West End’s global appeal as a shopping destination and as a place to do business is less understood. Jace Tyrell is chairman of the New West End Company, a business voice for the area, representing the organisations in 25 streets within London’s retail heartland. The company aims to create a truly unique West End experience, removing barriers to economic growth and further strengthening the commercial success of the area with its 65,000 employees.
Mr Tyrell explains he commissioned a report from estate agent Savills to identify areas of the visitor and retailer experience that need further investment. “We want to ensure we maintain our top tier position as a global destination to shop, visit, trade and invest,” he says.
The report showed that London ranks highest in Europe in MasterCard’s Global Destination Cities Index again in 2015 attracting 18.8 million overseas visitors who spent a total of £13.2bn.
The West End’s retail sales importance is reflected in the influx of international retail brands openening their first store in the city. Between January 2014 and December 2015, 57 retail brands opened their first London store, 60% of which were located within the West End. If new international restaurant operators and gallery openings are included, that number increases to 77, and a further 13 international brands are in the pipeline.
The report examined additional attributes such as domestic retail spend and total occupational costs across seven global cities to rank their attractiveness from a retailer perspective. The results from this analysis ranked London second to New York.
“This study highlighted that the fundamentals that make London’s West End an attractive place to visit, shop and trade, are robust,” says Mr Tyrell. “London’s West End could in fact outperform the growth forecast, aided by improvements to the British visa system for visitors from China, the largest source market for international tourists and spend globally, and the arrival of [public transport project] Crossrail.”
Mr Tyrell believes that the the West End’s public realm remains a challenge. “The location surveys highlighted that the West End underperforms against its international competitors with regards to a number of public realm features,” he says. “Public realm investment is crucial for the West End to maintain and even improve its global position and reputation in the face of mounting competition from other international retail destinations.”