Oxford Street isn’t ailing. It’s a holiday destination

Chef Executive Jace Tyrrell was interviewed by Nicholas Hellen, Social Affairs Editor at The Sunday Times about the future of Oxford Street and retail.

Read the full article below.

Oxford Street isn’t ailing. It’s a holiday destination

Many of us feel utterly fed up after a couple of hours’ shopping, but Oxford Street in London is to
stake its future on persuading visitors to stay for a mini break of two or three days.
With the unstoppable rise of online shopping, the capital’s West End retailers expect shopping
space to shrink by 20% in the next decade but are determined to make up the shortfall by
reinventing the high street.

Jace Tyrrell, chief executive of the New West End Company, said visitors would in future arrive
with different expectations. “You are not coming in to buy a dress or a shirt or a product. You are
coming to a destination to do a lot more than that. The model for the future is you stay for two
days, you stay for three.

“In five years’ time . . . you are going to a show, and one of the 200 galleries in the area; you are
going to play Xbox with the kids in the Microsoft store and there is a fantastic light show in
Regent Street.

“You are going past the Royal Academy, which has a wonderful exhibition spilling out onto the
pavement on Bond Street. It becomes a reason to visit. All of our very best institutions in one
place.

“Others cities have bits of what we have but they do not have it concentrated in one area.”
Tyrrell added: “It sounds simple when I say it like that but it’s just not been the way.” He predicts revenues could soar from £9.2bn to £12bn in 2020 in a district that also includes Bond Street and
Regent Street.

High streets around the country have buckled under the onslaught of online rivals such as
Amazon, which pays relatively little in corporation tax or business rates, and even Oxford Street
is feeling the strain.

The John Lewis Partnership, whose flagship store is one of the stalwarts of Oxford Street,
suffered a 99% fall in profits in the six months to July.

On a drizzly Wednesday last week there was no need for customers to queue as there were so few
of them, apart from in the technology area on the fifth floor. Selfridges, too, seemed to have lost
its mojo. At 9.40am, 10 minutes after opening, there were barely any customers, and the staff
amused themselves by sharing videos on their phones. By lunchtime at one make-up island
there were eight attendants — but no customers.

It was a similar story along the street. In Debenhams the upper floors were almost deserted at
2.30pm.

Rather than see store fronts go dark, Westminster city council wants to allow leisure and
entertainment businesses to move in, and on November 6 will begin a consultation to change
planning rules to permit a change of use. It will also spend £150m over the next three years to
create the equivalent of two Trafalgar Squares of extra space for pedestrians, and work towards
permitting only zero-emission buses and commercial vehicles.

Richard Beddoe, cabinet member for planning at Westminster, said: “If we can turn Oxford
Street into a place where you can go ice skating, play tennis on the roof, visit lots of restaurants,
art galleries — then the retailers will be able to start their fightback [with] something that
Amazon will never be able to offer.”

Nickie Aiken, the council leader, said: “If we can do it on Oxford Street, the nation’s high street, I
don’t see why you can’t do it on any other high street up and down the land.”

Mon 22 October 2018