Great Expectations for the Olympics

London retailers are approaching the upcoming summer games with relish.

Olympic-themed product from Liberty’s pop-up store.

Many a London resident might be moaning about the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games that kick off on July 27. The collective whine can be heard all the way from Hampstead to Herne Hill, and from Brook Green to Bow: The crowds! The congestion! The sweaty London Underground! Tens of thousands of London-based civil servants have already been granted permission to work from home, while thousands more private sector workers are blowing out of town for strategically engineered holidays aimed at avoiding the two peak weeks of the Games.

This story first appeared in the June 11, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

But retailers — who have barely had time to pack up their Diamond Jubilee tea towels, biscuit tins, cake stands and Union Jack bunting — are approaching the Olympic sports spectacle with relish. According to a report from Visa, a global Olympics sponsor for the past 25 years, the upcoming event will generate 750 million pounds, or $1.16 billion at current exchange, in consumer spending over the total seven-week period, mainly from foreign visitors. In its report, “A Golden Opportunity: London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games Expenditure and Economic Impact,” Visa says the Games will bring an economic stimulus of 5.1 billion pounds, or $7.85 billion, to Britain between now and 2015, when the halo effect of hosting the Games wears off.


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Britain’s high street retailers are expected to benefit the most from the extra consumer spending, raking in 184.8 million pounds, or $284.6 million, from the 880,000 visitors who will actually stay in the city, and the 5.5 million day-trippers. More specifically, the retailers around Bond Street, Oxford Circus and Regent Street are expected to get a revenue bounce of 16.6 million pounds ($25.6 million) as a direct result of the Games, according to the New West End Co., which promotes the area as a shopping destination.

“We’re expecting 20,000 to 30,000 visitors in the West End shopping district in the first three weeks of the Games, many of them heads of state, dignitaries and media covering the event,” said Jace Tyrrell, director of communications at New West End. He added that he’s expecting Bond Street to be a particular winner, with luxury goods — and British brands in particular — ringing up sales.

Ed Burstell, managing director of Liberty, which is located just off Regent Street, has high hopes for the full, seven-week Olympic period and beyond. In late May, Liberty opened a 1,700-square-foot pop-up shop at the Westfield Stratford City mall in East London. It sells Liberty branded accessories and merchandise from the store’s collaborations with Dr. Martens and Barbour. It also stocks the fruit of its collaboration with Nike, which this summer will bring out a second version of its Liberty trainer to mark the Games. At Westfield, Liberty is working with TimeOut, which will operate an information booth and an iPad “bar” inside the store.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to put the brand in front of millions. It’s a win-win situation for us,” said Burstell.

At the flagship, Burstell has installed a Liberty branded shop on the ground floor and will unveil a newly expanded jewelry and handbag area on the ground floor at the end of the month, in time for the Games. Burstell is also banking on the Olympics’ halo effect.

“Other host cities have seen a major uplift in the business for many months after the Games,” he said. “We see our initiatives during the Olympics as a four-week advertisement to come to London, and we’re asking ourselves how we can prepare for what could be a big bounce over the next two years.”

Selfridges aims to attract high-end shoppers with The Big British Bang cultural and commercial event, which kicked off in May and will run through the end of August, marking both the Olympics and the Diamond Jubilee. A spokeswoman for Selfridges said the store sees the Olympics in particular as “a great opportunity in terms of international reach. It’s a fantastic chance to talk to a broader audience,” she said, noting that, alongside tourists, corporate guests will likely attend the Olympics — and be ready to shop.

Selfridges’ Oxford Street flagship has also launched The Big British Shop, selling British-themed merchandise such as Rupert Sanderson’s red, white and blue platform sandals; Fred Perry polo shirts designed by Sir Peter Blake, and Mulberry Bayswater bags emblazoned with the Union Jack. For the Olympics, the store will also offer a series of 10 Urban Survival Backpacks created and filled by designers including Anya Hindmarch, Sir Paul Smith and Dame Vivienne Westwood.

In Covent Garden, Opening Ceremony has timed the opening of its first European outpost to the Olympics. A 3,000-square-foot pop-up shop is set to open in late July, just before the Games, while a permanent unit is set for fall.

Special products to mark the Games have been developed exclusively for the store by brands including Proenza Schouler, Chloë Sevigny for Opening Ceremony and Norma Kamali. The retailer is also collaborating with Topshop, which has created an exclusive, sport-inspired collection that will launch in conjunction with the July opening, and later expand to Topshop stores.

Closer to the Olympic Park in East London, the Westfield Stratford City mall, an official provider and supplier to the Games, said it expects 70 percent of the 10 million-plus ticket holders to pass through the mall on their way to the venue. A Westfield spokeswoman said that, since its opening last fall, the mall has attracted about 900,000 customers each week and expects significant traffic up to and throughout the Games.


While expectations may be high, however, not everyone expects the Olympics to bring a big retail bounce. Roger Wade, the founder of Boxpark, a pop-up mall in trendy Shoreditch, East London, which is 30 minutes from the Olympic site by Tube, said he doesn’t expect a major lift in traffic during the period, because many London residents will likely stay away from busy areas. “We expect much greater tourist trade than normal, but at the same time we expect our local-based trade to maybe be reduced,” he said.

George Wallace, chief executive officer at retail consultancy MHE Europe, said he was unsure just how much Olympic fever would spread to fashion sales.

“It’s a bit like everyone wanting to play tennis when Wimbledon is on. It could be good news for athletic apparel stores,” he said. “The Games will inspire people to get more engaged with fitness, running and a healthy lifestyle. I think there will be a boost for cycling, running and swimming — especially the things that British teams are better at. But as for mainstream fashion, I think it’s just a case of the benefits of having more visitors come to London.”

At the Games themselves, organizers are expecting to generate revenue in excess of 70 million pounds, or $107.8 million, at more than 130 points of sale, including three superstores and a 43,000 square-foot megastore. Simon Rider, a retail veteran and ceo of The Retail People, the licensee for all the official in-venue retailing across the U.K. — with the exception of Wimbledon, where the retail is controlled by IMG — said his operations will kick off with the opening of a retail and interactive Games venue in Hyde Park on July 1. There and inside the Olympic Park, The Retail People will offer Olympic Games pin collector sets, memorabilia and T-shirts with different graphics for each of the 38 participating sports disciplines and subdisciplines. The store will carry 5,000 stockkeeping units, with the average spend per head ranging from 7 or 8 pounds ($10 to $12) to more than 60 pounds ($92.40).

Rider said 80 percent of the product is exclusive to kiosks and stores inside the ticket barriers, and there is a major focus on merchandise with an “I was there” feel to it. To wit, Rider said his company will produce special, screen-printed products overnight — or during events — to mark certain records and milestones. “Our focus is on delivering great Games,” said Rider. “We’ve got our eyes on the prize.”