Westend Shopping Center Continues to Blaze Pioneering Trail

Retail

Westend remains the premier meeting and shopping place in Budapest and is well positioned to ward off the challenges of growing e-commerce, says Ioana Ion, the woman charged with running the facility.

Ion became general manager of Westend Üzemeltető Kft., the operating company for Westend Shopping Center, at the beginning of 2019, but has worked for Granit Polus, the ultimate owner, for almost eight years. “I still have a couple of other positions in the company, but my major focus is Westend,” she explains.

The role comes with major responsibilities, given the facility’s status as the flagship property for Granit Polus, the development company founded by the late Sándor Demján.  

“We can see Westend as a pioneer in many aspects,” Ion says. It was the first mixed-use development on the Budapest (and therefore the Hungarian) market, boasting retail, leisure, office and even hotel space.

“The mall has seen 400 million visitors since opening, with 1.5 million per year being tourists. That makes Westend the most visited shopping center in Budapest.”  

All those visitors mean turnover generation, which “makes us the most valuable building in Budapest”, she adds. Westend is where brands first stepping into the Hungarian market have historically wanted to debut. The likes of Nike and Samsung, for example, have their flagship stores in the mall.

And that is still happening today; GUESS will open a new store concept in the mall in December. “We will have the first opening in Europe of the American Eagle brand at the beginning of this month.”

Ioana Ion

Renewed Look

Some of the statistics the shopping center generates are more surprising than others. The site features a roof garden of three hectares, and it is not surprising (but no less impressive) that it has more than 400 stores.

The owners marked the 20th anniversary of Westend by announcing it is to be given a major overhaul and a totally new look in the next three years. A key element of that is an iconic new “wave” logo, which has already been unveiled. It encapsulates the progressive communal thinking Westend represents: keeping track of the latest trends, attracting people with personalized experiences in a robust retail and entertainment environment, creating a hub that puts community in the center, Ion says.

Central to the future look of the center will be its function. One of the reasons most often cited for the lack of any new shopping center development in Hungary since the financial crisis is concern over the threat to traditional retail from e-commerce. That, in part, is based on Western European experiences. High Streets in the United Kingdom, to give just one example, have seen a string of historic names disappear into insolvency.

Location, Location, Location

But Ion insists Westend is different for a number of reasons. “Physical space remains a vital pillar in consumer experience, although reinvented and reimagined, adapting to social and technological change by introducing a dynamic mix of non-retail uses to compliment the retailers offer,” she says. “But people do not just visit Westend to shop, they come also for the experience and the atmosphere. They meet friends; they go to the cinema; they eat in restaurants or food courts.”

She adds, “Westend stands for another city center; it is the shopping and meeting place for everyone.” That is not likely to change anytime soon: it currently draws 21 million people per year, a figure that is projected to increase still further. The location, the building, attracts them; it is the experience that will keep them.

“We have the boomers, Generation X, Z, the Millennials; this place gives space to all of them,” she says. The future for malls is talking to each of those generations, using digitization and innovation-led advances to provide an experience that is personalized in the most attractive way for each in turn.  

The shops and the shopping experience will continue to be important, but so will following the latest digital trends. It means expecting, for example, that some people may want to visit a store to try on an item before ordering online. Why not do both from Westend?  

“Experience”, “convenience”, “availability” will become key watchwords reflecting visitors’ own values. Westend  has launched its own app that will help visitors find what they want quicker, along with personalized special offers, and strives to incorporate environmentally friendly practices, cashless possibilities, mobility centers and environmental sustainability.

Tourists are catered for, too, with transportation partners at the airport and luggage drops for suitcases once they get here. The information desk and the app will be able to tell them, in their own language, where the VAT free shops can be found. A dedicated stop was even added this year for the Hop on-Hop off sightseeing tours, under the slogan Hop and Shop.  

Westend continues to blaze its pioneering trail.

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